“We’re back” is the message heard from many business owners this month.
And Florida is preparing to roll out the “welcome mat” to vacationers.
A state restriction on new short-term vacation rental bookings and new check-ins at vacation homes remained in place May 18, but the Manatee County Tourist Development Council was recommending the county commission seek state permission to lift the restriction at the local level.
“We are working in coordination with the other counties, mainly on the west coast of Florida, so there is a lot of consistency,” Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the TDC members May 18. “So we have a nice, safe experience for our visitors and our residents.”
Travel and lodging were two topics for discussion for the Tourist Development Council, which was holding a virtual meeting May 18, as The Islander went to press.
The TDC is a nine-member advisory committee that makes recommendations to the board of county commissioners on the expenditures of tourist tax revenues. The council had not met since late winter, when members were looking forward to a robust spring season with an influx of vacationers in March and April.
The robust season never materialized.
By mid-March, the tourist economy had begun to shutter and nearly shut down in April, when the state adjusted to “safer-at-home” orders from the governor.
The TDC’s agenda included a presentation of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau’s short-term marketing recovery plan by Falcione.
The 44-page PowerPoint presentation outlines how “to return to the market at the proper time, with limited funds” in two phases — June-August and September-December.
The CVB would market to larger cities in the South in the first phase, targeting families with household incomes of more than $100,000 a year.
In the second phase, the CVB would extend its marketing reach to the Northeast.
The agenda also included reviews of:
- Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport’s COVID-19 safety plan, “SRQ Strong: When You’re Ready … We’re Ready,” which states airport personnel must wear face coverings and travelers are strongly encouraged to wear masks and use mobile ticketing.
SRQ installed sanitizing stations and plastic shields, widened security lanes and marked floors for social distancing.
- Research Data Services Inc.’s March visitor profile report showed visitors for October 2019-March 2020 down 0.6% compared with fiscal year 2019 and economic impact down 2.3%.
Comparing month to month, visitors were down 40.2% in March compared to March 2019 and room nights were down 33.7%.
- Research Data Service’s “traveler sentiment survey” was conducted in early May, the same week that county-run public beaches on Anna Maria Island reopened and the governor announced implementation of phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan.
As restaurant dining rooms opened to 25% capacity and people returned to the Gulf shore, RDS used its database of “likely Florida travelers” to check the pulse on the “pandemic state of mind.”
The survey revealed more than half of respondents canceled a trip because of the coronavirus outbreak but two in five still had future travel plans.
About 18% rescheduled travel for June or July, 14.7% planned to travel in August or September, 26.7% October-December and 40.5% postponed plans to 2021.
Asked how reopening was moving, about 54% said too quickly, 26.6% said “at the right pace” and 13.3% said too slowly.
Asked “how much have you missed travel?” about 60.7% said “very much” and 53.2% said they dreamed “often” about taking a vacation.
Majorities said they’d feel safe “at the moment” with outdoor recreation and travel by car.
But majorities also said they would not feel safe dining at restaurants, attending sporting events, visiting indoor attractions, going to theme parks, taking a cruise, traveling by air or attending a conference.
About going to the beach, 42.7% said they’d feel safe.
People’s biggest concerns about COVID-19 and travel? Health and safety, a second wave of cases with the easing of restrictions and “not being able to return home.”
“What would persuade you it is safe to book a trip?” the researchers asked.
About 72% said, “A vaccine being found.”
Second best: “Things reopening with no increase in cases.”
About the TDC
The TDC makes recommendations to the board of county commissioners on the expenditures of tourist tax revenues — a 5% tax on accommodations of six months or less.
The board includes Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, hoteliers Jiten Patel, Ed Chiles, Eric Cairns and Barbara Baker and citizens Jack Rynerson and Vernon DeSear.