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July and August become record months for tourism in Manatee County, despite COVID

Things are taking a turn for the better with tourism in our beautiful town.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Tourism is beginning to pick up again amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“The pandemic has definitely changed the way the traveler landscape has looked for us,” Kelly Clark said.

Clark is the director of marketing and communication for the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. She says business in 2020 looked promising until the pandemic hit.

“Taking a look at our tourism tax collections, March through June we really saw a significant impact from COVID-19,” Clark said.

Tourism tax dollars plummeted. But things started taking a surprising turn in July.

“Just in July and August we have seen an increase in our tourism tax collection,” Clark said. “And that’s really coming from our drive market, particularly in-state travelers.”

In August alone, Clark says we saw about an 88 percent uptick in Florida travelers than we did at this time last year.

“Usually at this time this is when we are seeing our northeastern fly market coming into town,” Clark said. “It’s also when we have an influx of our international travelers.”

But with travel restrictions, the region is not seeing that this year.

“The pent-up demand for a vacation in the drive market has really surged,” Clark said. “We are seeing an uptick in the domestic drive market, even up to a 2-day drive.”

Ginny’s & Jane E’s Café has experienced the ups and downs of 2020.

“At the beginning, when we went to take out only, it was definitely a hit to the whole island and the restaurant industry in general,” said Café Manager Morgan Lowe.

She says fortunately the business had good support from the local community, enough so it was able to stay open throughout the pandemic.

It wasn’t until mid-July when the business began booming.

“It started picking up and just right when we think we slowed down, when school normally would begin, it’s actually when we got our busiest,” Lowe said.

“The past two months have been record months I think for the whole island in general for tourism and people visiting,” Lowe said.

Usually, she says September is a lull month on the island, but this year that’s not the case. Lowe says the line for the Café has been out the door.

“This year everyone I think was just tired of being stuck at home in quarantine or what not and everybody’s come out,” Lowe said. “It’s really great to see!”

Plus, they are making sure to do what’s necessary to keep their customers safe.

“We require people to wear a mask inside while they are walking around, but while they are sitting and eating at their table of course they don’t need that,” Lowe said.

They also have plexiglass up in between the customers and the cashiers, in between tables, and are sanitizing menus.

“We are doing everything that is in our power and everything that we can to make everybody as safe as possible, and we ask that everybody returns the respect and favor,” Lowe said.

If the last couple of months are any indication of what the future holds, Clark says we’re on the right track for recovery in the tourism department.

“Really where we saw the flip was in July and they [tourism tax dollars] were up about 15 percent,” Clark said. “August was where we saw the largest jump and that was about 30 percent.”

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