Despite being amid Southwest Florida’s tourist slow season, Collier County Convention and Visitors Bureau continues to adjust from the impacts of Hurricane Ian while keeping the area’s tourism numbers close to record highs.
The tourism industry had two major successes this month. Less than three weeks before Independence Day, Naples City Council postponed the city’s traditional fireworks display over concerns the beach wasn’t ready to handle a large influx of people, along with security worries about vacant homes and buildings near the beach after dark. Instead, Collier County’s Paradise Coast Sports Complex in East Naples hosted a Fourth of July celebration with fireworks attended by an estimated 7,500 people.
“The collaboration was absolutely impressive, and as a result, we really heard little to no feedback that was anything other than completely positive,” Collier County Tourism Director Paul Beirnes said. “Some challenges were getting that many people back out onto Collier Boulevard afterward, but, honestly, with that many cars, we kind of expected there be some [traffic]. So, we’re already looking at that location for next year’s July Fourth celebration and for other events similar to that, so pretty exciting.”
The reopening of The Ritz-Carlton, Naples resort July 6 was an additional win for local tourism, as it is among the biggest occupancy spaces in the county with 474 rooms and more than 60 suites.
Despite damage from Hurricane Ian and the closure of major resorts, such as The Ritz-Carlton and LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, the county anticipated it will gather $41 million in tourism tax dollars by the end of the year, an amount greater than pre-pandemic numbers. In 2019, the county collected $31 million in tourism development taxes.
The county’s tourism industry experienced a record year in 2022, with many in a post-COVID-19 mindset and eager to travel. Although Collier saw impressive numbers last year, visitation in 2023 has been down 10% compared to last year with more than 1.2 million visitors and $1.4 billion in direct spending from tourists as of May, a decrease of 15% compared to May 2022.
A statistic that has been followed closely since the storm is tourists’ opinion on the value received from their spending during their stays. The survey conducted by Downs & St. Germain Research shows the average answer in May was 8.7 on a 10-point scale, with 10 being excellent value. It marked 0.1-point decrease from May 2022. However, a statistic Beirnes wants to keep an eye on is 82% of the survey takers who expect a higher level of service in the area in the next six months compared to pre-pandemic times.
“I think that’s an alarm bell, the canary in the coal mine, if you will, for the hospitality industry. We need to really ensure that our staffing levels are there, and the services being delivered,” he said. “But I think that when we start looking at value for the travel dollar, it doesn’t really jump out here, but I do believe that we need to really pay attention to that.”