The impacts of Hurricane Irma slowed tourism in 2017, but those memories appear to be fading quickly, according to new data released Tuesday by the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.
During a presentation at the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, bureau executive director Jack Wert said that total visitors for the first quarter of 2018 were up 2.1 percent over the same period last year. Those visitors were responsible for an economic impact of nearly $806 million during those three months, an increase of 5.9 percent from 2017.
“The fast return of visitors post-Irma along with high demand during the 2018 peak winter season puts us ahead in several key performance categories for tourism,” Wert said. “That high interest and demand for short-term lodging should continue into next quarter. Over half of Collier County lodging managers reported in March that their three-month forward reservation levels were up over the same period last year.”
2017 ended the year down slightly compared to 2016, with a 1.1 decrease in visitors – a deficit that is mainly attributed to Hurricane Irma’s impact on Southwest Florida in September, as visitation dropped due to the storm’s landfall and aftermath. September saw a 31 percent drop in visitors, while October saw an 11.3 percent decline.
The drops leveled off in November(down 3.1 percent) before turning positive again in December. September and October’s low visitation cost Collier around $22 million in economic impact compared to 2016’s figures.
Even with the decline, the area still saw a net increase in direct visitor spending and economic impact of 3.4 percent. The data showed direct visitor spending of $1.37 billion, with an economic impact of $2.05 billion. The tourism industry supports approximately 38,000 jobs in Collier County.
A decline in 2017 wasn’t a surprise. In late February, the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau reported a slight drop, 0.2 percent, in visitors over the last year, responsible for $3.09 billion in direct spending.
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