Tourism figures tell the story: The visitors keep on coming

Construction continues on the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar in Venice, the restaurant’s third location. Opening is scheduled for December, just in time for season. Courtesy photo

Riding on waves of tourist enthusiasm engendered by Siesta Public Beach’s No. 1 ranking, Sarasota County businesses relished a huge comeback in the summer of 2011 after the dour summer of 2010.

The beach publicity wiped clean the remnants of the BP oil spill’s aftermath.

This year, even with a new No. 1 beach named in May, tourism continues to boom, Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, told The Sarasota News Leader this week.

Looking over the July statistics she had just received, Haley said the county had seen a 6.5% increase in the number of visitors, compared to July 2011. Moreover, Haley said, those visitors had generated an increased economic impact of 8.7% for July 2012 over July 2011.

“Now here’s the thing that’s really interesting,” she said: While the number of Florida tourists was down 2.2% over July 2011, Sarasota County had seen a 10% increase in the number of tourists from the Northeast, a 12% hike in those from the Midwest and a 14% increase in those from Europe.

“It’s not just the quicky drive market,” she pointed out. “To see these numbers is really, really great.”

With improvement in the overall economy, Haley said, more Floridians probably were headed out-of-state on vacation — to the North Carolina mountains, for example.

Conversely, thanks to Visit Sarasota County’s greater focus on overseas markets, international tourism was gaining ground, she said. This is the third year of the organization’s marketing efforts in Germany and the United Kingdom, she pointed out. To build on that, she said, a couple more hotels in the county are helping out with package deals for European tourists.

Yet another boost had come as a result of Eidelweiss Air’s weekly flight from Switzerland to Tampa International Airport, Haley said. “That has been very positive for us.”

British Airways passenger numbers for Tampa flights also were up this summer, she said.

“A lot of those guests tend to be upscale,” she noted of the BA travelers. “They definitely tend to be Longboat Key-type guests,” especially at resorts such as the Longboat Key Club, she added.

Still, businesses on Siesta Key are seeing the positive trends.

“We’ve had a really good summer,” Russell Matthes, vice president of marketing for the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, told the News Leader.

Business is up about 7.5%, he said, adding that the restaurants had been able to maintain their pace from season into the summer months.

The Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar also has a location on St. Armands Circle, with a third restaurant scheduled to open in Venice in December. It will be on Venice Avenue, next to Centennial Park.

In mid-August 2011, about two-and-a-half months after Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University in Miami, aka Dr. Beach, ranked Siesta Beach No. 1 in the United States, customers were creating what Siesta Sports Rental co-owner Sheila Lewis called her best summer ever.

Contacted Aug. 22 about this year, Lewis laughed when asked how business was. “Excellent! Best summer ever for us.”

She added, “We broke records this year.”

With a big map on the back wall of her South Midnight Pass Road shop, to help chart customers’ homes, Lewis said she had found this summer that people had come to Siesta from “all over the world,” including places as distant as New Zealand and Hawaii.

Tom Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café in the heart of Siesta Village, told the News Leader, “This actually was a good summer.”

Numbers were flat for his restaurant compared to last summer, he said, but they were “way up from two years ago.”

Regarding that No. 1 beach ranking, he added, “I think the carryover was good. … I’m happy. I really am happy.”

Chris Brown, owner of The Hub Baja Grill, the Beach Club and The Cottage in Siesta Village, agreed with the carryover effect of the beach ranking. “We’re beating last year’s numbers,” he said. “It’s really great.”

Bob Kirscher, co-owner of The Broken Egg — with locations in Siesta Village, on Clark Road and in Lakewood Ranch — told the News Leader, “Actually, we are up at all three locations. It’s been a good.”

July figures were down a bit from 2011, he said, but he attributed that to how weekends fell in that month. The majority of his business comes from customers on Saturdays and Sundays in the summertime, he added.

Cheryl Gaddie, owner of the interior design firm CG Designs, told the News Leader in late July, “Business has been great.”

She pointed out, “How many places have not come back from the huge economic downturn? … We were very fortunate to have the No. 1 beach.”

With August winding down, Haley is launching her organization’s “Sarasota in Shorts” campaign this week, a new marketing initiative in cooperation with JetBlue.

Ads placed in the airline’s terminals in New York and Boston will spotlight Sarasota, as JetBlue has non-stop flights to Sarasota from those cities.

In remarks to the Sarasota County Commission in early July, Haley said the campaign was designed to remind people in those areas, where cold weather typically arrives sooner, that tourists on vacation in Sarasota can shop and dine in shorts.