Much of Florida is no stranger to the hospitality business, but even busy winter hotspots for snowbirds can experience saturation levels when it comes to visitor resources. Tourism is on the rise in Sarasota and Manatee counties – which is great for hotels, restaurants and other tourism-focused businesses -- but this upswing in visitors is posing a problem for the newly formed Major League Football , which has chosen the region for preseason training.
According to local news source the Herald-Tribune, Frank Murtha of the MLF has even flirted with the idea of docking a cruise ship on the Manatee River to house 800 players and coaches. Other professional sports organizations have taken advantage of housing rentals through IMG Academy or the dormitories at Pirate City.
“With workouts scheduled in February and March, peak tourism time in Southwest Florida, Murtha was having a hard time finding a hotel to accommodate the athletes and coaches who will be invited to participate in the startup professional league training at the Premier Sports Campus,” wrote Katy Bergen for the Herald-Tribune.
As the number of visitors to Southwest Florida rises – particularly for sports-related events -- hotel rooms to accommodate all the visitors are increasingly in-demand, and some organizers worry that would-be visitors will see too many “no vacancy” signs.
“Everybody knows we need more hotels,” Sharon Hillstrom, president of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., told the Herald-Tribune. “This area continues to attract more visitors from a tourism standpoint.”
Building many more hotels may seem like a solution, but developers are often wary that special events that draw tourists are transient and can be moved by organizers if a lower bid from a competitive city with newer facilities is offered. Some events draw a lot of visitors: the area’s International Dragon Boat Festival drew 3,000 international competitors and their families, and the upcoming world rowing championships will bring in similar numbers. But these events can’t necessarily be counted on going forward.
“The World Rowing championships will come every so often, but not frequent enough to convince someone to build a hotel,” said Elliott Falcione, director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
With average hotel occupancy rates above 70 percent, however, the region may be a good bet for hotel developers. (During the last 15 years, hotel occupancy rates across the U.S. have typically held between 55 and 65 percent.) In the next year, construction is expected to conclude on at least three downtown Sarasota hotels. Manatee officials estimate 600 to 1,000 new hotel rooms in the next three to five years, based on existing projects and land designated for hotel construction, according to the Herald-Tribune’s Bergen. The challenge, going forward, will be to avoid a crunch in hotel rooms during the high-traffic winter months and attract visitors during the slower summer months.
“Expect to see more bids for competitions outside of the peak season, such as the 2016 BMX World Cup scheduled for October or a summer masters swimming championship,” wrote Bergen. “And increasingly, tourism officials from Sarasota and Manatee counties will be joining forces to accommodate a specific event in-season, as they did for Major League Football.”