USA Today travel story sparks flurry of AMI interest
A travel story in the Dec. 11 issue of USA Today about vacationing on Anna Maria Island spawned a frenzy of telephone calls and e-mails to the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce from people looking for accommodation information.
Writer Kitty Bean Yancey’s story described the “Old Florida feel of Anna Maria Island,” particularly the Cedar Cove resort, where the writer stayed a few weeks ago.
Yancey wrote about quiet scenery, no crowds, no chain motels or hotels, no high-rise condos and the “unassuming Old Florida” style of the Island.
Since the article appeared, readers saying they want a vacation far from the bright lights of South Beach, Panama City or Fort Lauderdale have been burning up the telephone lines to the chamber.
“We were swamped after the article appeared,” said chamber president Mary Ann Brockman.
“We had hundreds of telephone calls in one day and close to a thousand e-mails.”
It was so busy at the chamber office that Brockman had to call in extra volunteers to handle the telephone calls and mail requests.
“From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on [Dec. 15], we had three people doing nothing but answering telephones. Everybody wanted us to send them information about the Island and said they’d read about us in USA Today.”
Brockman said the chamber usually fills up one box with information letters every week. After the USA Today story, however, Brockman and volunteers filled up two boxes in one day.
“It’s been amazing. It’s the type of publicity that would cost a fortune, normally,” said Brockman. “The great thing was this was totally unsolicited. The writer stayed at Cedar Cove and didn’t tell anybody until she was leaving.”
Yancey managed to visit a number of popular Island locations during her stay, including the Sandbar Restaurant in Anna Maria, Beach Bistro in Holmes Beach, the Bridgetender Inn in Bradenton Beach and Ginny’s and Jane E’s in Anna Maria.
“In an age of $400-a-night beachfront resorts and mondo-condo high rises,” wrote Yancey, “it’s hard to find an unassuming, wallet-friendly ‘Old Florida’ vacation spot. Anna Maria, an easy drive from Tampa and Sarasota and just north of more developed Longboat Key, is one of those.”
Yancey wrote of modest cottages at reasonable rates, plenty of unspoiled beaches, few traffic lights and millionaires who dress like Jimmy Buffett.
She also noted that the Island is one of the best kept secrets around and said it’s “hard to avoid the temptation to keep Anna Maria’s low-key attractions under wraps.”
But she didn’t and the story is reaping benefits for Island accommodation owners.
David Teitelbaum at the Tortuga, Tradewinds and Seaside resorts in Bradenton Beach said the reservations and e-mails at the resorts jumped considerably after publication of the story.
“We had an immediate response. It was a great article for the entire Island. Christmas and New Year’s reservations are looking very well.
“We’re going to be sold out Christmas week and a lot of people have booked for later in the season. It’s been great. We’re about 25 percent ahead of last year,” he said.
“I think the story showed there is value for money on Anna Maria Island and that’s what people want in these times,” Teitelbaum added.
Jeff Gerry of the White Sands Resort in Holmes Beach agreed. His resort was “super-busy” on Saturday, Dec. 20, as guests began arriving for the holidays.
“People have discovered the Island,” he said.
Brockman said the Island’s appeal is that there is a lot to do for people who like to do nothing.
“We’re not the night-life of South Beach or other places. And we’re definitely not as expensive. We’re not for everybody, but people looking for peace and quiet will find it here.”
At the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, marketing director Jessica Grace said Yancey’s story would have cost about $11,000 if the BACVB had purchased an advertorial about Anna Maria Island.
“It was such a positive,” said Grace. “The writer came on her own and that’s typical of travel writers to arrive incognito. Her story captured the essence of Anna Maria Island. It was perfect. It shows there are people who want a slice of how Florida used to be.”
While Grace was unaware of Yancey’s stay until it was over, the BACVB routinely sends information about the Island to the travel editors of major media outlets in hopes of generating a story, but never knows if an article is planned until after it’s published.
Anna Maria Island has previously been featured in The New York Times and Washington Post travel sections. The USA Today’s 4.8 million daily circulation results in an average of 9.5 million daily Web-site hits, according to Grace.
Yancey’s story included the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce telephone number and Web site.