Sometimes when she’s stuck in evening traffic on St. Armands Circle, St. Armands Circle Association Executive Director Diana Corrigan feels like she’s stuck in the drawbridge days before the new John Ringling Bridge was built.
What’s bad news for drivers hoping for a quick evening commute is good news for businesses, because it means tourism is rebounding.
“This season is big. We have not seen it this busy in years,” said Corrigan, who estimates that season hasn’t been this busy since the pre-Recession days of 2005 and 2006.
The latest tourist development tax figures from Sarasota and Manatee counties show tourism is up this year over last year on Longboat Key. Tourist tax collected during a given month isn’t due until the following month, so January is the most recent month for which figures are available.
(Tourist tax collected in January can be paid any time during the month of February, for example.)
Tourist tax revenue, which is paid on rentals of less than six months, rose by more than 6% in January on the Sarasota County side of Longboat Key and by more than 18% in the Manatee County portion compared to January 2012.
“It seems like people from up North have just gotten cabin fever or something,” said Robbie Ball, who owns Blue Dolphin Café at the Centre Shops of Longboat Key and St. Armands Circle. He reports business is at least as good as any other past season in his 15 years of operation. “It’s back to business as usual.”
Sandra Rios, director of communications at the Ocean Properties LLC-owned Longboat Key Club and Resort, said January bookings were up 6% over last year, while February bookings were up 12%.
The Lido Beach Resort, also owned by Ocean Properties, had its strongest January on record.
“ … We experienced a very strong season from the Northeast during the first quarter, to be expected as travelers sought to escape the weather up North,” Rios wrote in an email to the Longboat Observer. “The exceptionally warm weather was a great draw for last-minute bookings and business from our drive-in markets.”
Both properties have 100% occupancy during Easter weekend, the last weekend of March, and the first week of April, according to Rios.
According to Jana Troyer, marketing manager of the Longboat Key-headquartered RVA Resort Vacations, nightly, weekly and monthly rentals are up this year compared to 2012. Many of the company’s properties are booked through April 6.
Even though March has been cooler than January and February, bookings have stayed up at many resorts.
Mark Meador, general manager of Casa del Mar, said March occupancy is 6% higher than it was last year, while February was up 12% compared to last year.
“We’ve had an unseasonably cool March, but it’s still a lot better than where they’re coming from,” he said.
David Miller, owner of Cannons Marina, said business is good whenever the weather is sunny.
“Since the first of the month, we haven’t had a sunny day. January rocked, because we had great warm weather,” said Miller, who said January was a record for both boat rentals and sales at Cannons.
One factor that could affect the duration of season: Easter, which falls on March 31 this year, earlier than usual.
But many business owners and operators are optimistic that tourists and snowbirds will stay longer than the Easter Bunny.
“We’re reminding them it will still be cold where they’re coming from in April,” Meador said.