The Lee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) met in regular session on Thursday, August 8th. The TDC is the governing body of the Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau (VCB) sanctioned by Lee County Commission. The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB) is funded by a five percent (5%) tourist tax collected on accommodations rented for six months or less. The funding is split with approximately 54% to advertising and marketing of Lee County and Lee County Sports Development, 26% beach and shoreline improvement & 20% debt service on Lee County’s 3 stadiums: City of Palms Park, Jet Blue Stadium & Century-Link/Hammond Stadium.
In that meeting, funding was approved for $127,038 additional funding to complete remodeling of the Newton House building and restrooms. The original $70,000 funding already allocated from FY 2018 was expanded for several reasons. Speaking for the Town of Fort Myers Beach Parks & Recreations, Alison Giesen, explained to the Council that work was delayed due to unavailability of contractors due to Hurricane Irma repairs on Fort Myers Beach. During the recent solicitation of 4 bids for the project, it was learned the scope of the project needed to expand due to the age and deterioration of the historic 1950’s structure. The Town of Fort Myers Beach is contributing $15,000 to this project.
In other news of local impact, The TDC Events Marketing Funding for 2019-2020 awarded $7,000 to the Friends of the Arts for the 2020 Fort Myers Beach Film Festival, and $25,000 to the FMB Chamber of Commerce for the Oct 2019 Roar Offshore Powerboat Races. The TDC Arts & Attractions Marketing Funding also approved $9,000 to the Fort Myers Beach Art Association & Gallery and $8,200 to Friends of the Mound House.
April – June Visitors
The firm of Downs and St. Germain Research presented their regular quarterly report for April to June 2019 Visitor Tracking, Occupancy and Economic Impact Study. This 125-page comprehensive report provides a great overview on tourism, backed by survey-based research with travelers while in Lee County. Highlights from this report generally reflect the Tourist Tax Collections information from Lee County. YTD collections, when compared to the prior year, are down slightly less than 1%. June figures alone reflect a 1% decline in collection on a 5% decline in occupancy. July figures are expected to be similar or show slightly greater declines. Air travel into Southwest Regional Airport (RSW) is a bright spot being up about 8% in May and June over prior years. Currently RSW offers non-stop service available to 53 destinations by 15 air carriers.
Regarding trip planning, the report showed 60% of visitors plan their trip about 3 months in advance. Less than 13% plan their trips 1 month or less in advance. Top reasons for visiting included vacation, relax & unwind, beaches and visiting friends and relatives.
51% booked their accommodations directly with a hotel or condo, with the balance on a variety of online booking options. 69% of all visitors arrived via air travel. Traveler profiles remain steady being mostly couples, with families not far behind. Also interesting was the fact that a third of visitors stayed in non-paid accommodations, by staying with friends and family. This April through June also showed average trip length of 7.4 days, with 25% first-time visitors, and 27% reporting visiting 10 or more times.
Top visitor activities reported were not surprising with about 75% reporting beaches, relax & unwind, and dining as top activities. Interesting to note that visitors end up doing more and different activities than their stated reasons for visiting. Apparently after arriving here, they realize there is a lot more to do than they thought. Shopping, water sports, attractions and photography all scored higher as actual activities vs reasons for visiting.
Very positive trip and area satisfaction ratings and low visitor concerns did not match lower July to September reservations reported in April through June. Advance reservations for 2019 were reported lower vs 2018, reflecting a hesitance to make reservations, possibly due to 2018’s water quality problems in coastal Lee County. This must have resulted in many last minute travel plans, because anecdotally observed, water quality in July through August 2019 has been very good, and many businesses report a much better 2019 vs the horrible 2018 – but still below normal levels historically for this time of year.
The information reflects the importance of tourism to our area, but the necessary delicate management of our natural resources to provide similar attraction to future business and vacation planners. Continue to follow the Island Sand Paper for updates on tourism and doing business on Fort Myers Beach.
By Bob Layfield