Will the COVID-19 variant have an effect on travel to SWFL?
While COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Florida, people in Naples are still enjoying their travel and vacation despite the spread of the Delta variant.
Tourism has been on the rise surprising even experts.
Southwest Florida International Airport is busy and beaches are packed. Meanwhile, hotels are reaching capacity as people are excited to travel again.
“Our hotel here is probably seeing 50% greater than in 2019, so really historic numbers,” said Phillip McCabe, owner of The Inn on Fifth.
In June and May, RSW saw more passengers than ever before.
“There’s a lot of people traveling,” said Sherry Winkler, who is visiting from Georgia. “There’s not a lot of empty seats.”
But now, the Delta variant is a concerning new threat to tourism.
McCabe said he is worried about the numbers.
“My guests in the hotel, three weeks ago, four weeks ago, it was no masks,” McCabe said. “Today, we’re seeing it.”
According to the CDC, 83% of new cases are the variant.
Last week, Florida reported more than 73,000, more than 60% increase from the week before.
“We got rid of all that stuff — the plexiglass, glass, the hand sanitizers, all of it — including the masks,” McCabe said. “Now we’re looking at bringing it back.”
Most people on Fifth Avenue in Naples are cautious but not concerned about planning future travel.
“I haven’t even given it a thought,” said Audrey Crawford, visiting from Hutchinson Island. “I’ve got both of my vaccinations and I just go on with life.”
Winkler said she was a little concerned but not afraid.
“Am I going to stop doing what I plan to do? I’m not,” she added.
WINK News partners Gulf Shore Business Magazine found that 77% of its readers are comfortable traveling while 24% say they are holding off on travel plans. Many people holding off noted the rise in COVID cases.
Other states are issuing advisories about travel to Florida where vaccinations are low and cases are spreading.
Leaders in Los Angeles and Chicago are warning people to stay away from the Sunshine State.
“That kind of publicity hasn’t really affected our part of Florida,” said Jack Wert, executive director of Collier County’s tourism bureau. “Our numbers continue to grow. Our June numbers were record for visitation for spending. We’re getting a lot of Floridians but out of state as well. We’re really seeing a resurgence in out-of-state travel.”
News of the variant is frustrating to some business owners.
“Typically in June you have a break,” McCabe said. “It’s one of the slowest months of the year. Well, it wasn’t slow this year in June.”
Wert said he plans to keep a close eye on tourism numbers in the coming days to see if rising cases will have an effect.
“The Delta variant, yeah we’re concerned and we’re going to really watch the research if we need to change and change our messaging, we’ve certainly got what we can go back to when the pandemic was really bad,” Wert said. “If some of the out-of-state does fall off and it definitely will if this variant continues to impact travel, I think the Floridians will continue to come.”