International travelers are finally making their post-pandemic comeback to Collier County, with 21,000 out-of-country visitors last month alone. International visitors comprised only 17,000 in June 2019, according to the June 2022 Collier County tourism report by Downs & St. Germain Research.
This is the first time since the international borders reopened last November that the county has seen more foreign travelers compared to a pre-pandemic month. Why it took over six months for the numbers to get this high could be due to how domestic travel had already skyrocketed by the time the border opened.
“The more conversations I have with our international reps and tour operators, I’m reminded anecdotally that a lot of those international travelers just either couldn’t get the occupancy they wanted, or they weren’t willing to because the price had gone so high,” Collier County Tourism Director Paul Beirnes said. “Yet that savings remained, the pent-up demand is even stronger and now they are snapping at flights and availability earlier than ever.”
The increase of international travelers has caused a decrease in the percentage of passengers who fly to the county through Southwest Florida International Airport. Although 54% of visitors flew to the area this June compared to only 28% in June 2021, utilization of RSW is down almost 20%. For out-of-country travel, there is less of a market share for RSW and more for Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
As the numbers for foreign travel is on the rise, competition for attracting domestic visitors to Collier County is getting tougher. Almost half of visitors in June were considering other destinations before picking Collier County.
“The good news is you’ve got the visitors here because we talked to them, the bad news is there’s just a lot of competition out there,” Downs & St. Germain President Joseph St. Germain said to the Tourist Development Council on Monday. “If you look at the other destinations considered, [visitors] are looking at Florida generally and they’re largely looking at beach areas, but you have a fairly competitive market that you’re dealing with right now.”
Compared to June 2021, lodging was down more than 15%, with rates averaging about 10% more than last year. Overall visitation was down only 1% compared to June 2021, with spending up 3%. These statistics that show a decrease in lodging occupation, steady overall visitation and higher spending is due to larger group sizes staying for longer amounts of time.
So far this year, tourism has brought more than $1.6 billion to Collier County, up 20% compared to this time last year. However, 74% of accommodations that took the Downs & St. Germain study last month see their reservation numbers decreasing compared to last year.
“You’re comparing  to a historic year, frankly, and a year, as I’ve mentioned, where the border was open and a lot of the worldwide and domestic competition was largely closed,” St. Germain said. “We are kind of getting a little bit of a correlation back to numbers that are still very strong, just not as high as compared to last year.”