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Anna Maria Island tourism thriving during pandemic rebound

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Posted at 6:30 PM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 18:30:27-04

ANNA MARIA ISLAND, Fla. — Despite still being in a pandemic, Manatee County is seeing some of the highest numbers of tourists ever and a lot of it is thanks to people coming to Anna Maria Island.

"We absolutely love the island. The sand is supers soft, the water is so calm, and the quaintness of the island," said Amanda Paddock, visiting from Indiana.

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Paddock is like many who are drawn to the island, where there are no big hotels or spring break party crowds, but families who want a piece of the good ole’ days. Which is a feeling that many get right when they walk through the door at Ginny’s and Jane E's.

But last year during the shutdowns, things were not looking good.

ABC Action News Reporter Wendi Lane spoke to Ginny’s and Jane’Es owner Paul Foster when tourism went from the best it's ever been to a standstill last year.

"The very best of times, and the very worst of times," said Foster.

In 2019, Manatee County had its best tourism year ever. Then in 2020, numbers plunged when rentals and beaches closed. But things started to pick up in October and now 2021 is on track to be a record-breaking year.

"The rentals are full, the restaurants are full. It's as good of a year as any year we’ve had," said Foster.

"We are absolutely, insanely busy," said Emma Stringer with Beach Retreats Vacation Rentals.

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Stringer says business is so good, they've been able to increase rental rates by 20 percent.

"This exact time last year is when we closed down so it’s been a phenomenal rebound for us," said Stringer.

But it’s a rebound that continues to add to a big problem for the small island.

"We have limited parking, and we have a lot of people who are driving around in circles looking for parking," said William Tokajer, Holmes Beach Police Chief.

Tokajer says nearly 25,000 cars a day are coming onto Holmes Beach with only one two-lane road going up and down the island.

The beach city also eliminated more than 1,000 public spots on its streets during the pandemic to keep people off the beaches. Then, they decided to make it permanent, only making the parking situation worse.

But Holmes Beach leaders say since the county collects the tax dollars, the county needs to fix the problem.

"This is something that needs to be corrected through the county," said Tokajer.

The county says there are no current plans to add parking beyond the public beaches.

But for now, it's certainly not slowing people coming and enjoying all the island has to offer.