Editor's note: A quote by Collier County Commissioner Georgia Hiller was incorrect. The quote should have read: “Quality is remembered after price is forgotten,” she said. The mistake has been corrected below.
Tourism grew again in Collier County in March.
There were 203,000 visitors staying in hotels or other short-term rentals last month, up 6.4 percent from a year ago, according to a report by Tampa-based Research Data Services Inc., a county consultant.
In March, tourism contributed nearly $208 million to the county’s economy, up 11 percent from the same month last year.
Occupancy rose 7 percent and the average daily rate grew 2 percent last month, when compared to a year ago.
The monthly report was presented to the Tourist Development Council, the county’s advisory board on tourism concerns, on Monday.
“This really is a very positive kind of report,” said Walter Klages, president of Research Data Services Inc.
He said the local tourism industry is benefiting from the recovery of the nation’s economy.
The value of the U.S. dollar has continued to decline, helping tourism as an “export,” Klages said.
In tandem with a strengthening in economic activity nationally, Collier saw a 17 percent increase in the groups-and-meetings business, making it one of the leaders in the resurgence of this segment of the industry, which includes conventions and annual meetings.
The monthly report by Research Data Services tracks more than a half a dozen regional markets where most of Collier’s visitors come from. Only two of those markets generated fewer visitors than a year ago.
“The European market is still lagging and the Canadian market is still negative,” Klages said.
Economic troubles in the United Kingdom are taking their toll on visitation, he said. In March, European visitation declined 10.1 percent from a year ago, dropping to 16,646.
Figuring out why Canadian visitation is down is a little tougher. It dropped to 3,654, down nearly 9 percent from 4,007 visitors in the same month a year ago.
“The statistics on Canada, that is very concerning,” said Georgia Hiller, chairwoman of the Tourist Development Council. “Their dollar is the strongest it has ever been.”
Jack Wert, the county’s tourism director, said many of the Canadian visitors already own homes here so they aren’t counted in the monthly report because they aren’t staying in hotels anymore.
“They made that smart choice several years ago to buy property,” he said. “But it took them out of the rental pool.”
Warmer weather this year in Canada might have something to do with the decrease in visitation to Collier in March. “One month is not a trend,” Wert said.
Hiller suggested that more marketing may need to be done to attract more Canadians. “We want those Canadians here,” she said.
Germany’s economy is recovering and special promotions and new efforts with international tour operators should help grow tourism from there this summer, Wert said.
“I do anticipate a lot of German is going to be spoken here this summer based on what I’ve heard from the tour operators,” he said.
European tour operators continue to add new hotel offerings to their U.S. packages. One of the newer ones is the Marco Beach Ocean Resort, Wert said.
Percentage wise, the biggest increase in visitors to Collier in March came from other parts of Florida. Visitation from within the state grew to 53,186, up 10.6 percent from March 2010.
Visitation from the Southeastern U.S. was up 7.8 percent. From the Northeast, it rose 9.1 percent and from the Midwest it grew 5.9 percent.
The county also saw an 8.4 percent increase in visitation from so-called markets of opportunity, which are markets where Collier’s tourism bureau traditionally does not advertise.
The average occupancy rate in March was 89.1 percent. The average daily rate was $240.60.
“Overall, everything was very positive for the month,” Wert said. “We are definitely on the upswing.”
He said visits to the tourism bureau’s website were up all through March, which he attributed mainly to a winter advertising campaign that ended last month.
“When you are not in the market, you are out of mind,” Wert said. “So it’s important to keep our message out there, as much as we can.”
New York and Chicago, in particular, continue to be strong feeder markets thanks to targeted promotions in those areas as part of the bureau’s winter campaign, he said.
An online campaign through Orbitz, which ran from January to March, was highly successful. According to a report generated by Orbitz:
•Collier’s competitive destinations were all down during the campaign when it came to bookings made through Orbitz.
•The number of room nights that were booked in Collier as part of the promotion increased to 1,236, up 41 percent over 877 last year, when there was a similar campaign.
•Hotels participating in the Orbitz campaign accounted for more than 30 percent of the rooms booked through travel packages with the online travel company.
Hiller is encouraged by the increases in occupancies and rates at the county’s hotels. “Quality is remembered after price is forgotten,” she said.
Most visitors continue to be highly satisfied. In the March survey, nearly 96 percent of the visitors who responded were happy with their experience, with nearly 62 percent saying they planned to return to this area next year.
The positive trend is expected to continue, with more hotels reporting that reservations are up for the next three months, when compared to last year. A late Easter has helped generate more visitation this year too.
“I think we’re going to have a good spring and summer,” said Clark Hill, general manager of the Hilton Naples and a member of the Tourist Development Council. “And we’re looking forward to that.”
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.