Despite Hurricane Ian damaging beaches, flooding restaurants and shutting down major hotels for more than six months to start the 2022-23 fiscal year, Collier County reported economic impact from tourists reached $3.4 billion by July.
“We’re going to be behind last year because of loss of our momentum through the hurricane, but occupancy has remained pretty solid, all things considered,” Collier County Tourism Director Paul Beirnes said during Monday’s Tourist Development Council meeting before setting his sights on goals for the 2023-24 fiscal year.
In 2022, the total economic impact from tourism amounted to more than $4.4 billion.
The majority of in-state tourists came from the Miami and Tampa areas, and New York and Illinois represented the majority of out-of-state visitors. Illinois visitors brought the most economic impact, accounting for $3.4 million in spending, followed by Minnesotans spending $1.7 million.
From 2019 to 2021, Miami was among the top three markets nationally to visit Collier County. Its rankings have since dropped to fifth in 2022 and sixth so far in 2023. Beirnes seeks to focus on how to further encourage other Florida visitors to convert their stays from day trips to overnight stays. However, he said the drop in visitation is due to the increase in competition around the country since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot has happened. You have to kind of dissect that, because  was in the rebound out of the pandemic. So, they were coming, they were spending, this is where those from Miami-Fort Lauderdale were taking their vacation. And now, they’ve kind of balanced back,” Beirnes said.
Canada has become the top international market for the county, with the United Kingdom and Germany trailing just behind. Beirnes said as of Oct. 1, there will be no marketing representation from Latin America due to intense competition from surrounding markets, and that marketing money will be redeployed to the Canada, U.K. and Germany markets.
“Market share of [the Latin American] audience has become excessively competitive. We don’t hold a candle to the Orlandos, Miamis, Tampas, of what they’re spending on the Latin American market, plus the direct service that flies into those markets,” Beirnes said. “So, one of the things that we recognized was we needed to pull back, we needed to reallocate funds.”
Looking into the future of tourism, Beirnes said those of higher monetary status will continue to consider Southwest Florida as a vacation destination during rising inflation.
Beirnes said the mindset of more responsible tourism will continue to become normalized, with more tourists desiring to immerse themselves in local communities by visiting more unique spots and locally owned businesses.
“Fewer people are looking for that common vacation, but really authentic experiences, and I believe that we have that,” Beirnes said. “That is really the fiber not only of our restaurants—it’s not back-to-back chain restaurants, there are very unique upscale restaurants—but we have Everglades City and the Everglades and just incredible ecotourism and spectacular beaches. Definitely a unique experience.”
Beirnes and his team are aiming to exceed 2023 numbers in tax collections by 5% in 2024.