Collier County's tourism industry is showing more signs of a recovery
While dark clouds linger over Collier County's tourism industry due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are a few bright spots.
One of them? In the latest report by county consultant Tampa-based Research Data Services, the average daily rate paid by visitors in September rose 14.1%, when compared to the same month a year ago.
"We are seeing people spending more money. So that is a very positive thing," said Ann Wittine, the research firm's director of data analysis.
At a Collier County Tourist Development Council meeting Monday, Wittine offered an overview of how the local tourism industry is faring.
The monthly statistics, based on visitors staying in hotels and other vacation rentals, included a lot of negative numbers, but declines are narrowing, pointing to signs of a recovery, Wittine said.
Here's what September looked like when compared to a year ago:
- Visitor numbers fell to 80,400, down 12.9%
- Room nights booked declined to 135,100, down 22%
- Total spending dropped to about $73 million, down 12.4%
- Occupancy declined to 43.3%, down 25.7%
Hoteliers reported a strong holiday weekend for Labor Day last month — and weekends, in general, have been extremely busy. However, business midweek remains a big challenge, Wittine said.
"Properties are also telling us that reservations are extremely short," she said, with more visitors waiting it out to make sure they can take a trip and it's at the right time.
Monthly statistics aren't available in Lee County, but its tourism industry has also suffered greatly from the impacts of the pandemic. The county's next tourism report — done quarterly — should be out soon, showing the results for July through September.
Meanwhile, back in Collier, Wittine said there are a few positive trends that are worth noting.
Since taking a nosedive in April, direct employment in the county's leisure and hospitality sector has steadily increased. In September, it was still down by 9.6% from a year ago, but it was a marked improvement from a few months ago.
"We've seen a steady tick up," Wittine said. "So we are recovering, but we still have a little bit of a ways to go in order to get back to where we were."
In the report, the analyst also offered a longer view of what has happened in the tourism industry this year.
From January to September, here's what the numbers looked like when compared to the same months last year:
- Visitors: 1,030,500, -28.4%
- Room nights: 1,354,500, -29.6%
- Total spending: $1,189,714,300, -32.8%
While those are big double-digit declines, Wittine said they look much better than in some other areas of the state — and country.
"Florida has helped us to compensate for our losses in other regions," Wittine said.
In September alone, the county saw 59,737 visitors coming from other parts of the state, an increase of 48.8% from the same month last year.
Wittine attributed the rise in Florida visitation to swift changes in Collier County's marketing approach as a result of the pandemic, with new messaging that's more targeted to state residents, who like many other U.S. travelers are now taking weekend getaways by car — and avoiding airports for the time being.
While Florida was a bright spot, the county saw fewer tourists from all of its other primary markets in September. Within the United States, visitation fell 10.3% from the Southeast, 48.6% from the Northeast and 36.1% from the Midwest over the year.
Due to international travel restrictions, the county is getting few if any visitors from Canada or Europe, making it too small to measure.
The virus isn't the only challenge the tourism industry faces. There are more rooms to fill with the opening of a number of new hotels over the past year — as well as the addition of more individual rentals — in Collier.
Since last September, the number of hotel units in the county has increased by 11.5% to 6,267, while the count of private rentals has grown by 14.2% to 2,865, according to Research Data's report.
As of last month, the county had 11,145 licensed lodging units, including motels, and that was up 9.8% from a year ago.
"That's more inventory to market," Wittine said.
Wittine also shared some of the highlights from her firm's most recent tourism pulse studies.
That included an increase in the percentage of respondents saying they plan to travel in the next 30 days from 17.1% to 24.5%.
"That is a very good sign for our fall season travel," Wittine said. "So we were glad to see that."
One of the more negative results from the latest survey? Would-be visitors' perceptions are still that many tourism destinations, including the Naples area, have not fully reopened yet, so they might not have the experience they're hoping to have if they visit now, rather than later.
Councilman Clark Hill, general manager of Hilton Naples, said the tourism bureau needs to find a way to reach the 75% of people who think the destination may still be mostly closed to let them know this area is completely open and "things are going well."
Jack Wert, the county's tourism director, said the bureau is already working to spread that message in Florida — and the messaging will expand beyond state lines in November.
"We can do it," he said. "Yes."
Councilman Mike McCabe, who also sits on the Naples City Council, said he's been pleased to see tourist tax collections coming from the county's 5% charge on overnight stays at hotels and other vacation rentals rising since July.
On weekends, he said, beach parking is so full that it looks like the busy season is already in full swing in the city, which he attributed to several factors, including a focus on safety in the county — and the tourism industry.
"We just need to keep it up," McCabe said.