‘Oh my God, we’re exhausted’: Exceptional season for local tourism comes to an end

Lance Shearer

By all accounts, the just wrapped winter season has been one for the books.

Representatives of hotels, the Chamber of Commerce, and the local tourism authority all say that Collier County and Marco Island have seen a spectacularly successful – and therefore, busy and congested – tourist season, with record numbers of visitors here and dollars spent.

“Oh my God, we’re exhausted,” said Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dianna Dohm. “Our visitors’ center has been extremely active. We’re up probably five percent over last year in visitors. Requests for information are up at least 10 percent.

“This was the best season since 2014, when Marco was voted the best island in the U.S. by Trip Advisor. We’re seeing a lot of day trippers from Naples and Bonita Springs.” Chamber membership was also up, she said, with five to six new members each month.

Business at the JW Marriott and Hilton hotels was strong this season. The island’s economy as well as the hotels’ bottom lines was helped by this being the first winter season in years during which both of Marco’s two tourism anchors were fully up and running, after lengthy renovations at both hotels.

At the Marriott, “a sweeping non-numerical statement – it’s been exceptional,” said Amanda Cox, director of sales and marketing. “We had high expectations, for the first season with everything open, and we exceeded those expectations.”

The leisure and business travel season started off strong and early, said Cox. “People taking a one-week rarely start to travel until February. January is normally a ramp-up, but it was a delight how busy January was. We were doing convention business at the beginning of the year.”

They were at 90 percent occupancy for the January through March period, with average daily rate, a key measure for hotel profitability, up six and a half percent, said Cox. The hotel spent $320 million on upgrades and expanded convention and guest facilities.

The Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa also had an exceptional season, said general manager Steve Falciani.

“It’s been fantastic for us, like a perfect storm of really good business,” said Falciani. His hotel also just completed an extensive repair, renovation and upgrade process, estimated at $60 million. “We’ve gotten a ton of great feedback on the renovations, especially from our returning guests.

“From an occupancy standpoint, it’s better than it’s been in the past,” said Falciani, although he did not have specific numbers to share.

Jack Wert, tourism director for Collier County, said the season, which he said is “just starting to wind down,” has been strong throughout the county. The numbers he had, though, were for calendar year 2018, comparing it to 2017, also a strong year for local tourism.

“Visitation was up four percent, and direct visitor spending was up six percent,” he said. “This was another record year, despite the water quality challenges” and particularly the national publicity that lumped Collier County together with other areas to the north.

“The two Marco Island hotels had a big impact,” said Wert. “This will help all island businesses.”

The JW Marriott and the Hilton teamed up on one “island-wide” event at the tail end of the season, when a massive business group from Texas Roadhouse came to Marco.

“They used over 1,200 accommodations,” said Cox, with conventioneers staying at the Hilton, the Marco Beach Ocean Resort and in some condos for overflow as well at the Marriott. The convention brought in entertainment including national acts Hootie & the Blowfish, Toby Keith and Weezer for concerts on the beach, and according to Cox, “there were 2,200 people from Texas Roadhouse, and probably double the locals” listening.

“We’re happy to partner with the JW,” said Falciani.

Cox said the slower months of the summer will give her hotel the chance to emphasize programs designed to accommodate residents.

The Marriott, she said, has “always done well in peak season. Our goal is to keep people working in August.