By almost every measure, tourism trade in Florida’s Manatee County is showing small signs of lasting recovery from the recession, Manatee County’s tourism researcher said Monday (April 18).
Lodging occupancy rates for the county of 275,000 on the state’s Gulf Coast are up from a year ago. Hotels, condos and RV parks are able to charge more per day than a year ago. More visitors came through the area in February 2011 than 2010. More tourists are using Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport than a year ago. Even the percentage of satisfied visitors has increased, the Bradenton Herald reported.
“The recessionary contractions that we had experienced are a thing of the past,” said Walter Klages, president of Research Data Services. “From every perspective, we’ve weathered the storm, and we’ve come out of it well.”
Those positive trends indicate that Manatee County is on its way to a 2011 increase in tourism of up to 3.5%, Klages said. That’s almost a full percentage point higher than 2010’s increase of 2.6%
The tourism industry, the lifeblood for Florida’s Lee County, which encompasses Fort Myers, attracted more visitors in 2010 than in 2009, but guest spending slipped.
December was a similar story in Lee County: More visitors than December 2009, slightly higher average lodgings occupancy and a lower average daily rate.
Tourism promoters think depressed lodging rates played a significant role in the spending decline, The News Press reported
What’s keeping rates down: the lingering economic downturn, a chillier-than-normal December, misperceptions about the BP oil spill in the northern Gulf and a glut in hotel rooms.
“These are very challenging times we’ve been through,” said Marcia Wood, research director for Davidson-Peterson Associates, the county’s statistical consultant.
“To see any measure of growth is exceptional,” Wood said.
She presented survey-based reports about December and the rest of the year Friday (Feb. 11) at the monthly county Tourist Development Council meeting in south Fort Myers.
Among the 2010 highlights:
- An estimated 4.8 million visitors. That’s up 2% from 2009, when visitation had dipped by 0.9% year-over-year.
- Just more than $2.46 billion in estimated spending by guests. That’s down 5.4% year over year.
- Visitors in aggregate spent less year-over-year, regardless of whether they stayed in paid lodgings or with friends and relatives.
Adjacent Collier County earlier this month reported just more than $1.1 billion in estimated visitor spending for 2010 — a 3.4% gain. Visitors to paid lodgings totaled an estimated 1.38 million for the year, up by about 44,700.
Lee County has struggled to absorb thousands of new hotel rooms following an inland lodgings building boom that began pre-recession.
Asked about a drop in the area’s market share of German visitors — from 7% to 6% year-over-year, bureau chief Tamara Pigott said concerns over the BP Oil spill — which never sullied area shores — definitely played a role.
Pigott took heart, however, in a Smith Travel Research December survey that showed occupancy in responding hotels up 3.8% year-over-year.
“That’s after drops in the three previous year,” she said.
Another good sign for the coming months: More than 29,000 people have downloaded an iPhone app for the new, Lonely Planet guide to the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. The application went live less than a month ago.
At the Crowne Plaza south of Fort Myers, general manager Jim Larkin said they “had to fight to hold the line on rates in December.” Larkin was wary of raising room rates for fear of losing some customers.
However, Larkin has high hopes for the rest of winter and for spring. Since late January “the pace has definitely picked up,” Larkin said, adding: “We haven’t seen anything like this for the past three or four years.”