Collier gets increase in tourism during April, convention business rises, too

— Unspoiled environment, dining and warm weather.

This helped lure more visitors to Collier County in April and more of them came last month than they did a year ago, according to a report by Tampa-based Research Data Services Inc.

Visitor numbers have risen every month since January in the county.

More marketing in northern markets this year has paid off and will continue to over the coming months, said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In January, the bureau launched a winter campaign targeting New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Philadelphia – a new market. There was an immediate response, Wert said.

“We are getting what we would call a residual effect from the advertising,” Wert said. “They may respond and inquire right away, but they may not travel for a couple of months.”

The bureau tapped $1 million from reserves set aside for beach projects to beef up its marketing this winter. It may do the same next year, depending on whether emergency federal money comes through for beach renourishment and how summer tourism does, Wert said.

“You’ve got to remind people where to go,” he said.

In April, the county had 111,000 visitors staying in hotels or other short-term rentals. That was up 5.2 percent from April 2009, when there were 105,500 visitors.

Occupancy rose 7.4 percent last month, over April 2009. The total economic impact of tourism reached $133,609,256, up 6.6 percent from a year ago.

In April, visitation from within Florida rose 1.7 percent. Visitation was up 7.9 percent from the Northeast, 10.4 percent from the Midwest, 9 percent from Canada and 12.1 percent from Europe, when compared to a year ago.

The only markets seeing declines were the Southeast, where visitation was down 8.1 percent, and “markets of opportunity,” or markets where the bureau doesn’t advertise.

Jack Wert highlights some of the publications that have featured the attractions of Collier County during his talk to Business Before Breakfast attendees.

Photo by QUENTIN ROUX, Eagle staff

Jack Wert highlights some of the publications that have featured the attractions of Collier County during his talk to Business Before Breakfast attendees.

“I think the lesson learned is that we need to be in the marketplace at the same time as our competitors, reminding people what we have to offer here in Collier County,” Wert said. “Without that, we are going to lose market share to other destinations.”

A separate report by Paradise Advertising and Marketing Inc., the county’s advertising agency, showed the winter campaign helped generate an additional 40,230 room nights from January to March and an additional $7.18 million in direct expenditures. In those months, the county had a daily rate of $224.85 – higher than any of its competitors in the state.

From its winter campaign, the bureau saw a more than $20 return on every dollar spent, Wert said. That’s based on visitor spending.

For leisure travelers, occupancy was up 2.8 percent and revenue per available room was up 4.8 percent in the county in the first quarter. On average, the county’s competitors, including Sarasota and Fort Myers, saw those numbers drop in the first quarter.

Steve McIntire, general manager at the Bellasera Hotel in downtown Naples, said the extra advertising this year is helping.

“We were up about 6 percent in occupancy for the month of April,” he said.

Average daily rates at his hotel were down by about $9 last month over last year, but more rooms were sold.

“January and February for us were behind, but March made up for it,” McIntire said. “May is going to be better than last year, as it stands right now. People are kind of holding off booking for Memorial Day. They are waiting for those deals.”

The hotels themselves are spending more on advertising, too, which is helping the destination, McIntire said.

Another big reason for the increase in visitation is a strengthening in the group/business market. In April, there were 24,975 visitors who came for meetings, up nearly 24 percent from 20,151 in April 2009.

“The convention business has certainly returned to Naples,” said Bruce Seigel, director of sales and marketing for the two Ritz-Carltons in Naples.

His two hotels, he said, saw double-digit increases in occupancy in April, when compared to a year ago.

Last April, the hospitality industry was in the “throes of an economic tsunami” that kept many business from holding out-of-town meetings. In the region, he said group business is up anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent over last year.

Even through the economic downturn, leisure travel was strong last year and it remains that way, Seigel said.

He said the return of group business is more about the economy than about advertising.

“The group business is the catalyst and the driver behind the growth in the region,” Seigel said. “That helps everybody. That is huge. Servers, bartenders, suppliers, bellmen, their livelihoods really depend on the group and convention business in this marketplace.”

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

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