Florida set to break tourism records from 2019

Business in Southwest Florida is headed for a record-breaking year. Last month, tourism was up from the best year ever.

From flights to hotels, people want to spend money in the region, boosting the local economy. Hotels are saying this year is like a never-ending season.

People clearly want to be in Lee County and other parts of Southwest Florida, and the weather is one reason, but so is the fact Florida didn’t shut down as long as other states did during the pandemic.

Florida set lots of tourism records in 2019, and the state is set to break them beyond anyone’s expectations.

A beach vacation is a must for lots of people. It’s the sun, the sand and the chance to relax. But when the coronavirus hit in March 2020, almost all of that stopped.

“We had a very difficult challenge here with the coronavirus coming, and basically, the entire island shut down,” said Alex Cass, the general manager of Carousel Beach Inn on Fort Myers Beach.

As Florida reopened, visitors returned to local beaches.

“The last summer, last winter, this past season, it’s very positive for us, very busy,” Cass said. “A lot of people are starting to travel again.”

Now, 13 months after the shutdown, tourism has never been better.

“When people were allowed to return to the beach and allowed to stay on the beach again, we have seen a significant increase,” said Melissa Schneider, the marketing director for Lani Kai on Fort Myers Beach. “Honestly, we have not come down off of that.”

The hotels are happy; visitors are happy, and leaders in charge of tourism in Lee County are happy, too.

“I think it’s because of the proactive policies that we had to try and keep the state open and let people make their own personal health care decisions,” said Commissioner Brian Hamman, who is on the Tourist Development Council in Lee County.

In April alone, the Tourist Development Council shows a 46% increase in bed tax collection compared to the record year of 2019.

“This is big for our airport,” Hamman said. “We’re seeing the most travelers we’ve ever seen in the history of our airport right now.”

The people who run hotels in Southwest Florida said advance bookings prove there’s no slowdown in sight.

“In speaking to a lot of the other businesses on the island, this year kind of symbolizes the season that never ends,” Cass said.

Need more proof? Southwest Florida International Airport expects to see a 60% to 90% increase in passengers between June and August. Most of those people are coming to visit and spend money.

Reporter:Gail Levy
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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