Collier County tourism down nearly 10 percent in February

There are ups and downs in Collier County’s tourism industry.

Visitor numbers dropped 9.7 percent to 149,100 in February, down from 165,200 a year ago, according to Tampa-based tourism consultant Research Data Services Inc.

The numbers are based on stays at hotels, vacation rentals and campgrounds.

Last month, the county saw fewer visitors from the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest states — and Canada.

Travel from the Midwest was down the most, by 25 percent.

Over the past few months, hoteliers have seen bookings slow and more room cancellations.

“The downturn is really being driven by the loss of those corporate meetings that we traditionally would have had in the first quarter,” said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau. In February, direct expenditures by visitors fell 11.8 percent to about $100 million. That compared to more than $113.4 million a year ago.

Room nights were down 12.1 percent from a year ago. Visitors booked 208,280 rooms, compared to 236,930 a year ago.

It could have been much worse, Wert said.

In February, the bureau launched a special campaign targeted at northern residents that focuses on value. The promotion is called “Paradise Priced Perfectly,” and hotels are offering special rates and other deals and incentives around it.

The campaign has worked, Wert said.

More than 43 percent of visitors responding to a survey said they were drawn to the destination after seeing a promotional message, according to Research Data Services.

The county saw a 6.5 percent increase in visitation from Florida residents in February and a 5.5 increase by Europeans, which helped offset the declines from other markets.

More visitors came by car in February, reflecting the increase in visitors within Florida.

Last month, 31.1 percent of the visitors were here for the first time.

“I think that’s directly attributable to the early advertising that we’ve done,” Wert said. “It is attracting some folks to try us.”

The average occupancy rate dropped 7.7 percent last month to 78.3 percent. The average daily rate was down 6.2 percent at $249.60.

In January, visitors numbers dropped 6.3 percent to 138,200, down from 147,500 a year ago.

For the year, visitor numbers are down 8.1 percent, room nights are down 10.8 percent and direct expenditures by tourists are down 12.1 percent.

Still, some hoteliers say business isn’t all that bad.

At LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort in Naples, leisure business in February was about the same as a year ago, said Scot Hamilton, director for sales and marketing. Group business was up slightly and international business was flat, he said.

Overall, occupancies were up slightly over last year.

“We are a little bit of a boutique resort that has a pretty strong following in the Midwest and the Northeast,” Hamilton said. “So we were fortunate this February to have had a good season.”

The resort’s rates are down over last year, as travelers look for better values and packages, he said.

Bruce Siegel, director of marketing and sales for the Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples, said his resorts are seeing a record number of vacationers this season thanks to its value packages.

Rates are about the same as last year, but the two resorts are offering credits valued at as much as $180 a night, which can be spent on site on dining, spa treatments, children’s camp and more.

“We have seen no uptick in the international traveler,” Siegel said. “Our entire growth has been from the domestic North American market, primarily Northeast, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.”

The value packages are also drawing vacationers who have stayed at the resorts before.

“Our repeat customer numbers are way up,” Siegel said.

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