Suncoast tourism up for 3rd straight year

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Officials say if you need a sign that the economy is bouncing back, look no further than Sarasota County. That's because for a third year in a row, tourism spending is way up. But just what does that mean for the people who live here year round?

Numbers are out for the 2012 fiscal year and they are better than the year before that. Businesses on Siesta Key said they knew the numbers would improve because crowds over the past few months have been bigger than they remember. They also say people are staying longer.

That's all well and good for revenue, but if you live on the Suncoast year-round, you're getting a lot out of the tourists too -- probably even more than you realize.

A record number of travelers hit up Sarasota's beaches in 2011. And apparently in 2012, they were coming back for more. "It caught us a little bit off guard, but it was nice to have it stay busy," says Anne Marie Lidinski at The Hub Restaurant.

Long lines and full tables have recently been regular orders at Siesta Key restaurants. "Our season has been busier than most seasons," says Lidinski.

Numbers out for the 2012 fiscal year paint a picture that's just as sunny as the area's beaches; Visit Sarasota County says more than 740,000 tourists came to visit last year, spending a record amount -- almost $641 million.

That's 10% higher than the previous year.

"All of that money stays here in Sarasota County." And Virginia Haley, President at Visit Sarasota County, says year-round locals may not realize just how much they get when the vacationers come to town. "One out of every five workers in Sarasota County have jobs that are supported by the tourism industry."

Money collected from tourist development taxes, which came in at more than $12 million last year, goes to fund everything from beach maintenance and sports venues, to continued advertising, hoping that next time folks come for a stay, they bring their friends.

"Consumers are feeling more confident, that they can spend a little bit more, take a longer vacation, and we're really seeing the benefits of that."

And in fact many businesses are seeing those benefits all the time. "I’d say about 80% of our business is from tourists."

“We won’t have to worry about struggling through the off’s positive for everybody around."

But there is a concern that the numbers may top out. Haley says that's why the county has to keep exploring ways to keep the county fresh. She used the rowing facility as a good example; thousands are in town this week who otherwise wouldn't be.