Island tourism mixed for holidays

For some Island accommodation owners and managers last week, reservations for the Christmas-New Year’s period were off by 10 percent from last year.
Others, however, said this is just a typical holiday week for visitors.
The cold weather in Florida and a national economy that has not yet recovered from the recession might be factors in keeping some vacationers away from the Island noted several accommodation owners.
“We’re normally booked solid for this week, but we’ve got a few vacancies,” said Jeff Geary of White Sands Resort in Holmes Beach.
“It’s been colder than usual here, and I think a lot of people are taking a second look at spending the money. But we usually have some walk-ins that we refer elsewhere. This year, we’ve got room for a few,” he added.
At the Club Bamboo Resort in Bradenton Beach, manager Dan Conrad echoed that statement.
“We’re down about 20 percent from last year for the Christmas week,” he said last week. “But we traditionally get a lot of walk-in traffic, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
Conrad blamed the drop in reservations on cold weather the past two weeks.
“People want to come here when it’s in the 70s and 80s, not 50 degrees,” he said.
“If it warms up, they’ll start showing up,” he predicted.
Mother Nature may not be in a cooperative mood.
The National Weather Service in Ruskin predicted daytime temperatures in the low 60s and upper 50s on the Island by early this week, but a warming trend would begin mid-week, extending into the new year.
Not all Island accommodations, however, are reporting even a slight downturn in visitors for the holidays.
“The weather is not a factor for the holiday vacationer,” said hotelier David Teitelbaum, owner of the Tradewinds, SeaSide and Tortuga resorts in Bradenton Beach and a board member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council.
“Many people anticipate a little cool weather at Christmas, even in Florida. Our guests don’t seem to mind, and it’s a lot warmer here than up north,” he said.
Also, the guests have been coming, although not at the pace of previous holiday seasons.
“It’s been a good Christmas for us. There are a few available units, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see those taken by the end of the week,” Teitelbaum said.
Marianne Norman-Ellis of Mike Norman Realty in Holmes Beach said vacation rentals are up for the Christmas-New Year’s week compared with the same week last year.
“We’ve jumped 20 percent. We’ve still got a few units left, so we can help a walk-in this week, But our rental business has been very good,” she said.
Stephanie Bell at Fran Maxon Realty in Anna Maria also has seen a jump in vacation rentals from last year.
“Christmas is a family holiday and I think families like the larger houses to accommodate everyone, rather than renting several rooms at a motel. We’ve been getting a lot of calls for a large house,” she said.
“We do have a few houses left for the last-minute visitors, however, so people can still show up this week and get a great accommodation on the Island.”
At the BridgeWalk Resort in Bradenton Beach, owner Barbara Rodocker said reservations for this week are good, but she still has a few vacancies.
Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman said this Christmas season is unusual because some motels have one and two-night vacancies this week, while vacation rentals are in high demand.
“Several members have vacancies this week for a short stay, rather than a one-or two-week reservation. That’s unusual for the holidays. It could be the weather or it could be the economy. I’m hoping it picks up this week with some good weather.”
Brockman agreed the tourism occupancy outlook for the holiday season is mixed, with motels doing OK, but not the complete sellout as in previous years, while occupancy of vacation rentals (houses and apartments) is above average.
“If I had the answer to why that happens, I could name my price,” she said. “Still, we’re in better shape than a lot of other destinations.”
Brockman said visitors to the Island this week looking for a room or vacation rental can come by the chamber office at 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, to see which chamber members have vacancies.
“We keep track of what our members have available, so it’s real easy for us to match the party to the best accommodation,” she said.
Potential visitors can reach the chamber at 941-778-1541.
While Island accommodations are reporting a mixed bag of occupancy levels, Island restaurants that offer outdoor dining are feeling the bite of the cold temperatures.
“Outdoor dining is down with this weather, especially in the evenings,” said Ed Chiles of the Sandbar, MarVista and BeachHouse restaurants. “Our indoor dining is very good, and we’ve been real busy there, but it’s a bit cool for the outdoor dining crowd.”
Last year, Island weather during the Christmas season was good enough to draw outdoor diners during evening hours. But that was last year.
“You have to take the good with the bad at this time of year. Daytime, however, people are eating outside,” he said.
Dave Russell of Rotten Ralph’s, with waterfront locations at Galati Marine in Anna Maria and on the Historic Bridge Street Pier in Bradenton Beach, agreed that cool weather is hurting the outdoor dining industry.
“We’re very dependent on the weather. Both restaurants are on the water, and people like to sit outside. When it’s windy and cold, they’ll go into town to eat, rather than dine inside,” Russell said.
That’s not to say the holidays have been a bust.
“We’re doing real well, especially at the pier. I’m expecting warmer weather later this week, and I think we’ll be packed then.”

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