BRADENTON -- West/Central Florida is carving out a niche of visitors that enjoy a slightly different vacation flavor than most of the state is accustomed to, and vacationers are migrating here in growing numbers. The area used to advertise to compete with the rest of Florida, but the Manasota region is finding sports and nature to be powerful economic engines.
On Tuesday's Sarasota/Manatee BOCC joint session, some goals for the future direction of tourism became slightly more apparent. Taking care of their crown jewel attraction for tourists -- the beaches -- is always an objective, but other joint efforts of investments made by both governments have started showing attractive returns.
Virginia Haley and Elliott Falcione were first to bring in the numbers reflecting recovering revenues from a steady flow of foreign and U.S. tourists. They announced the success that the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB) and the Bradenton Area Convention Visitors Bureau (BACVB) and their partnerships have brought to the region. The Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) has partnered up with them as well as VisitFlorida and The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, to keep the area's economy in a recovering mode. But it wasn't all heads and beds news.
There was attention brought to the growing film industry in Sarasota and how it might even be wise to extend it into Bradenton. Falcione said, "Management and marketing is more of an art than a science." He said the area attracts a leisure crowd; 51 percent couples, 39 percent family and seven percent singles, and that many come here for culture.
The attention and popularity the area's sports arenas have been getting, along with natural trails and parks, is getting more obvious. Haley said that advertising is migrating to specific niche audiences such as eco-tourism, culture and family.
Sports vacationers seem to be out front, and hold a promising future for the area. So much so, that the area is being recognized throughout the nation, and even in other parts of the world, as a potential sports mecca. IMG Academies, Nathan Benderson Park and Regatta, Premier Sports Campus, Ellenton Ice Arena, and a network of baseball stadiums and soccer fields, are all experiencing tighter schedules. Bottom line is, these arenas are experiencing larger bookings and there are an increasing number of business corps associating with these facilities, eager to bring their events here.
At the Regatta complex, the FSRA State Championships have just finished up. On May 12 and 13, the facility will host the Southeast Regional Championships. Oct. 21 will bring the Southeast Regional Dragon Boat Championships. Then its the 2012 Regatta Season, which holds six more events. There are bowling championships, soccer tournaments and a long list of booked-up events coming to the area, all of which bring a strong ROI to their comparatively modest facilities that cost a fraction of mainstream professional facilities for sports like football, baseball, basketball or hockey. It certainly looks like sports and parks will be a strong economic engine that will be a driving factor in Manatee and Sarasota County's future, and lower-cost, high-economic impact travel sports seem to be paying off handsomely.
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