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Red tide brings red ink: Losses reported in the millions

By Staff | Sep 14, 2018

John Lai

The trickle-down effect of the blue-green algae and red tide events has moved through Southwest Florida businesses just as water releases have moved down the Caloosahatchee.

Both have left significant harm in their wake, with financial losses following the devastating environmental fallout.

On Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, the economic impact has been drastic with the two losing nearly $41 million combined in the last two months. A survey conducted by the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce shows eye-opening statistics and staggering losses.

In July and August, the island economy incurred a total estimated loss of $19.1 million in lost revenue, with a 41.2 percent decline in August alone.

Hotels, resorts and vacation rental companies were asked if the current water quality has negatively impacted their business and all 42 businesses surveyed said yes.

The same 42 unanimously said they have had cancellations due to water quality. Collectively, they reported a loss of 11,198 room nights for a total of $3,119,874.

Twenty-six hotels/lodging businesses reported early departures as a result of water quality, at a collective loss of $144,584.

All 29 hotels/lodgings responding said they have seen a year-over-year decrease in the month of August. They reported booking 13,198 fewer rooms, representing almost 30 percent of their revenue.

Thirty-eight restaurants reported back to the survey, with all saying they have been negatively impacted. They reported a decrease in business for the month of August, costing them a combined 2,698 tables – 42 percent of their revenue.

The same trends continued for retail, real estate and “all other industries.”

Some $15,129,680 in losses were estimated on Sanibel in the month of August, along with $4,004,122 in July.

Environmental conditions on Fort Myers Beach have immensely improved, but not before impacting the local economy, according to Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak.

She said things were rolling along better than ever in July, with many restaurants and hotels reporting record numbers – but then things took a nose dive in August.

The Fort Myers Beach chamber conducted a survey from July 27 to Sept. 14.

For businesses, a total of $24,477,607 was estimated to be lost in that time due to the beach being a “ghost town” after a severe red tide outbreak washed dead fish onto white sands, accompanied by a foul smell.

“And that’s not even with our heavy-hitters (largest properties) being accounted for in the survey,” Liszak said. “We were cooking with gas and then hit a brick wall.”

The chamber also surveyed 4,536 employees, who reported a collective estimated loss of $985,951 in lost wages per week.

She said that August was one of the worst months she has experienced, with cancelations in “the tens of thousands.”

Though the numbers are quite discouraging, Liszak is hopeful that as beach conditions come back to normal, so will the activity that the businesses are used to.

“People are making a point to come and help the beach out,” she said. “There are lots more community events and locals are helping locals.”

Some hope to make the recovery effort countywide.

“The past few months have been very challenging for our community and our tourist industry,” Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, chairman of the Tourist Development Council and Lee County Commission, said in a prepared statement. “We need to spend money at our local shops and restaurants in support of the businesses and employees who have lost significant income due to harmful algae blooms.”

To that end a new promotion entitled, #OneLee, has been started by the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau that aims to help local businesses impacted by the red tide and algal blooms. The campaign is designed to motivate residents to dine, shop and play locally, with dozens of deals from area businesses available.

“There are a myriad of reasons that the #OneLee campaign is important but perhaps the two most significant are that it continues to build on the strength of the fabric of our community and promotes neighbors helping neighbors,” Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce President John Lai said. “Lee County is being put to the test but we are resilient. Our community is joining together to help local businesses, our citizens, and we’re working with local organizations to clean up our shores and do our part. There is no better nor important time to support each other, shop small, support local restaurants, and help your neighbor.”

Residents can use the #OneLee hashtag on their social media accounts to support the movement.

Deals launched on Sept. 15 and can be found at www.fortmyers-sanibel.com/onelee.

Special offers will be from businesses in coastal communities such as Sanibel and Captiva, Bonita Beach and Fort Myers Beach.

Fort Myers Beach is getting a head start on the #OneLee movement.

The chamber is working with five local radio stations to air commercials promoting the beach, hopeful that it will bring people back to the usually vibrant area.

Liszak advocated for the local waiters and waitresses who rely on tips for their income.

“Continue to ‘tip the bill’ (a growing movement to tip your server the same amount as your meal), continue to help local businesses, tell your family and friends – even those up north – that things are getting better and that the beach is beautiful,” she said.

Lee County is also working to compile numbers on the impact of red tide and blue-green algae blooms on the economy.

On Sept. 4, the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau sent out a survey to 1,430 tourism industry people/businesses to gather data, asking for information on business revenue for July and August. They asked the aforementioned to fill out the survey “If you are experiencing losses due to red tide or algae blooms.”

Those numbers are not yet available.

“Lee County Economic Development is working to connect local businesses with state and federal resources,” Betsy Clayton, Lee County spokesperson, said. “We continue to encourage businesses being affected by the Lake Okeechobee blue-green algae and red tide to complete a business damage assessment survey that can be accessed.”

You can visit www.floridadisater.biz/BusinessDamageAssesments to find the survey, then select as applicable: Lake Okeechobee/algae blooms or red tide.

The Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University is also reaching out to those who complete the damage assessments that indicate that they want more information on bridge loans.