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It’s been four months since Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida. Most Collier County hotels are back to full operation, although the process of recovery has been frustrating.

“I don’t want to give [the storm] the benefit of saying its name,” says Collier County Tourism Director Paul Biernes, adding that after Sept. 28, “… it was really difficult to see a lot of the hotels that were struggling to get back online.”

Biernes reported just under 90% of county hotel room inventory is open for visitors. The remaining rooms are mainly part of LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort and The Ritz-Carlton, Naples on Vanderbilt Beach, both of 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 says. “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 Research, hotel occupancy was at just over 70% in November, an almost 15% increase compared to November 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 says.

Although overall occupancy was up, total visitors are down more than 10% compared to last year. This is due to more cases of individual contractors taking up entire rooms for a longer amount of time while performing storm repairs, rather than larger parties staying for a shorter duration.

Despite lodging fewer visitors, hotel stays brought $2.5 billion to the county so far this year. At this time in 2021, the economic impact was $2.24 billion, an almost 15% difference.

Back to the Beach

As snowbirds and tourists return to the area, beach accesses are beginning to open. So far, Collier County has 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,” says 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 says.

Small Business Sense

For area businesses 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. The application deadline was extended to Jan. 12.

SBA Public Affairs Specialist Tauheedah Mateen says, “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.”

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