HERALD-TRIBUNE – Manatee tourism bureau looks to European market – By Dale White
MANATEE COUNTY - As the local tourism industry enjoys a banner year of bookings, tourism bureau officials in Manatee County find themselves making a difficult sales pitch.
They are trying to convince area accommodations and attractions to offer discounts to visitors from Europe. Not surprisingly, they say, they are encountering some resistance.
“If your business is going strong with a majority of domestic visitors, why offer a discount?” Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Monday.
Falcione and his staff offer two reasons.
“The international traveler stays longer, spends more,” Debbie Meihls, the bureau’s executive manager, said.
On Monday, bureau officials talked with a county advisory board on tourism about why they need cooperation from local businesses to pitch Manatee in the European market.
While most Americans do their own vacation planning, “85 percent of Europeans book holidays through a tour operator,” Falcione said.
Those tour operators function as more than travel agents who make reservations. They make guarantees.
“They come to our destinations and inspect accommodations,” Falcione said. “They provide an insurance policy to their customers.”
When they go to trade shows for tour operators in London and Berlin, Manatee tourism representatives say they need to offer competitive and comprehensive packages that include discounts.
Europe is a growing market for Manatee’s tourism industry but the visitors bureau thinks it can grow even more, especially since British Airways now offers daily service to Tampa International Airport.
From October, the start of the county’s current fiscal year, through June, Manatee counted 460,800 “heads in beds,” visitors staying in overnight lodgings that collect county resort taxes.
That amounts to a 6.6 percent increase compared with that same nine-month period in 2012-2013, when the county attracted 432,400 overnight visitors.
Visitors from Europe increased 11.6 percent, from 53,660 to 59,860.
Europe, especially Germany and the United Kingdom, serves as the fourth-largest market for visitors to Manatee. Florida ranks first, followed by the Midwest and the Northeast.
“It’s very important to cultivate the European market,” said David Teitelbaum, who owns four resorts on Anna Maria Island and serves on the county’s Tourist Development Council. “It’s a large segment of our business and a growing one.
Teitelbaum said his European customers tend to be “repeat and referral… They have been coming to us for years and they bring their friends. They all want to stay next to each other.”
The tourism bureau wants to also attract Europeans who have yet to stay in Manatee and who may also become repeat visitors with friends in tow, Teitelbaum said.
To do that, Falcione said, means a marketing strategy that emphasizes more than Manatee’s beaches.
Falcione said he recently had a conference call with a tour operator in the United Kingdom who stayed at the new Hampton Inn in downtown Bradenton.
That operator wants to put together a package in which clients will stay overnight downtown, enjoy its attractions (the Riverwalk, the South Florida Museum) and take day trips to Anna Maria Island.