More than 97 percent of surveyed visitors give high marks; officials want to keep those numbers up.

MANATEE COUNTY — Interviews and surveys indicate that most tourists in Manatee County express "satisfaction" with their experience and a desire to return, an indication of why their economic impact continues to climb.

On Monday, economist Walter Klages told the county’s Tourist Development Council that, during the previous calendar year, 97.8 percent of roughly 500 visitors who were personally interviewed or provided contact information for surveys gave high marks to the area as a vacation destination. The same percentage responded favorably in 2016.

Again, as happened in 2016, 94.4 percent of respondents said they plan to return.

Restaurateur and council member Ed Chiles attributed the strong ratings to the county's being "a real place."

Chiles said his global travels have led him to many areas where visitors are confined to a resort.

“We’re in demand,” Chiles said. “That’s a good thing.”

“The product we have is exceptional,” Klages said, noting that it is especially growing in appeal to Europeans.

Europeans accounted for 96,530 of the county’s 721,400 visitors last year — up from 90,970.

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who chairs the tourism board, expressed concerns that congestion could cause a decline in those approval numbers, however.

The Holmes Beach resident said she noticed more traffic and crowds on Anna Maria Island during this year’s tourist season. “It got a little rough this year.”

She does not want the county’s magnet beach communities to become overwhelmed. “I don’t want to lose the character of the island.”

According to Klages’ firm, Research Data Services, the total economic impact of tourism for Manatee last year rose 5.5 percent — from about $1.18 billion to more than $1.24 billion. Collections of the county resort tax rose 4.7 percent from more than $13 million to about $13.7 million.

For 2017, the firm’s demographics show 51 percent of the county’s visitors to be couples, 39 percent to be families and 10 percent to be singles. More than 73 percent were on vacation while 21.5 percent described their stay as a “getaway” and more than 14 percent came primarily to visit friends or relatives.

Last year’s visiting households had an annual income of $116,873, up from $114,576.

During the calendar year, the largest “domestic feeder market” again proved to be the Tampa-St. Peterburg area (11 percent), followed again by Greater Orlando (7.8 percent). Out-of-state areas, each with a single digit percentage of the market, included New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Detroit.

Overall lodging occupancy dropped to 72.9 percent in 2017 from 73.4 percent in the previous calendar year, due to more hotel and motel rooms having been added to the overall inventory. The highest occupancy rate occurred in the January-March quarter at 85.3 percent (down from 86.3 percent).

The average rate for an overnight lodging was up by 3.4 percent — $174.10 compared with $168.30 in the previous year. Average rates were again up in the peak first quarter, rising from $196.70 in 2016 to last year’s $199.80.

As they did in 2016, parties averaged 2.9 people and stayed an average of five to seven nights.

Most of the visitors, 53.7 percent, arrived by air (slightly up from 52.5 percent in 2006) — with nearly 60 percent of them using Tampa International Airport. Use of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport dropped slightly, with 13.7 percent of the arrivals by plane compared with 14.4 percent in 2016. Use of the Orlando airport climbed slightly, from 12.5 percent to 12.8 percent of those arriving by plane.