Domestic travel to Southwest Florida Int’l increases as tourism industry bounces back

It’s been one year since the World Health Organization announced the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Southwest Florida tourism is booming.

Beaches are packed as winter-weary travelers get away from the cold and COVID-19 restrictions.

Airlines are adding more flights to the area as demand continues to grow.

People of all ages are packing the sand for spring break.

Ben Siegel, the executive director of the Lee County Port Authority, said the vaccine is a game-changer.

“The airlines are recognizing the demand to come here,” Siegel said.

Cheryl Robillard, of Wisconsin, said she decided to fly to Florida to get away from the cold.

“How does it feel to be in Florida,” Robillard said. “It feels fabulous.”

Jim Zaremba, of Illinois, also fled the winter for sunnier skies.

“We’ve had 11 straights days of snow,” Zaremba said.

Kansas resident Joe Sinnett said Florida is a lot warmer than Kansas.

“It’s good to see all these people out here enjoying themselves and getting out for the first time in a long time,” Sinnett said.

Sinnett has already had his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but he still wears his mask and practices social distancing, he said.

“I think just being out and being able to get out helps your health for one thing,” Sinnett said.

The weather and Gov. Ron DeSantis telling the country Florida is open for business was a motivator for tourists.

Not long ago, tourists were making last-minute decisions to travel, but now they are booking hotel rooms with months’ anticipation.

Marlin Kelly said Ohio was locked down most of the time.

By comparison, in Florida, you don’t see many masks, Kelly said.

Robillard agrees.

“It’s just a lot more relaxed down here,” she said. “A lot less people wearing masks.”

Southwest Florida International Airport, also known as RSW, is recovering faster than any other airport.

Siegel said an increase in domestic travel is balancing out the lack of international tourism.

The Visitor and Convention Bureau is spending more money advertising in cities like Dallas, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Reporter:Morgan Rynor
Writer:Melissa Montoya
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