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Date of Issue: December 26, 2007

Tourism council readies for 2008

Play ball.

Go on a shopping spree.

Then feast.

The Manatee County Tourism Development Council focused last week on three avenues to boost visits to the area in 2008: sports, shopping and dining promotions.

The council, meeting Dec. 17 at Holmes Beach City Hall, recommended dedicating $86,000 in advertising revenues for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for an off-season dining campaign.

The council also praised a swing-away approach to drawing sports contests to the area and a push to lure European vacationers with a penchantfor shopping.

“The exchange rate is really too strong to ignore,” said CVB director Larry White, referring to the shopping opportunities for international travelers.

White said winter bookings for the region appear strong and he speculated that the interest is partly due to the high value of the Euro in the United States.

The U.S. dollar is at its lowest exchange rate versus the British pound in 26 years and against the Euro since it came into circulation. Many Europeans now view the States as a place to flex their strong currency, according to the International Herald Tribune.

“This may be the year that Europeans really pay attention to us,” White said.

TDC board member Kent Davis noted that he has met visitors from Scotland, England and France who left with suitcases full of new purchases.

“I talked to a family, they had just bought four sets of golf clubs,” Davis said.

He continued, “These people who are coming over, they have a license to steal.... When you hit the right side of a currency exchange, it makes you dizzy it’s so good.”

Davis’ comments prompted a discussion about how to market the area as a shopping destination, promoting the added consumer value with shopping in the sunshine.

In addition to promoting the favorite U.S. pastime of shopping, the TDC endorsed the CVB’s suggestion to better fund the Florida Gulf Coast Sports Commission and its work to bring sporting events to the area.

Commission president Joe Pickett said the FGCSC is preparing for a major bridge tournament and senior games in February, bidding for several youth sports events and planning to host a water-skiing event in Palma Sola Bay and on the Manatee River.

Davis praised the sports commission: “I have not seen any outside group consistently bring in high room nights” like the sports commission and “I would certainly support any effort ... that enhances what you are doing.”

Meanwhile, a new 2008 dining campaign will encourage “off-season” - summer and fall - vacationers to indulge in “in-season” cuisine.

A survey by the Travel Industry Association of America has found that about 17 percent of U.S. leisure travelers engaged in “culinary tourism” in the last three years.

The survey also found that culinary tourism is growing and that 60 percent of domestic leisure travelers will take an interest in tasty travel over the next three years.

A report to the TDC indicated that these tourists tend to be young and affluent.

“The goals of this campaign are to increase awareness of the ‘whole’ experience of Florida’s Gulf Islands, to add value to off-season travel and to further develop partnership unity within our destination,” the report stated.

Tourism officials said they hoped to work with local restaurants, farmers’ markets, supermarkets, wineries and other attractions and accommodations in the promotion, according to Susan Estler, CVB marketing director.

“I think it’s a great promotion,” said Ed Chiles, a TDC member and owner of a trio of restaurants on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

Barbara Rodocker, also a restaurant owner and TDC member, echoed Chiles’ statement.

In other business, the council received two new publications - a glossy guide to sports venues and organizations in the state and a 2008 visitors guide to Manatee County.

The council also reviewed lodging statistics for the area.

A review of the average daily rate for lodging in the area showed rooms going for about $20 less in Manatee County than Sarasota County. Another comparison showed the ADR at $127.70 for Anna Maria Island as compared to $145.06 for Longboat Key and $81.76 for the mainland. The overall Manatee County ADR in 2007 is $112.74 compared to $129.97 in 2006.

In regards to occupancy, statistics for Manatee County showed a lower occupancy rate in November than in the past three years - 50.5 percent compared to 54.3 percent in 2006, 58.7 percent in 2005 and 58.6 percent in 2004. The occupancy rate on the mainland in November was 62.3 percent compared to 40.5 percent on the Island and 48.6 percent on Longboat Key. (See separate story in this week’s issue.)

The TDC’s next meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 11, at the Manatee County Administration Building, 1112 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

The council’s schedule in 2008 includes meetings April 21, June 16, Aug. 18, Oct. 20 and Dec. 15.