Southwest Florida is seeing record-breaking tourism numbers as vacationers come to see the beauty, enjoy the weather and escape strict COVID-19 rules in their home state.
In Collier County, busy beaches and streets have become the norm. Not only during the traditional vacation season but year-round.
Collier County’s Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Paul Biernes said, “in 2021, there was a paradigm shift. A lot of people started working from home. Remote learning for students provides some opportunities and flexibility that didn’t exist before.”
Biernes said in 2021, tourists stayed longer, spent more, and some even became residents.
“We always say that it always starts with a visit. So when people talk about people moving down to the area, certainly we all know we have a beautiful area. It starts with a visit, and there’s certainly an appeal that makes people want to stay here,” said Biernes.
Beauty is not the only reason. WINK News asked people in a Collier County community Facebook group what convinced them to make the move.
The responses varied. Ranging from a lack of COVID-19 restrictions to looking for a better education system.
“I’ve been coming to Naples specifically since I was a kid. My parents had a second home down here, so I would come for holidays and spring breaks. Summer and things like that so when my job went remote almost three years ago, it just made sense to be down here,” said Jessica Hemenway, who works for Cornell University. She moved to Collier County about eight months ago.
Many long-time residents are unhappy, though, expressing concerns about constant heavy traffic, difficult beach access, and higher rent.
Biernes says the increase in tourism and more extended stays is good. He says the tourism industry is an asset to the community.
The 5% bed tax for anyone who stays in a hotel goes to a fund that keeps beaches and parks fixed up and cleaned.
Julie Renner runs a ladies’ meet-up group. She said it is clear people who come to Collier County like it. “I would say the pandemic has had a huge increase in people moving down, they want to be outside, they dont want to be locked down, they want to go be outside, they don’t want to be locked down.”
The Convention and Visitors Bureau says more than 1.5 million people visited Collier County in 2021.