As tourism season nears a close, Suncoast numbers look strong

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VENICE, Fla. - Tourism officials on the Suncoast say it's been a busy visitor season, and many business owners say it's been the best year since the recession. And it’s not just how many visitors are coming, but how much they're spending.

Karen Evanicki has owned Zac's Clothing and Gifts on Venice Avenue for 11 years. She has seen the ups and downs -- more ups recently. "This has been my best year since the recession."

In 2012, Florida and the Suncoast area saw record numbers, and there has been even better news this year so far. In February, Sarasota saw a nearly 7% increase in visitors from the same month a year ago. Manatee County was even higher at nearly 9%.

Not only have they been coming, but it appears they are spending more, too. "They were not spending like they are now. They are opening their pocket books," says Evanicki.

Direct spending is up 11% from last year in Sarasota, and 13% in Manatee County.

Karen is not alone. "The avenues have all been doing really good. The restaurants are packed. The shops, when I talk to the owners, are all doing very, very well. Season has been really good to them this year,” says Cat Quast of Venice Main Street.

It hasn't been just harder to find a parking spot downtown. Places like the beaches have been busy too.

"The Baby Boomer generation is getting older and we are tired of shoveling snow. I think more and more people are coming to Florida," says Cynthia Bliss, visiting from Baltimore.

Overnight temperatures Tuesday night are expected to be below freezing in places like Illinois, New York, Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio. Compare that to lows around the 60's locally.

Those like Karen believe it may keep more coming and the season going. "I think it is going to extend a little longer. Customers that have come in say they are staying a little longer because of the weather is still bad up north."

Those here are hopeful it will combat an early Easter which usually marks the start of the exodus north. "I see it very strong through April. I am hoping actually hoping even May. We have a lot of good events happing in May."

And that’s another good sign of recovery in an area so reliant on visitors -- not only for now, but perhaps the future.

We also talked to those running one of the local hotels in the area who say it has been a great season for them as well. They say they are starting to see more vacancies towards the end of the month, but they’re hopeful many of those who could not find a place earlier will now be booking those up, too.