How to Love it Like a Local
Whoever coined the phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt” obviously never met Kelly Clark, the Chief Marketing Officer of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. She’s a born-and-raised Bradenton Area native and perhaps its biggest fan. Her day job is to promote tourism in the area by showing off her home to travel journalists, social media influencers and the like. No one knows the area better than she does. And despite living here her whole life, maybe no one loves it more than she does either.Every time I go out to the beach. I’m still in awe of its beauty,” she says. “Like, wow! Here it is. This IS paradise.”
At the end of the day
There are a lot of things packed into the day that make the Bradenton Area special: The food, the beaches, that Old Florida vibe. But for Kelly, it’s what happens at the end of the day that always feels new.
“What really amazes me about the sunsets is that they are different every night,” she explains. “Sometimes they’re golden. Sometimes they’re purple. Sometimes they’re pink. It’s just like seeing a different show every single night.”
Sometimes, it’s not even a thing at all but a specific feeling that you get when you’re here.
“You see the water around you. You see the island,” Kelly says. “I swear my blood pressure just starts to lower. I feel like I can breathe easier, and the stress seems to lift off you. Suddenly, I just feel like, this is the life.”
Sustainability and Preservation
This brings us to the #LoveItLikeaLocal campaign, which promotes responsible travel. According to Kelly, the Bradenton Area has a 94% return rate for visitors within the first 11 months of their trip. That’s a lot of people coming to a place that’s not that large to begin with. It makes the need for preservation and sustainable travel that much more important.
“You have so many people coming in and out, you really just don’t want that to leave a carbon footprint,” Kelly says. “Because you want it to stay beautiful. It has that Old Florida character, and you don’t want to ruin that.”
It is possible to be a victim of your success.
“Iceland is a good example because they have over-tourism,” she explains, “And that’s something we never want to have, where you have to limit the number of people who can come. So, it’s very important for us to talk about sustainability and try to get people to recognize that’s important even when they’re on vacation.”
But it’s not just about the land. There’s also the wildlife. “The island especially is home to many different wildlife species that you don’t find in other areas,” says Kelly.
There are sea turtles, both the Loggerhead and the Green Sea Turtles, who make their nests on Anna Maria Island. Then there are the manatees, which were just removed from the endangered species list in 2017 (but are still listed as threatened). And there are multitudes of wild shorebirds that make their nests right on the beach.
“So it’s really a great way to educate people about these animals and although they’re really cool to look at, we just have to remember that we have to respect them too,” she adds.
How you can #LoveItLikeaLocal
It’s quite easy to Love the Bradenton Area as the locals do. Essentially, the rules fall into four broad buckets: Respect for the community, wildlife awareness, preservation and sustainability. Some are common sense, like leaving the beach litter free when you visit.
Others are more specific. Ones you wouldn’t know unless you live here. For example, there’s a noise ordinance after 10 pm—not just for those who live and work here, but for the sea turtles during nesting season. (There’s also a light ordinance from May-October so hatching sea turtles don’t confuse your dinner party for the ocean).
But most importantly, the campaign is to keep the place we all love, locals and tourists alike, as pristine and pure as it is today for years to come. “This is a great place to visit, but it’s also our homes,” says Kelly. “And we want to keep that Old Florida character as long as possible.”
There’s no place like home
At the end of the day, there’s one thing all locals agree upon: the best thing about living in paradise is sharing it with others.
Kelly, whose whole profession is to spread the word about her home, wholeheartedly agrees. “We want people to visit. We want people to fall in love with the area,” she says. “But we also want them to respect it because this is our home, too.”
But even more importantly, she wants to keep the Bradenton Area a place that people can love as much as she does.
“We really do want people to enjoy themselves when they’re here,” she expresses. “But we want to protect it so people can continue to come back again and again and enjoy the beautiful area we have here and keep it pristine so that they can come back and enjoy it with their kids, their family and their grandkids for years to come.”
Would you ever leave?
When asked if she’d ever live anywhere else, Kelly answers with a categorical no—even to other areas in Florida. “I’ve always loved living here. There are just certain things you’re not going to find anywhere else,” she observes.
She lists them off one by one with the ease of someone who’s used to naming all the advantages. In addition to being centrally located, the Bradenton Area is close to two major airports. It sits on the Gulf of Mexico, with some of the most beautiful beaches not just in the state, but in the world. And it’s close enough to larger cities like Tampa and Sarasota, for those times when you want to get away.
“But it still has like kind of that of relaxing vibe to it,” she concludes.
But even paradise can have its downside.
“I never really want to go to another beach anywhere else,” she explains, adding, “Even if you go somewhere really nice, like the Caribbean. I’ll have really high expectations, but I’m like, okay, well the water’s clear. Yeah, we’ve got that. But it’s just not the same. There are so many shells and rocks in the water. I have to like make sure I’m not stepping on anything and cutting my feet up.”