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Manatee tourism hit by economy


BRADENTON - Tourism in Manatee County is definitely feeling the effects of the national and worldwide economic downturn, but it could be worse.

A bird checks out the scene

at Bradenton Public Beach on

a bright, sunny Thursday afternoon.

"We're pretty much ahead of other destinations like us in that we are not down as much as they are," said Larry White, executive director of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council. "Whether that's due to skill, timing or God loves us, you can ascribe it to all of that."

"For the year, we've done better than a lot of areas in the state."

The average daily room rate in March was $163.97, down from $167 in March 2008 but higher than $125.74 in January of this year. Occupancy was down from 88.9 percent in March 2008 to 80.5 percent in March of this year, up from 52.1 percent in January and 73.2 percent in February.

The beaches (for walking and swimming), dining out and relaxing were the top activities for visitors, according to the Visitor Profile for the latest period, along with shopping and visiting with friends or relatives. Visitors surveyed said the beaches, relaxation, and good food and restaurants were the top attributes that described the Manatee area well.

Nearly 56 percent of visitors came to the area by personal car or recreational vehicle and 42.3 percent came by plane. Most of those who flew deplaned at Tampa International Airport, at 54.5 percent, while 21.1 percent got off airliners at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Other visitors got off at Orlando International/Sanford (17.4 percent) and 2.8 percent deplaned at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.

More than 22 percent of the county's visitors came from elsewhere in Florida, the report said. Nearly 29 percent of visitors were from the Midwest, 22.5 percent of visitors came from the Northeast and 6.8 percent came from the Southeast.

European tourists accounted for 8.8 percent of the county's visitors, while Canadians represented 7.3 percent.

The area's size is working in its favor, White said, because places like Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, with their luxury resorts and big meeting hotels, are taking some pretty big hits.

"Tourism all over the country is really suffering, and the bigger the marketplace the greater the loss," White said.

"We had a good season," he said. "Whatever March turns out to be is going to be what March is without Easter."

Last year, Easter was in March, unlike this year, and those results will be reflected in April's numbers.

Visitors' comments on Manatee County were mostly positive, the profile said, and many were centered on the beach. Among the comments listed in the research study were these:

  • A rusty pipe on Anna Maria beach.

  • Got really sick.

  • Enjoying sand and sunshine while West Virginia had freezing temperatures and snow.

  • Getting a tan in "Jan."

  • New Year's Eve on the beach in Florida.

  • The area is so clean and the people are so friendly.

  • The laid-back feeling you get when entering (the) Bradenton area.

  • Seeing a manatee up close.

  • Unbelievable how pretty it is.


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