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As Southwest Florida’s tourist season concluded in March, Collier County experienced a 20% year-over-year decline in visitors when compared to March 2022, Tourism Director Paul Beirnes said during Monday’s Tourism Development Council meeting. 

“I will tell you that we’re tracking and interpreting a lot of influences within the travel industry right now,” Beirnes said. “We’ve probably never seen so much fragmented, ever-changing elements.”  

The county’s tourism staff are still tracking impacts from Hurricane Ian, a recent red tide outbreak and how political decisions on the state level are influencing people’s decisions in visiting Florida.  

“Whether it is anti-left, anti-right, pro-governor, pro-anything, it is really fragmented,” Beirnes said. “It is not one side or another, it’s just a lot of lot of discussions that just simply brought Florida into the fray.”  

As the U.S. reaches a post-COVID-19 mentality, some attention has been taken away from Florida as other states reopened during the pandemic, Beirnes said, calling the trend “Florida fatigue.” 

“Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed a tremendous amount of benefit in Florida on tourism,” he said. “That is occupancy, average daily rate, spending, but what is happening now is that people are getting a little more comfortable going into [other] major city centers.”  

Collier County welcomed 270,000 visitors last month, resulting in an almost 30% year-over-year decrease in economic impact from more than $750 million to less than $550 million. Downs & St. Germain Research President Joseph St. Germain said the tourism down could be caused by an uncertain economic future for the country. 

“When we think about finances in an impending economic downturn, whether or not there is an economic downturn, some people make decisions like there’s going to be,” he said.  

With Collier’s two major beach hotels, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, and LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, still closed six months after Hurricane Ian, hotel occupancy decreased compared to March 2022. Occupancy is down more than 6% with the average daily rate at $404, an almost 20% decrease from last year. So far this year, tourism has brought more than $1.2 billion to Collier County. Looking ahead to the summer months, more destinations will be traveled compared to last year, especially internationally. However, the county’s tourism team will continue to work toward bringing people to Florida’s Paradise Coast all year long through marketing with large groups.  

“A lot of times peak season takes care of itself,” Lisa Chamberlain of the Naples, Marco Island and Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome, we have some people looking at us in high season and they can pay the rates and then we welcome them as well. But our goal is to look into the future and meet face to face with the clients, the organizations that can afford our destination to begin with, so we’re not spinning our wheels and bring them here.”  

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