Images of Hurricane Ian’s destruction appeared in the news and social media all over the world. So it’s no wonder many tourists stayed away from Southwest Florida for much of last season.
That could start changing in 2023-24, says Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman, who also chairs Lee County’s Tourist Development Council. But it might be another year or two before Southwest Florida returns to the record tourism numbers of its previous season.
“I think a lot of it is uncertainty about how much the area really has recovered,” Hamman says.
Even so, Southwest Florida tourism officials are doing whatever they can to bring people back to Southwest Florida in the coming months – including ad campaigns in Canada, Boston and the Midwest.
And they want people everywhere to know: Most of Southwest Florida is open for business and ready to bring the fun.
“There is stuff to visit right now,” Hamman says. “There is a wonderful community to come visit right now, today. There are beaches that are open right now, today.
“And you could have a great vacation right now, today, here in Lee County. And I want people to know that.”
Here’s what else Hamman and Collier County tourism leader Paul Beirnes had to say about tourism in Southwest Florida, what they’re doing to bring people back and what the future looks like for the area’s tourism industry:
Hurricane Ian’s tourism impact in Collier and Lee counties
Lee County bore the brunt of Ian’s wrath on Sept. 28, 2022 and much of Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel Island and Pine Island are still recovering. But Collier County saw a lot of damage, too.
“Honestly, every one of us in the industry was shell-shocked from the amount of water on Fifth Avenue and what that meant to restaurants and retailers,” says Beirnes, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau. “And then you get to the hotel properties. In the early stages, there were a lot of sleepless nights with just what the future would look (like) for us.”
Everyone rallied, though, and much of Collier County was open for business again by December 2022.
“Compared to the direct hit on Lee County and infrastructure, yes, indeed, we fared blessingly better,” Beirnes says. “That said, there was a significant impact here, and it still remains.”
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That story plays out in Collier County’s tourism numbers. From October 2022 to the end of July 2023, Collier County saw 1.73 million visitors who – thanks to spending at hotels, restaurants and elsewhere – made an economic impact of about $2.5 billion, Beirnes says. That’s a 9-percent drop in visitors from the same time period during the previous season: 1.95 million visitors and an economic impact of $3 billion.
Even so, that’s not bad considering 2021-2022 was a record-breaking year for tourism everywhere in Southwest Florida.
“2022 hit all-time historic records on every metric,” Beirnes says. “Absolutely everything, mind-boggling…
Read More: Ian’s impact on the 2023-23 season