Most Collier County hotels are back to full operation two months after Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida.
“I don’t want to give [the storm] the benefit of saying its name,” Collier County Tourism Director Paul Biernes said. “… It was really difficult to see a lot of the hotels that were struggling to get back online [after the storm].”
Biernes reported 88% of county hotel room inventory is open for visitors. The remaining rooms are mainly part of La Playa Beach & Golf Resort and The Ritz-Carlton, Naples on Vanderbilt Beach, which sustained major damage from Ian.
“LaPlaya is working diligently to open and there’s a lot of behind the scenes there, but we’re expecting some good news shortly on that one,” he said. “The Ritz is actually one that will take a little bit of time. [From] what we’re hearing, let’s just call it spring, but that is a significant number of rooms.”
According to a monthly lodging study by Downs & St. Germain, hotel occupancy was at 70% last month, a 25% increase compared to October 2021. “It’s partially due to our normal leisure visitors, but we also have a lot of displaced people due to the storm or people helping recover from the storm,” Joseph St. Germain said.
Although overall occupancy was up, total visitors are down more than 20% compared to last year. This is due to more cases of single contractors performing repairs from the storm taking up entire rooms for a longer amount of time rather than larger parties staying for a shorter duration.
Despite lodging fewer visitors, hotel stays brought $2.3 billion to the county so far this year. At this time in 2021, the economic impact was $2.03 billion, an almost 15% difference.
As snowbirds and tourists return to the area, beach accesses are beginning to open. So far, Collier County opened seven beach access points. However, the parks and recreation department said beach cleanup is still in progress for those areas.
“You can access the beaches, but we will need a little more assistance with [the beach cleaning]. Currently, we’re getting the beaches cleaned twice a day, probably need to go up to three,” said Olema Edwards, interim parks and recreation director.
Tourism Development Council member Clark Hill supports funding for another beach cleanup shift.
“The [Tourism Development Council] in the past has supported that effort with resources. I think this board would be open to that ask if the need is there,” Hill said.
For businesses in area still recovering from Ian, the Small Business Administration is still operating a disaster assistance center downtown near The Naples Players. The SBA approved more than $1 billion in funds in the state, with $53 million of that going to Collier County homeowners and businesses.
“It’s very imperative that those small businesses get back in order as well and understand that there are tools here to help them recover,” SBA Public Affairs Specialist Tauheedah Mateen said.
The SBA application deadline was extended to Jan. 12.