Local tourism revenue offers more optimism
America’s largest employer – traveling tourism – was targeted by guest speaker Suya Davenport, executive director of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, in her strategic report to a near record number of members at the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce luncheon last Thursday at Bayfront Bistro at Snook Bight Marina.
Davenport, who oversees the promotion of “The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel” as a travel destination for domestic and international visitors, gave an uplifting presentation on the revenue generated by tourism at the state and county level.
Hope and optimism featured in an otherwise economic downtime.
“We generated $730 billion in travel expenditures this past year and $116 billion in travel generated tax revenue,” said Davenport. “Traveling tourism is America’s largest employer with 7.7 million direct travel-generated jobs throughout the United States.
“It’s one of the largest economic industries for our state. Approximately 82.4 million visitors traveled to the Sunshine state in 2007. During that time they were here, those visitors generated more than $65 billion in taxable sales and that amount of spending generated 3.9 billion in tax-related revenues to the state of Florida.”
Davenport further explained the money gained in taxes was spent on public necessities – including schools, transportation and museums – and to ‘enhance the state’s offering to attract more visitors’ to the area.
“Nearly $1 million Floridians are employed by traveling tourism,” she said. “That creates an annual payroll of $15.4 billion.”
She then painted a compelling image by describing what a very small percentage increase in tourism would do for this area.
“Imagine, if there was just 1 percent increase in visitors coming to the state; that would generate an additional $39 million in general revenue,” said Davenport. “So when we talk about those kinds of numbers, the impact is not only for the state but it trickles all the way down to our community here.”
According to Davenport, Lee County tourism employs one out of every five people; a drop in tourism would affect everyone.
“We receive approximately 5 millions visitors a year that generate approximately $3 billion in economic impact,” she said “Just this past year, the tourist tax collection generated over $23 million. Without these visitors, our world would change dramatically. If money spent by all tourists here in Lee County were to drop by 25 percent, this would translate into an increase of over $132 in taxes for each Lee County household, not to mention unemployment would rise even higher than what it is today.”
She compared numbers between the fiscal year of 2006-07 and 2007-08 and reported increases in bed tax collections, overall visitation, visitor expenditures and repeat visitation in this area. Comparatively, other cities in Florida reported substantial losses.
“For the month of January, Orlando was down 10 percent,” said Davenport. “Tampa-Hillsborough was down 31 percent in January and they hosted the Super Bowl. You guys are doing an unbelievable job and you’re really holding your own when it comes to visitors coming to this destination.”
Not bad for a 2008 third-quarter time frame that featured skyrocketing gas prices and air fares, a presidential election, the collapse of the financial sector and near collapse of the automobile industry, the stock market decline and a reported catastrophic lapse in retail spending for the holiday season.
“The inventory supply continues to increase in Lee County,” said Davenport. “And, we continue to have hotels popping up around here in Lee County. We were still able to pull out with some real positives.”
She hopes that the strong momentum doesn’t falter as the slower off-season approaches.
According to Davenport, some solutions to help offset the expected slowdown include forming partnerships with other groups and directing people to the leevcb.com Web site for promotion-based incentives.
“We have our hotel accommodations on our Web site and we’ll be adding a booking window soon,” she said. “Our focus is to become more consumer-friendly.
“We’ve been working with several of our hotel partners on giving away vacation packages and partnering with Southwest Airlines on that. We’ve had many promotions as well. We try to really track a return on our investment back into the community to make sure that we’re spending our money in the right places.”
Promoting the international front came next.
“We’re actually creating a German mini-visitor guide, a UK rack brochure and we’re hosting a spring and summer promotion with credit card holders with a popular retailer there,” she said. “We’re on track to exceed a lot of our generation goals for the 2008-09 year.”
Davenport completed her speech on a positive note.
“As you can see, we’re not resting,” she said. “We are keeping busy by continuing to bring business into the area. You can help by referring to our area as ‘The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel;’ promote our sales and marketing outreach; attend trade shows; participate in sales calls; play a part in any of our tour-operator luncheons; send us your latest news; take advantage of our hospitality programs; recognize your employees for giving outstanding customer service; commit to green-friendly practices; support the infrastructure that brings sustainable tourism here; and continue to generate letters to our senators and representatives.”