Tourism busy season not so busy in Collier County due to COVID-19 pandemic
The first month of the year is usually one of the busiest of the busy season in Collier County.
It wasn't nearly as busy this year. When compared to last year:
- Visitor numbers fell 18.6% to 166,000
- Room nights booked declined 26.7% to 191,500
- Economic impact dropped 18.8% to $175.7 million
That's according to the county's tourism consultant, Tampa-based Research Data Services, which shared the latest statistics for January at a Tourist Development Council meeting Monday.
The monthly data is based on visitors staying in hotels, or other paid vacation rentals.
Similar data is not available for Lee County, as its statistics are reported quarterly, not monthly. Like Collier, it has taken a big hit from the pandemic.
In Collier, the year-over-year comparison for January showed other negatives:
- A more than 29% decrease in occupancy to 57.2%
- A more than 30% contraction in revenue per available room to $151.25
On a bright note, the average daily rate remained strong, falling a little over 1% to $264.43.
Another positive? For the first time since the pandemic hit nearly a year ago, the county saw more visitors coming from out-of-state markets than from inside the state.
"That is actually a very good sign," said Anne Wittine, the director of data analysis for Research Data Services.
Visitation from the Southeastern United States actually rose more than 8 percent over the year to 14,110. Numbers were still off by double digits from the Northeast (-32.5%) and Midwest (-11.8%), but hoteliers report they're seeing more bookings coming in from those areas.
Typically, visitors from northern states flock to Southwest Florida as temperatures become more frigid — and unbearable — there.
"We've still got a long way to go for our out-of-state visitation to get back to normal," Wittine said. "But we are seeing recovery."
She pointed to several factors hurting visitation in January, which came in lower than in December.
One of the bigger factors? Many Americans who felt comfortable traveling did so in December to visit family for the holidays, whom — in many cases — they hadn't seen since the start of the pandemic last March.
The Florida market remained strong in January, with visitation from other parts of the state up 21.4% from a year ago — topping 76,500.
Since the pandemic hit, Florida residents have made up the biggest share of the county's visitors, with more Americans traveling by car — and closer to home — due to the threats posed by COVID-19.
The increases in visitation from other parts of Florida and the Southeast, including such states as Georgia and Alabama, show that the county's laser focus on marketing to leisure-only — or vacation — travelers in drive markets is paying off, Wittine said.
The county's marketing message, she said, which suggests "only paradise will do" when Americans are "ready to travel" again, has been effective, contributing to a strong performance against competing Florida destinations.
Marketers shared examples of the messaging at the meeting, which council members praised, describing it as on point — and not at all pushy.
The meetings business remains soft, with cancellations still rolling in, especially by big groups that have changed their plans because of the pandemic. Group business made up just 14.6% of the county's tourism business in January, compared to 41.5% a year ago, Wittine reported.
A separate report by research firm STR shows group business in Collier down by nearly 78% in January, when compared to last year.
While more visitors are driving to Naples and the surrounding areas, from Marco Island to the Everglades, because of the pandemic, Wittine showed more evidence of how Southwest Florida International has outperformed larger airports not just in Florida, but elsewhere in the country, during the pandemic, recovering more of its traffic at a faster pace.
In January, 686,563 passengers traveled through the region's airport. While that was down by 39.4% from a year ago, it was up 5.9% from December.
Looking ahead, Wittine said there are some positive signs for the tourism industry, based on a recent survey of lodging managers in the county. Those signs include an uptick in business travel and growing leisure demand.
Based on her research firm's consumers surveys, Wittine said it appears more Americans are starting to plan vacations, even though booking windows remain short. As a result, the tourism industry may see a huge improvement by summer, if not sooner.
"We have heard recurring themes of how much people appreciate the benefits of travel," she said. "How much all of this has made them realize how important that ability to take some time away to be someplace else is important to them."