Tourism plays a major role in Sarasota’s economy.
A Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau study examining last year’s tourism figures finds that a majority of visitors were pleased with their trip to Sarasota and will return in the future.
More than 97% of tourists surveyed said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with Sarasota County as a destination.
Virginia Haley, SCVB president, said that satisfaction rate is relatively consistent with other Southwest Florida destinations, but is higher than those in other Florida towns.
“If we didn’t have that visitor satisfaction, we wouldn’t have survived the BP (oil spill) disaster,” she said.
The effects of the oil spill mainly influenced European tourists, who heard less detailed news accounts of the spill and assumed that Sarasota was hit badly.
Visitors from Europe declined 15% from 2009. Haley said that drop is also in part to the strength of the U.S. dollar at the time many Europeans book their trips.
Overall, the number of tourists declined about 1%, but tourist spending increased 0.4%.
“We’re still seeing some of the visitor spending constraints,” said Haley.
She cited, for example, a stronger popularity last year of no-cost activities, such as reading and lounging by the pool.
The weakening of the economy can be at least partially responsible for increasing the number of Florida residents who spend their vacations in Sarasota.
The number of in-state visitors was up more than 7% last year.
“Florida will always be our strongest market,” Haley said.
In terms of attractions, St. Armands Circle was the top local attraction, with 64% of people saying they visited there. Those numbers could be skewed somewhat, because some of the tourists were surveyed as they walked around the Circle.
Dining out was the most popular activity, with visiting the beach as a close second.
Spring-training baseball was last with only about 7% of those surveyed saying they visited Ed Smith Stadium.
Haley, though, sees the number as positive, because spring training games only occur one month out of the year.
“There were only 17 games here, and it still registers (on the survey),” she said.
To view the results of the survey in PDF format, click here.