A first for 2009: Tourism in Collier increases

Video from NBC-2

It’s too early to call it a trend but there’s good news for hoteliers in Collier County.

Visitation increased for the first time this year in September. It was up 5.2 percent last month, when compared to a year ago, according to a report by Tampa-based Research Data Services Inc.

There were 60,700 visitors staying in hotels and other short-term rentals, up from 57,700 a year ago.

“From what we heard from the hoteliers, the Labor Day weekend was pretty strong,” said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Between January and August, visitation was down every month. The biggest drop in occupancy came in May.

The tourism bureau’s advertising appears to be paying off, Wert said.

“One month is certainly not a trend,” he said. “But it certainly is an indicator that we may be nearing an upturn in the market.”

The bureau tapped emergency advertising reserves and spent an additional $1 million on promotion last year, mainly targeting Florida and Europe.

Visitation from other parts of Florida was up 11.2 percent last month. There were 29,015 visitors coming from inside the state, up from 26,081 in September 2008.

From the Southeast, visitation was up 19.4 percent last month. There were 3,581 tourists from that region, up from 3,000 a year ago.

Markets of opportunity — markets that the county’s tourism bureau doesn’t regularly advertise in — also showed a bump. Visitation was up 12.2 percent from those markets, which include Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore.

A documentary that featured Big Cypress National Park has attracted new attention to Collier County. It aired in New York, Philadelphia and other northern markets.

Visitors last month directly spent $25 million. Their total economic impact is estimated at nearly $37.3 million.

Wert presented the research report on September visitation to the Tourist Development Council on Monday, saying: “There is certainly some good news.”

Hotel occupancy was at 41.9 percent last month, up 2.7 percentage points from a year ago.

“All the way through the year we have shown declines in average daily rate,” Wert said. “The decline was considerably less in September.”

Last month, the average daily rate was $99.40, down 5 percent from a year ago. In August it dropped more than 10 percent.

Collier County is doing well, compared to its competitive set in Florida, Wert said. The Keys is one of the few markets that did well through the summer months, he said.

A separate report by Smith Travel Research covering hotels only in Naples and Marco Island showed their average daily rate for group business actually increased in September by 4.9 percent to $117.27.

The rate for leisure, or vacation travelers, was down 2.2 percent at $114.96.

In Naples and Marco Island, leisure travel was up 17 percent in September, while group business was down 15.6 percent.

“Fort Myers was also up on the leisure side and that is Southwest Florida in general,” Wert said.

Group business continues to be the challenge. Companies have cut back on expenses and don’t want the negative image that might come with spending money on out-of-town meetings in a bad economy.

At the Tourist Development Council meeting, Bob Miller, a council member and owner of the Oyster House Restaurant in Everglades City, said he’s noticed an increase in traffic. More sports fishermen are coming this year and staying overnight in the city, he said.

The Oyster House opened Oct. 1 and business is up 6 percent over a year ago, Miller said.

Council member Rick Medwedeff, general manager for the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, said the tourism bureau’s marketing has been an influence and a “powerful thing” in bringing more visitors to Collier County over the past year.

At one time, the bureau only advertised in the offseason, from April to November. This year, it plans a year-round campaign.

On Tuesday, Collier County commissioners agreed to give the bureau more than $4 million to promote the destination this year, tapping emergency reserves for marketing and future beach projects. The money comes from a 4 percent charge on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals.

Last year, the bureau had a marketing budget of $3.2 million. It tapped about $1 million in emergency advertising dollars.

The bureau doesn’t plan any marketing this month, but will pick up again in November with a campaign targeting the east coast of Florida: Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach. That campaign, which will cost $175,000 and include television and online advertising, will run for three weeks.

There will be no advertising in December of January. A northern campaign will start in February.

Last year, the bureau attracted 27,000 to 28,000 new visitors with an extra $1 million. It expects to do even better this year with more money, Wert said.

“For every dollar we invest in marketing, we receive in spending from visitors that responded to our advertising $16.40,” he said.

That’s why more marketing makes sense, Wert said.

“People will see an ad and say we are going there this weekend,” he said.

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Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.

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