The Manatee County Public Beach at 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, attracts a crowd in mid-March, several weeks ahead of Easter, the pinnacle of tourist season. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Just four months into the fiscal year, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is seeing a 13.1 percent rise in resort tax collections for 2012-13 from unincorporated Manatee County — primarily the Lakewood Ranch area — compared with the same period last year.
Comparing the past 36 months of resort tax collections with tourism gains, the resort tax increase for unincorporated Manatee County translates into a tourism jump of about 6.5 percent, Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman noted.
“That’s about what we have on the island. If resort taxes are up 15 percent, tourism is up 7.5 percent, and we’ve been checking these figures the past three years. They’ve been pretty steady,” she said.
The resort tax is the 5 percent tax collected by Manatee County on rentals of six months or less. Often called the bed tax, the money funds the county’s share of beach renourishment, and contributes to the Bradenton Convention Center, the BACVB, the Crosley Mansion, McKechnie Field and other amenities and projects.
The resort tax collections division of the Manatee County Tax Collector’s Office reported $758,503 collected in unincorporated Manatee County for the first four months of the 2012-13 fiscal year, while $670,585 was collected from that area in the same months in 2011-12.
It’s evidence that the BACVB effort to increase county tourism with promotions for areas other than the island communities, particularly Lakewood Ranch, is working, said Deb Meihls, marketing director for the BACVB.
“While the beaches are the lead for tourism, for the past three years we’ve been promoting all areas of the county, including Lakewood Ranch, the barrier islands, and all points in between. We promote a lot more than the beaches and the figures appear to support our efforts. It was not something that could happen overnight, but we’re starting to see good results from the plan,” Meihls said.
The BACVB also began to push for more international visitors as studies show Europeans have longer vacation times and stay in the United States longer than other international visitors, she said.
Expanded tourism throughout the county is evidenced by more than just increasing resort taxes and visitors.
The Manatee-Sarasota area appears to be one of the leading markets to host the 2017 International Rowing Championships, a sports event that will draw at least 40,000 competitors, coaches and spectators, Meihls said.
The host venue is to be announced in September, but an international rowing facility already is under construction adjacent to the University Boulevard-Interstate-75 intersection, which divides Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Tax collection climbs
Sue Sinquefield of the resort tax collection division reports that $2.436.6 million has been collected for the first four months of the fiscal year — October through January — compared with $2.125.4 million for the same period the previous fiscal year.
That’s a 14.6 percent jump from last year at this time and ahead of pace for the record $8.1 million received in the 2011-12 fiscal year. The figures do not yet include collections for February and March as resort taxes are paid 30 days in arrears, she said.
Sinquefield said better collection methods, more renters and more owners and agents reporting income are helping collections. She said the department also sees good results from occasional door-to-door canvassing of vacation rentals to achieve compliance.
She said field agent trips in the past year to knock on doors in known areas of vacation rentals have brought “tremendous results.”
It also helps that tourism keeps climbing, she added. The visitor figures for 2012 show tourism up 7.5 percent compared with 2011, with nearly 750,000 visitors to the area last year.
When an unlicensed owner or agent is found, they not only have to pay to register, but also any resort taxes and sales tax not previously paid.
Sinquefield said it would be fair to say that many new owners and agents registered and paid resort taxes in the past year.
While Manatee is reporting large gains in resort tax collections, the city of Anna Maria had the largest increase in one year — $139,970 in collections for January 2013, a 113 percent gain from the $60,302 collected in January 2012.
Brockman said she fully expects another record year for island tourism, as well as resort collections.
“I think we are way up on accommodation rentals and occupancy. We had an incredible spring break and there are almost no rooms left the remainder of March for more than a few days,” she said.
Brockman agreed the Lakewood Ranch area took a large burden of island traffic this year. Traffic is always bad during the season, but with more visitors to Bradenton this year, island traffic hasn’t been overwhelming, she said.
“I think everyone who rented out in the Lakewood Ranch area came to the island at least for a day visit. The idea of tourism growth out east is a great one, and will only benefit the island,” she said. “As more people come to east Manatee County, more people will visit Anna Maria Island,” Brockman said.