The Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau (VCB) provided its regular monthly report to its governing body, the Lee County Tourist Development Council (TDC) last week. The VCB is funded by the 5% bed tax collected on paid accommodations of 30 days stay or less. Total visitation, paid occupancy and rates charged visitors were all slightly lower than the same period in 2018. The quarterly Visitor Tracking & Occupancy Study taken from about 1,100 direct interviews was presented by Downs & St. Germain Research, based in Tallahassee, Florida. That report reflects some interesting trends and confirmation for most local businesses that the coastal water quality conditions continue to impact the many small businesses focused on tourism.
This quarterly report, as reported in the Sand Paper regularly, touches on the areas of traveler pre-visit, traveler profile, trip experience, post-trip evaluation & economic impact on destination. Said in layman’s language, the report identifies how travelers found Lee County, what influenced them to travel here, who they are, what they thought of their trip, what they spent while here and the impact on jobs.
So, what stood out in this report worth mentioning to the average local resident, property owner or visitor? The summary answer is a respectful, “not much.” Many describe the reduction or elimination of our multi-year visitor growth trend as due to water quality issues. Global competition for travelers and retirees, and changing travel preferences of younger generations also play a part in this phenomenon. Rather than debate rumors and anecdotal observations, let’s look at what the research might be revealing. Remember this information is reflective of information from January through March (peak season) visitors.
Trip planning seemed to center around airline websites, internet search engines and Trip Advisor. Nothing surprising there, until reading that 31% of visitors indicated they don’t visit any websites at all in their planning. Very surprising figure for 2019, most might agree. Top reasons for visiting include our beaches, relax & unwind, a vacation and a visit with family and friends. The visiting family and friends sector is growing suggesting an explanation for the solid 7+% growth of airline passengers at RSW, who may be visiting, but not staying in any form of paid accommodations. Does this suggest Lee County is growing more as a residential coastal community vs short-term vacation destination? Single family and condo home construction figures vs available land for resort development might support this.
Interesting also is to note a slight disconnect between reported reasons for visiting and the visitors’ actual activities. The top 5 visitor activities reported were beaches, relax & unwind, dining, shopping & visiting friends/family. Dining and shopping were not even listed as trip influencers, but ended up being top activities after they arrived! This suggests our culinary and hydration options, along with retail shopping must be doing a great job attracting and serving visitors after they arrive.
Lastly, addressing the elephant in the room, what does the research show regarding visitor concerns? Traffic is #1 with 56% responding. This is curious as the top 4 areas of reported visitor origin include the metro areas of Minneapolis, New York, Boston & Chicago where long daily work commutes with worse traffic than locally possible most days are common. Also disturbing, however, is that beach seaweed, red tide and water quality are included in the top 11 issues. (7%-14% of those surveyed). This indicates that these things are being noticed, and not in a good way. To end on a positive note, it is definitely encouraging that 22% reported no concerns at all!
By Bob Layfield