Reading the Tourism Research Tea Leaves: From the Publisher’s Desk

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    In a regular monthly report to the Lee County Tourist Development Council, on August 11, positive tourism was pictured for the months April, May and June. The report showed that YTD Tourist Taxes are up 5.l%. (Tourist Tax is 5% tax on short term motel and vacation rental accommodations) Fort Myers Beach has collected $4.4 million YTD compared to $3.9 M from Sanibel, leading all municipalities in Lee County. Adding a cold and rainy January 2016, and many believe flat tax revenue collections YTD compared to the prior year is decent performance. Nothing so far indicates any cause for worries for local business. We’re holding up pretty well. Right?

    Those quick to indicate that Estero Blvd redevelopment, water quality and Zika virus are not a factor in our local economy should realize many travelers’ book travels months in advance. Visitors may or may not have current information before their actual arrival. However, research data forthcoming seems to indicate visitors may become more aware of these issues, and consider other destinations in the future. This begs the question as to what 2017 will look like for bookings, reservations and the overall business vitality of our area?

    Other summary data from VCB staff and the quarterly report from Davidson-Peterson Associates  (DPA) indicated the number of actual number of visitors declined compared to same period a year ago, but the amount they spent had gone up. About 75% of our visitors using paid accommodations were from the US, with Germany leading the 25% total of foreign visitors. The foreign component of visitors reflected a strong increase of approximately 5% versus the same period in 2015. Within the US, the Midwest led with 46% of those using paid accommodations and only 8% coming from Florida for this period.

    DPA visitor research is based on face-to-face surveys of 900 local travelers during April, May, & June and overall appeared good. All levels of inquiries, responses, travel intentions, and profiles of respondents’ latest trips revealed strong numbers, ratings and reviews of SW Florida. A couple of areas should be noted and recognized, and not swept under the rug or buried within a lot of other data.

    Let’s discuss a few traveler satisfaction survey questions. For the second quarter in a row travelers have indicated a drop in satisfaction with their vacation experience. How serious is this? Well, those who discredit this particular stat will tell you it’s only a 3% drop in those “very satisfied,” and the percentage indicated they were “satisfied” went up 3%. However, another interpretation of this is less people were “exuberant” about their vacation and more were “OK” with it – hardly a ringing endorsement for our area. Those formerly “very satisfied” types could have been the best ambassadors for recommendations to our area, and perhaps now they are not. This is admitted conjecture on my part, but worthy of consideration.

    Perhaps more interesting is the question that asks travelers to list trip features they liked least about our area. A weakness in these surveys is they do not discriminate between where the respondents are from. It might be logical that “local” visitors to our area may be more aware and less affected by the “normal” least favorite features of their visit. If true, these surveys may be understating the problems more important to the long distance visitors who stay the longest and spend the most.

    The leading feature least liked is traffic, but it surprisingly dropped from 32% in 2015 to only 25% in 2016. This is good news, especially for an island whose main boulevard is under construction. However, concerns regarding insects went from 14% in 2015 to 16% in 2016, suggesting higher insect populations, which is not a good stat given the Zika virus situation, even if most media do not emphasize that diagnosed Florida Zika cases have been isolated to a small area within Miami. Water quality rankings as a least liked feature went from 3% in 2015 to 10% in 2016. This is probably the most concerning stat so far – the word is getting out about our water quality, if from no other source than our own visitors when they get home.

     

    Bob Layfield
    Publisher, Island Sand Paper Media