Tourism experts track travelers’ sentiments during pandemic

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Michele Schulz, field services and collections director at the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office, addresses the TDC June 15 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto. To inform people of pandemic rules for leasing short-term vacation rentals, the tax collector’s office contacted more than 7,000 property owners by email and U.S. mail. Islander Screenshot
Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, addresses the Manatee County Tourist Development Council during a meeting June 15 at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto. Islander Screenshot

Manatee County — Tourism experts asked potential Manatee County visitors for the word that describes their “feelings about travel right now.”

The answers read like the “cautious” entry in a thesaurus: anxious, fearful, concerned, hesitant, apprehensive, wary.

The latest results to the “Traveler Sentiment Survey,” launched as the coronavirus pandemic derailed local tourism, were presented June 15 to the Manatee County Tourist Development Council by Anne Wittine of Research Data Services, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors’ consultant.

The meeting was at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto, with most attendees wearing masks and sitting 6 feet apart.

Wittine said the survey, conducted weekly, showed people felt less safe in June than in late May.

In the second week of June, about 42% of respondents said Florida was reopening too quickly after more than a month under “safer-at-home” orders. About 34% felt that way the first week of June.

Respondents said their travel concerns included not being able to return home, being quarantined away from home and dealing with canceled flights.

Wittine also presented a series of statistics on tourism impact, saying, “These numbers really seem like a bad April Fools’ joke.”

In March, overnight stays grossed about $1.78 million in bed taxes and the collection was down 34.59% from March 2019.

In April, overnight stays generated $449,904 in bed taxes, down 69.81% from April 2019. The bed tax, or tourist development tax, is the 5% collected on overnight rentals of six months or less.

Visits in commercial lodging — hotels, motels or condos — were down 8.6% for the second quarter compared to January-March 2019.

Direct expenditures for visitors in the second quarter were $277,999,500, down 7.1% compared to the same period the year before.

Total economic impact for visitors in the second quarter was $439 million, down 7.1% from the year before.

Occupancy was down 8.9% for the second quarter.

Visitors were down 40.2% to 55,500 in March, the first month in which Florida was dealing with — or reeling from — the pandemic.

In April, with much of tourism shut down or restricted, visitation was down 82.3%.

For March, room nights totaled 138,600, down 33.7% from March 2019, and the total economic impact for the month was down 38.4% to about $110 million.

Anna Maria Island’s occupancy fell 30.4% in March and, countywide in April, occupancy was down 83.4%.

“May occupancy was averaging about 40%, which is down, but is a huge increase from … April,” Wittine said.

In other business, the TDC heard the following reports:

  • John Horne, owner of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants, represented the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association at the meeting.

“One of the things that was a huge shot in the arm for lodging and restaurants was the work you guys did to get short-term rentals open,” he said, referring to the lifting of a ban on vacation rentals of less than a month in Manatee County. The ban was imposed March 27 and lifted May 23.

  • At Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport, passenger traffic increased from 9,742 passengers in April to 39,988 passengers in May.

However, May traffic was down 71% compared with May 2019.

SRQ representative Mark Stuckey said airlines were adding services, the “terminal is sparkling clean” and all airlines operating from the airport require passengers to wear masks.

“You don’t find that when you go out and around the town,” he said. “When you are at the airport, about 99.9% of everybody is wearing masks.”

The next TDC meeting will be at 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 17, tentatively at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

 

County commission reappoints 2 TDC seats

Manatee County commissioners unanimously voted June 16 to reappoint two mayors to the tourist development council.

Two people — Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant and Longboat Key Commissioner Ed Zunz — applied for a seat reserved for an elected official. Bryant held the seat and was reappointed.

The commission also reappointed Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston to the seat representing his city, although another appointment will be required in November, as Poston is not seeking reelection.

The advisory committee makes recommendations to county commissioners on expenditures of tourist tax revenues — the 5% tax on accommodations of six months or less.

The board includes Poston, Bryant, county Commissioner Misty Servia, hoteliers Jiten Patel, Ed Chiles, Eric Cairns and Barbara Baker and citizens Jack Rynerson and Vernon DeSear.

The commission meeting was at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, 1 Haben Blvd., Palmetto.

The next TDC meeting will be Monday, Aug, 17, tentatively at Holmes Beach City Hall.

— Lisa Neff

 

 

About the TDC

The advisory committee 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.