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Date of Issue: December 26, 2007

Expect busy Christmas week for Island tourism

If the past six months are any indication of tourism, Islanders can expect a busy Christmas-New Year’s period, as visitors to the Island the next two weeks could well be at record levels.

Since June 2006, occupancy at Island accommodations has surpassed levels for the same six months in 2006, with November’s occupancy figure at 40.5 percent for 2007, up from the 37.3 percent for the same month last year.

Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce executive director Mary Ann Brockman sees no reason that trend won’t continue in December, aided by a thriving Christmas week.

“I haven’t had any complaints. We’ve had a lot of inquiries and all indications are that we’re going to be very busy this week and next,” she said.

Advance reservations at Island accommodations would seem to confirm that prediction.

“We are totally booked for Christmas week and next week,” said Tom Buehler, co-owner of Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach.

“In fact, advance reservations for January are way ahead of last year at this time,” he noted. “But there are still some room nights available that month.”

Advance reservations for February and March are also strong and only a few rooms are available for those two months, he added.

Buehler attributes much of this season’s success to actively pursing the European market, where the declining value of the dollar against the Euro and other currencies has worked in favor of tourism to Florida and Anna Maria Island.

“We’re getting a lot of European business. They’re getting good value for their money and we’ve even got a Web site in German that has attracted a lot of people,” he said.

The European market has been a prime target of the overseas marketing and advertising campaign of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau the past year and it, too, appears to be working.

The CVB’s August jazz festival drew a number of German and European visitors to the area and Susan Estler of the CVB said the trend of European visitors seems to be continuing.

The value of the Euro against the American currency seems to be fueling tourism from Europe, Estler noted. She’s heard from several members that not just mainland Europeans, but many Irish and British visitors are taking advantage of the favorable exchange rate to visit the area, as well as tourists from Canada, where the Canadian dollar is at least equal to the U.S. dollar, if not worth slightly more.

In addition, Island tourism has been aided by a number of unsolicited endorsements in newspapers and travel magazines that have rated Anna Maria Island as one of the top vacation spots in America.

Visitors, however, aren’t booking ahead as much as they used to, noted Barbara Rodocker of the BridgeWalk Resort, and a tourism industry veteran of 35 years. While Dec. 15 used to be the latest date many Island visitors would make their reservation, they now seem to wait until just before Christmas.

Reservations for Christmas week have been steady and the resort is level with last year’s tourism at this time, Rodocker said, but she anticipates a lot of people will be traveling south just after Christmas.

“We generally get some good walk-in traffic right after Christmas and there’s been a lot of snow up north,” she said.

That’s an assessment that Marge Moran of Club Bamboo in Bradenton Beach can agree with.

“We get a lot of walk-in traffic Christmas week, particularly since we take one-night reservations and have daily room cleaning. Our advance reservations are good, but I expect a lot of walk-ins this week and next,” Moran said. “It’s going to be a good Christmas.”

Likewise it should be a good Christmas for the Tortuga Inn and Tradewinds Resort, both in Bradenton Beach.

Manager Katy Demick said the resorts are “busier this year than last year” and are presently 80 percent booked for the Christmas week. The majority of guests were scheduled to arrive Christmas day, she noted, and there are always some last minute arrivals.

The flow of tourists to the Island can only help restaurants and retail outlets, noted Brockman.

Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar and BeachHouse restaurants on Anna Maria Island and the Mar Vista on Longboat Key, said he’s been “pleasantly surprised” because December has been a very good month and ahead of last year.

“It’s been really good this month,” said Chiles, noting that all renovations to the Sandbar have been completed, the new outdoor dining deck is completed and new rest rooms that comply with the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act are “totally operational.”

“We’re very happy to be at the end of the 13-month project,” a delighted Chiles said. ‘It’s been a long project, but everything looks great now.”

A sure sign the winter season can’t be far behind the Christmas holidays is found at the Holiday Resort RV Park in Cortez.

Owner David Goren said, “Normally, Christmas is very slow for us. RV’ers don’t travel until after the holidays. They come down just after New Year’s, so we’re very delighted that advance reservations are picking up right after New Year’s.”

He also noted that a lot of RV’ers who don’t plan to spend the entire season take advantage of the daily and weekly rates offered by his resort. “But the majority of our guests are here for the season. A lot of them are regulars,” he added.