Island may set summer tourism record
If advance reservations for Island accommodations mean anything, Anna Maria Island could easily be headed for a record-setting summer tourist season.
Following the Islandwide sellout of accommodations for the July 4 weekend, Island accommodation owners and managers are reporting advance reservations for July and August that are well ahead of last year’s numbers.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Larry Chatt, head of Island Real Estate’s vacation rental department.
Advance reservations for July are already up 60 percent from last year, while August reservations are 30 percent ahead of August 2008, he said.
“Reservations are through the roof,” Chatt said, observing that advance reservations for October, traditionally the start of the winter tourist season, are already up 85 percent from last year.
“The level of positive press nationwide that the Island has received this past year has been extremely helpful,” said Chatt. “More and more people are discovering the Island and saying, ‘That’s where I want to go.’”
A number of summer vacationers are going to Walt Disney World in Orlando, then bringing the family to the Island for rest and relaxation, Chatt said.
Another reason for the tourist upswing is value for money, said David Teitelbaum of the Tradewinds, Tortuga and Surfside motels in Bradenton Beach.
“People realize they can get the old Florida atmosphere at a great price on the Island. They’re not paying a fortune to get a two-bedroom unit with a kitchen for a week or two,” he said.
“Our bookings are far ahead of last year,” Teitelbaum said. “I predict we will have our best summer ever. The July 4 weekend was fantastic, a sell-out, and we’re getting a tremendous amount of calls for reservations in late July and August.”
And summer specials for a vacation rental are really helping tourism, added Chatt.
On Island Real Estate’s Web site, one of the most popular links is for available specials.
“People really do see that they can get value for money, particularly with a special offer,” he said.
At Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach, owner Tom Buehler said he’s ahead of last summer’s figures and advance bookings for August are doing well.
And visitors for August are not just the traditional Florida families heading to the beach before public schools reopen.
Sally Greig of Mike Norman Real Estate said she’s seen quite a number of Europeans and Midwesterners booking for the summer.
“They are coming from all over. The Island has a great reputation,” she said.
Greig has been getting quite a number of phone calls and e-mails from people looking for a summer vacation bargain.
Although many people are calling just before they plan a vacation, Greig said she’s been able to work with them to find the best accommodation at the best price.
July has been an extremely busy month, she said, while June was one of the best in recent memory.
Tourists certainly came in June, said Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce president Mary Ann Brockman.
“We had 2,367 walk-in visitors in June and 42,828 visits to our Web site,” she said.
While acknowledging that many Florida families head to the beach during summer vacation, Brockman has seen quite a number of visitors from the Midwest and South this summer, including Iowa, Indiana, Texas and Georgia.
The chamber, however, is not resting. Advertisements in newspapers in Tampa and Orlando, in addition to online, have stirred interest in an Island vacation.
“We’ve done some Florida advertising and had great response,” Brockman said. August should be very good for the Island tourist industry, she predicted, because Florida schools don’t reopen until the latter half of the month.
From 2001 to 2006, the Florida Legislature had mandated that public schools begin the first week of August, nearly crippling the state’s tourist industry.
Tourism to the Island fell by 40 percent during that period. When the Legislature relented after heavy pressure from the tourist industry, occupancy of Island accommodations for August jumped from 32 percent in 2006 to nearly more than 50 percent the following year.
“Everything is coming together for a great summer season,” said Brockman.
Ed Chiles, owner of the Sandbar and BeachHouse restaurants, reported a number of summer weddings and parties have been held at his establishments.
“We’re definitely ahead of last year. As long as the weather holds, business should be good,” Chiles said.
The reaction from retail shops to the summer season, however, has been mixed.
While Deb Barker at Niki’s Island Treasures in Holmes Beach said summer business has been excellent, Signa Bouziane of Mister Roberts Resort Wear in Holmes Beach said people are being very careful about buying extras.
“We’ve had a lot of walk-in traffic, and there are a lot of people on the Island, but they are watching their budgets carefully,” she said.
According to data from a 2008 study by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, each summer visitor spends an average of about $900 for lodging, meals, entertainment and other purchases during their Island vacation.
With more visitors this summer than any previous summer season, that amount of spending will certainly help the Island economy, said Brockman.
Need a room?
Summer vacationers looking to find a place on Anna Maria Island for a vacation, but don’t yet have accommodations, should contact the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce for information on available units. Call 941-778-1541, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.