County sees almost 11% increase in tourists from January through March

With the help of Siesta's No. 1 beach distinction, Sarasota County recorded a 10.7% increase in visitors this year from January through March, according to figures presented April 19 to the Tourist Development Council. (Norman Schimmel photo)

Just how busy was Sarasota County at the height of tourist season this year?

From January through March, 251,800 visitors paid for lodging, a 10.7% increase over the 2011 figure of 227,400 for the same three-month period, members of the Sarasota County Tourist Development Council learned during their regular meeting April 19.

That figure did not include snowbirds or anyone else who stayed more than 60 days, said Walter Klages, CEO of Research Data Services, based in St. Petersburg and Tampa.

The increase in the economic impact for the county for the same period from 2011 to 2012 was 17%, Klages said, for a total figure of $511,681,232.

From January through March, Klages added, visitor expenditures also increased 17% from 2011 to 2012, for a total of $269,618,100.

The report showed that of the markets RDS had tracked, Europe had led the way in the percentage increase in the number of residents who had come to Sarasota County — 38%. Canada was in second place, at 23.4%.

However, the market from which the highest percentage of visitors had come to Sarasota, out of all those tracked by RDS, was the Midwest, Klages told the TDC; 29.8% of the county’s visitors were from the group of states including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois,  and Missouri.

Still, that figure barely beat out the share of visitors from the Northeast, which was 29.6%.

Klages pointed out that the Midwest and Northeast traditionally are Sarasota County’s core markets.

The occupancy rate for hotels and other facilities, he said, was at its height in March, at 94.7%; that was a 3.4% increase from 2011, he added.

At that point, he said, “there’s just not that much room margin left.”

January’s occupancy rate was up 6.7% from 2011 to 2012, while February’s rate was up 7.6%.

“So we have to work on January,” TDC Chairwoman Nora Patterson said.

“January definitely is a shoulder month,” Klages responded.

The average daily room rate in Sarasota County was up 9.7% in March from 2011 to 2012, Klages said — from $168.92 to $185.38.

The average daily room rate increased 8.9% year-to-year for February and 5.9% for January.

Klages used figures from Smith Travel Research to compare occupancy and average daily room rates for Sarasota with those his firm had recorded. However, he explained that Smith focused mostly on flagship hotels. Only those condominium complexes that collected tourist tax fees were included in the Smith survey, Virginia Haley, president of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, explained, and that was a very small percentage.

The Smith figures showed Sarasota County’s occupancy rate up 8.4% from 2011 to 2012 for March, the highest of the 10 Florida areas Smith tracked, according to the figures Klages presented to the TDC.

Clearwater was in second place, at 5%. It also had the highest increase in average daily room rate, at 10.7%.

The average daily room rate was up 7.9%, to $162.18, in Sarasota County from March 2011 to March 2012, according to Smith.

The highest room rate for the areas Smith tracked in Florida, Klages said, was for the Naples area, at $245.03, up 8.1% from March 2011 to March 2012. The second highest was in Palm Beach County, at $191.70, up 7.2% from March 2011.

The lowest average daily room rate in the Smith figures was for Orlando. At $107.99, it was up 4% from March 2011.