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Date of Issue: August 25, 2010

Anna Maria pier: Still No. 1

The Anna Maria City Pier was voted the most favorite Manatee County attraction by visitors who stayed in the area during the April-June 2010 period. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

The Historic Anna Maria City Pier remains the No. 1 attraction for visitors to the Manatee County area.

In the April-June 2010 study by Research Data Services of Tampa for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 29.2 percent of visitors rated Anna Maria’s pier their favorite attraction in Manatee County.

The second favored county attraction was the Prime Outlet Mall in Ellenton, while the Rod & Reel Pier, also in Anna Maria, came in third with 21.7 percent of the votes.

The Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach continued to climb in visitor approval ratings, earning fourth place among county attractions for visitors.

 Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said she’s not surprised the city pier remains the top attraction.

“It’s no surprise to see that people want to come to our city. All the brochures on tourism show Bean Point and the Island beaches. And the city pier is just a slice of old Florida that you can’t find anywhere else,” she said.

“Even though Anna Maria is the smallest accommodation market of the three Island cities, we provide a quality experience for the visitor,” she said.

Anna Maria City Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick, who spearheaded a grant for a planned boardwalk project at the pier, said the survey confirms that the city pier and Rod & Reel piers are integral parts of the tourist experience.

“I think it’s wonderful to have two such popular attractions in our city,” she said.

St. Armands Circle in Sarasota County was No. 1 in the overall survey of attractions, a position it has occupied since the quarterly surveys began several years ago.

Visitors also voted on “attributes” for the area, and the top four involved Anna Maria Island.

The top four responses were, in order, “beautiful beaches; sunning on the beach; clear, blue water; and unspoiled environment.” The No. 5 response was “value for money,” and dining out came in at No. 7 with a 55.4 percent approval response.

Multiple responses were permitted in the surveys for both attractions and attributes.

Despite the nationwide economic slowdown and the impact on tourism from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the northern Gulf of Mexico, visitor arrivals increased 1.7 percent April-June when compared with the same three months last year.

The survey reported 114,200 visitors came to the area during those three months this year, while 112,300 arrived during April-June 2009.

The total economic impact of visitor spending also increased, climbing 2.6 percent from $103.6 million in April-June 2009 to $106.2 million for April-June 2010.

As expected, visitor arrivals from the southeastern United States jumped 13.4 percent for the reporting period, due largely to people coming to Anna Maria Island rather than vacationing in the Florida Panhandle.

Florida remained the top origination for visitors traveling to the area with 33.1 percent of visitors (37,800) coming from the Sunshine State.

In news that did not surprise BACVB’s marketing director Deb Meihls, 84 percent of visitors said they used the Internet to research Anna Maria Island. Of those, 43.3 percent booked their accommodation online, an increase of 6.6 percent from April-June 2009.

Meihls told a meeting of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council Aug. 16 that 83 percent of “Generation X” uses social networking on the Internet to make travel arrangements, book meetings or socialize with friends. Social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and MySpace are the trend for the future of advertising the Island, she said.

More than half (53.3 percent) of the visitors during the three-month period said they considered only Anna Maria Island for their vacation, and 67.1 percent said they had visited the Island previously.

The average family budgeted $1,590 for their Island vacation, stayed 6.7 days, spent an average of $697 on accommodations, $436 on food and beverage and $189 on retail purchases.

Walter Klages of Research Data Services told the TDC that Anna Maria Island is one of the most unique destinations in all of Florida.

“And I’ve been to most of them. This is the only one that is really the old Florida people talk about,” he said.

He advised the TDC to keep that vision in mind.