Despite the fits and starts of tourism in 2018, Manatee County tallied up nearly $1 billion in economic impact from visitors.
Walter Klages of Research Data Services — a research specialist for the Manatee County Tourist Development Council — was met with smiles and deep breaths Feb. 11 when he made the announcement.
“One billion. Yes, almost $1 billion in impact in 2018, despite all the issues of the year,” Klages said.
The exact figure is $973,798,800, up 4 percent from 2017’s $936,548,700.
Visitation fell 0.8 percent in 2018, but spending was up, along with the average daily room rate of $174.70, up 0.3 percent.
The roller coaster numbers continued with an occupancy drop of 5.8 percent in 2018 at 68.7 percent, but Klages noted a 6.8 percent increase in lodging inventory, which may have played into the numbers.
For December 2018, Klages reported an increase of 2.1 percent in tourism economic impact over 2017, with a total of $48,472,000, although visitors fell by 1.6 percent. “We are still fighting the stigmatism of the red tide,” Klages noted, as occupancy fell 6.4 percent from December 2017 and average daily room rates backed off 1 percent.
“People call us all the time wanting to know if the red tide is still here,” Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “It’s been over six weeks now with no red tide and we have to get passionate about this. It is only going to hurt if we keep talking about it,” he added.
The TDC, with two members absent, voted unanimously to recommend spending $30,000 to continue a joint venture with the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce. The funding would provide the salary for a worker at the Manatee Public Beach kiosk, 4000 Manatee Ave., Holmes Beach, to distribute tourism information. The kiosk would be would be staffed seven days a week for four months.
A kiosk initiative has been underway for about two years, according to AMI chamber president Terri Kinder. An employee is at the kiosk five days a week, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. At the TDC’s recommendation, the county had funded $15,000 per year for staffing.
In other business
Kevin McNulty of Netweave Social Networking recapped social media campaigns, noting a general misunderstanding of red tide on social media.
He said pausing advertising campaigns due to red tide produced adverse effects on social media.
Sean Walter and Antonio Saviano made a presentation on the Premier Sports Complex on State Road 70 in Lakewood Ranch.
Also, Tony DeRusso, managing director of Improvement Network Development Partners, reported on the convention center-hotel partnership .
Following a failed attempt at building a hotel adjoining the convention center in Palmetto, the BACVB in 2018 teamed with IN Development, which plans to build a 250-room Sheraton Key hotel on the 12-1/2-acre site.
Groundbreaking for the eight-story hotel with a rooftop lounge is scheduled for April. Amenities will include retail and outdoor event space.
Space also will be available for an additional Key hotel.
Falcione called the construction “the most important project on our table today.”
Council members discussed a concert series underway and touched on bed tax collection from Airbnb hosts.
Vernon DeSear was re-elected vice chairman of the council for 2019.
TDC members in attendance included DeSear, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, Anna Maria City Commissioner Doug Copeland, hoteliers Eric Cairns and Jiten Patel and citizen member Jack Rynerson. Members Ed Chiles and Dale Sconyers did not attend.
The TDC makes recommendations to the county commissioners for projects and uses for tourist development tax revenues. The council consists of nine people appointed to four-year terms.