As locals of Southwest Florida feel they are enjoying a season of less traffic, emptier restaurants and quieter beaches, some may be surprised to hear that there has been a more than 5% uptick in tourists so far this year compared to last, with an 8% increase in visitors in May of this year compared to May 2021.
At Monday’s meeting, the Collier County Tourist Development Council discussed how the post-pandemic tourism numbers are starting to trend and how to approach marketing strategies in a time of inflation impacting the entire country.
In May alone, the county brought in $242 million in revenue from hotels and vacation rentals, an almost 12% increase compared to May 2021. Collier County has brought in $1.5 billion altogether in lodging revenue so far this year, a more than 20% increase from this time last year.
Although numbers are looking hopeful for the tourism industry, increasing prices of essentials could soon take its toll on hotel numbers.
According to a survey done by Downs & St. Germain Research, 80% of hotels in the area foresee their property reservations having a decrease in the next three months compared to last year. Along with inflation, this could also be largely in part because Florida had fewer COVID-19 restrictions compared to its states such as California and New York which are now fully open for visitors.
“The state as a whole had this wonderful year [last year], but it’s probably unsustainable due to the fact that the competition is a lot different and there are a lot more options,” said Joseph St. Germain, president of Downs & St. Germain. “So that will be interesting to see as we move forward.”
However, the summer season is known to be a complex time for Southwest Florida tourism, so only time may tell how families will handle inflation with wanting to travel.
“All families need to deeply dig in their heart and walls to figure out that this is still the only time that the kids are out of school, so this is not as linear as we’d love to think it would be and that’s to our advantage,” Collier County TDC Executive Director Paul Beirnes said. “I think that the passion and drive of summer visitation is still there.”
As the amount of out-of-state visitors to the area increases, so does the pressure to draw people in particularly to Collier County. Forty percent of visitors last month were considering other destinations before choosing the Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City area.
“Last year we had so many visitors from Florida and they have a better sense of the geography and where you want to go,” St. Germain said. “As you get folks from the Midwest and Northeast and, particularly, internationally where the geography won’t be as strong in their minds, I do think we’ll see people considering other destinations which is going to mean that advertising is vital.”
Tapping into the Florida-based visitors that came to visit Southwest Florida in the midst of the pandemic for the first time may be the solution to ensure that Collier County stays on the radar for people looking to travel again.
“Fortunately, in the last two years during COVID we were able to be really successful with Florida residents, so this has allowed us to introduce our destination to a lot of people,” Beirnes said. “Turn back in time to a year ago, a lot of the visitors that were Florida residents were first-time visitors to us. So now, we’re trying to reengage with them and pull them back.”