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Southwest Florida tourism down due to pandemic, people still visiting

Southwest Florida’s beaches typically bring in millions of people a year, but like so much else, COVID-19 has changed that.

It used to be that people from around the world would come to Southwest Florida for the views. Well, not anymore, which is just fine with Jacqueline Rayno of Orlando.

“I love it we can find a lot of sand dollars and the kids love it,” she said.

But could that be about to change? Are more people setting their sights on our beaches?

After five months of coping with COVID-19, Dale Hindes of Orlando said he’d had enough. He put the kids in the car and headed here.

“I had to get away, go to the beach where you don’t have to actually have your mask on when you’re sitting on the beach,” he said. “I’m not going to let it scare me into a depression or anxiety, you know? I have my kids to worry about and school.”

We also found visitors who braved a plane ride because they had to get away. We asked one couple if they were nervous about traveling during a pandemic. The wife replied, “well, yeah,” while her husband said, “no, not really.”

Kayla Daniels, visiting from Illinois, said, “I work in a hospital…When we’re at the beach, there’s no one around us.”

The Lee County Tourist Development Council is hoping more people are ready to put their toes in the water.

About 850,000 fewer people visited us this year between April and June compared to a year ago. As for travelers by plane, they were down 60% in June.

Sarah Denault of Chicago is singing our praises, “Because in my opinion, it’s safer, That way you know we’re not in a confined space. It’s easier to be outdoors,” she said.

If you ask 6-year-old Vaness Rayno why she wanted to come here, she’ll tell you, “my favorite part is just having fun and enjoying our life.”

Clearly, she feels safe, which is the key to getting tourists back in big numbers.

The tourism council did a survey and 72% of those who responded said they’ll feel safe to travel when there’s a vaccine. Clearly, that’s not stopping everyone.

Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Writer:Briana Harvath
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