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Lee County VCB: Tourism drops by over half

By NATHAN MAYBERG / nmayberg@breezenewspapers.com - | Oct 13, 2020

The number of of visitors to Lee County dropped 64 percent per lodging statistics in the tourism snapshot of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau’s data for April to June this year, representing the damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county was hit particularly hard by travel bans from Europe, the closing of the Canadian border, restrictions on travel from other states and bans on flights from Europe due to coronavirus.

On Sept. 15, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners approved a $300,000 funding resolution for a contract with Global Communication Experts to promote Lee County tourism in the German, Austrian and Switzerland markets. According to the resolution, nearly 30 percent of the county’s international visitation last year came from this region.

Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau Executive Director Tamara Pigott said Global Communication Experts will represent the bureau in those markets where it has business partnerships with major tour operators, airlines, distribution partners and industry associations.

“They are our boots on the ground,” she said.

Pigott said the region is a “very strong source of visitors for us.” The airport in Dusselforf, Germany, offers the only direct flights from Europe to the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. The German-speaking countries represent the strongest segment of the international market of tourism into Lee County.

“This region is a very popular vacation destination for them,” she said. “A lot of Germans own second homes in the county.”

Pigott said they enjoy the county’s coastlines and beaches.

“They love the canals and the ability to go boating,” she said.

According to Pigott, approximately half of Germans who travel to Florida visit Lee County.

“They vacation primarily between August and September when our area needs visitors the most,” she said.

Tax revenue is down over 12 percent for the fiscal year so far from tourism from September 2019 through October, Pigott said. Before the pandemic hit, tax revenue from tourism was up approximately 20 percent.

“Right now, people are staying home. They are not comfortable traveling. What we’re relying on now is people from within Florida who are doing staycations,” she said.

In a roundtable discussion held recently in Fort Myers with restaurateurs from the region, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he had asked President Donald Trump to ease travel restrictions from places like Europe and Brazil in order to bolster tourism.

On the bright side, Pigott said Southwest Florida International Airport will add a route from Los Angeles on Alaskan Airlines in November and Jet Blue will add daily flights from Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina.