Three Billion Reasons
It’s a good thing Southwest Florida is officially in its tourism off-season, because judging by the turnout at the annual Lee County Travel Rally, there wouldn’t be anyone left on site to cater to guests!
An overflow crowd of servers, bartenders, hoteliers, musicians, housekeepers, restauranteurs and related professions jammed Lakes Regional Park in South Fort Myers on Tuesday afternoon, May 2. The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) hosts the Travel Rally, with free admission and parking, in support of National Travel & Tourism Week from May 7 to 13.
The rally’s entertainment was Fort Myers Beach’s own Sheena Brook, the acclaimed singer and songwriter, contestant on Team Adam of NBC’s Season 12 of The Voice, and the Island Hopper Songwriter Fest featured artist. In speaking to the audience between songs, she said “I am so proud to be from Fort Myers Beach, where tourism is so important. I am in tourism, too, so I know how crucial all of you are.”
“We had 700 people register in advance, but so far well over 1,500 are here,” said Tamara Pigott, VCB executive director. “The parking lots and big exhibitor tent are packed with families and employees and kids. You can see and feel the enthusiasm the crowd and participants have in the competition tent; these folks get it and are the reason why 9 million people from all around the world vacation in Lee County, and are the biggest difference why they return year after year. This is the same spirit with which they run their businesses, and how they embrace their clientele.”
Tamara passed on an impressive array of numbers: “Tourism generated over $3 billion in economic impact for Lee County in 2016, with every 85 visitors equaling one job. That $3 billion breaks down to $8,315,561 per day or $346,482 per hour. There are more than 57,000 tourism jobs in Lee County, or about 1 in every 5 employment positions.”
While the exhibitor tent held roughly 100 organizations, the table run by the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce may very well have had more visitors than any other. With one hour left in the Travel Rally, while most tables were packing up or already empty, the Chamber’s executive director Jacki Liszak, along with Pat Smith and its new Events Manager, Shelby Borisman, were busy greeting a line of people!
You Feed Off the Enthusiasm
“It’s nice to speak to the public,” said Jacki, “and share with them what we do and all we offer on Fort Myers Beach. You feed off all the enthusiasm here, and that permeates everything we do. Even though it is the off-season, it seems like everyone wants information about our island. The amount of businesses here and the large crowd is incredible and we are happy to be a part of it all!” Jacki thanked the Lani Kai Island Resort for donating a stay that the Chamber raffled off during the Travel Rally.
Early on, the longest Travel Rally line seemed to be for the free hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, popcorn and cookies, with any tent or shade a premium spot on the hot sunny day with barely a breeze. “A few people asked why we can’t host this earlier in the year, when it is cooler,” laughed Tamara, “but I tell them we can’t – we all work!”
Soon, however, action shifted to the fun and funny Tourism Races, such as The Bellman’s Race, Kid’s Luggage Lug, Valet Trike Hike, Make That Bed and Waiter’s Race for the Gold. Competitors in The Bellman’s Race had to pack a bag, put on vacation gear, wear a beach inflatable and hat, and run the obstacle course while tugging their luggage. The teams, including groups from the DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa and Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina, enjoyed competing, but no more so than their friends and co-workers who cheered them on loud and long!
Other attractions included The Faces of Travel social media tent, featuring the Shell Love Bug and Beach Buggie Boogie video; complimentary refreshments by Texas Tony’s BBQ, Kona Ice and the Whistle Stop Ice Cream Shop; Kids Kraziness with face painting, magic and cuddly critters; complimentary miniature train rides by the Railroad Museum of South Florida, and complimentary bicycle rides. There were prize drawings throughout the event, with all attendees eligible to win two complimentary JetBlue tickets in the grand raffle.
The Lee County Travel Rally is a project of the Lee County VCB to support the National Travel and Tourism Week, the United States Travel Association, and to highlight the importance of travel and tourism not only nationally and internationally but to our state and county. For information, call 239-590-4855 or see firstname.lastname@example.org.