The Lee County Visitors and Convention Bureau (VCB) provided their governing body, the Lee County Tourist Development Council, March and year-to-date data on visitors and tourism on Thursday May 11.
The March Preliminary Tourist Tax Report reflected a -1.6% collected vs. March 2016. Fiscal year to date collections were off – 2.8%. Occupancy rates, Average Daily Rates and Revenue per Available Room, also reported similar declines. These declines are somewhat consistent with reports for January and February.
Interesting to note is that compared to 8 other Florida metro areas, Lee County has arguably the poorest performance of all the areas for the above stats being tracked for March 2017 vs March 2016. Monroe County (primarily the Keys) along with most of the other counties reporting had mostly small but positive numbers.
Such facts cause the accommodations and tourism partners of the VCB to seek explanations as to why the discrepancy, along with if and how should the VCB alter its marketing strategies? Similarly, the big question facing those in business in this market is whether this is a solid trend, or a “blip on the radar” of conducting business here.
Davidson-Peterson & Associates (DPA) representative Bob Domine was present to review the findings of the DPA Visitor Profile and Occupancy Analysis for Winter Season 2017. DPA has been providing travel and tourism market research for Lee County for years, and is considered an expert in both collecting, reporting and interpreting travel data relevant to SW Florida and Fort Myers Beach.
Report highlights indicate data for Jan – Mar 2017 showed a mix of positive and negative results compared to 2016. Pricing pressures have pushed daily paid accommodations rates down slightly due to higher promotional activities. The largest negative numbers of revenue per available room seem to be due to additional rooms available in 2017 vs 2016. Total visitation and paid visitation both showed some negative comparisons to 2013, total visits declined more than paid visits. This suggest fewer visitors stayed with friends and family.
Visitor origins reflected a 3% decline in international visitors over 2016, perhaps reflecting the anxiety from the change from US Presidential elections and the following short-lived travel ban. Domestic visitor origins shifted slightly with an almost offsetting decline from the Midwest and increase from the Northeast. Minneapolis and Boston continued to be the top domestic feeder markets for Lee County in the winter season.
Occupancy by Property Type showed very little shift between hotel/motel, condo/vacation home or RV/Campground with slight declines in hotel/motel and slight increase in condo/vacation homes. However, occupancy average daily rates reported no change since 2015, and only a 16.1% increase since 2013.
With low rainfall, clearer coastal waters & improved traffic/construction issues, hopes were that those visitors that arrived in 2017 had a good experience and left happy. Visitor satisfaction surveys reflected these anticipated positive results. Visitors that indicated they were very satisfied with their visit rose 7% to 54% of total for 2017 vs 2016. Reports on the quality of accommodations stayed steady, and visitors reporting a likelihood to recommend or return to Lee County went up 3% and 6% respectively.
DPA’S traveler profile and planning survey interviews with 966 visitors in Lee County during January, February and March reflected approximately 40% of those interviewed began planning and making travel plans and reservations within 3 months or less of the actual trip. This relatively high percentage of total travelers who don’t plan too far ahead, makes preparation difficult for those businesses hoping to prepare and serve this group. Since over 70% of all visitors arrive by airlines, it suggests airlines are not providing incentives or reduced fares for booking further in advance.
The outlook for May, June & July from property managers is not as positive as reported in recent years. Reservations expected did show 30% of managers thought reservations projections would be up, indicating a 7% increase over 2016. Only 26% of property managers thought reservations would be the same, down 12% from 2016. Those reflecting reservations would be down for 2017 vs 2016 only increased by 1%.
Perhaps one of the better kept tourism secrets within Lee County was again exposed by a winter report by the Lee County Sports Development, LCSD. LCSD coordinates and manages multiple sports related conferences and events. Larger events held January to March 2017 included The Perfect Game (major league baseball preparatory camp and scouting event), NFHS Athletic Director Conference, SW Fla Disc Golf Open, Roy Hobbs Sunshine Classic (tournaments adults ages to 80+), NCAA Division 1 Baseball, FYSA Soccer, Gene Cusic Classic (collegiate baseball and softball), FYSA Soccer, & AAU Gymnastics. These events, along with others generated the following:
- Sold Hotel Rooms – 22,770
- Sports Tourism Visitors – 21,114
- Direct Visitor Spending – $9,553,466
These events were held in conjunction with Lee County Parks & Recreations, including Jet Blue Park, Hammond Stadium and City of Palms Stadium. Readers might remember that a fixed percentage of total tourist tax collected goes toward debt payments toward the three stadiums.
Fort Myers Beach projects funded for 2017-2018 Beach & Shoreline funding include Matanzas Pass Boardwalk Replacement and Beach Access Interpretative Signage, Lynn Hall Park Restroom remodel, Newton Beach Park Restroom remodel and Beach and Shoreline Maintenance. Total funds approved for these projects are $1,200,292.
Tamara Pigott, Executive Director for Lee County VCB, reported her team would review the DPA report findings, and focus on activities and efforts that will prevent the latest performance figures from becoming “a multiyear trend.”