Collier’s tourism industry is back, Lee’s will take longer

Collier County’s tourism industry is showing resilience in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

From hotels and resorts to campgrounds, nearly 65% ​​of the county’s rental properties for visitors are open for business, just weeks after the powerful storm hit. That’s according to Paul Beirnes, county tourism manager.

At a Tourism Development Board meeting on Monday, he said 74 of the 115 properties are operational, with many more expected to reopen over the next 45 days, some within weeks.

He acknowledged that the recovery is much better at Collier than at Lee, which was directly affected by the near-Category 5 storm, which caused massive destruction with record storm surge.

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In Collier, the status of 25 properties is still unknown, primarily due to ongoing communication issues after Ian, including phone, power and internet outages, Beirnes said.

However, just because they’ve been inaccessible doesn’t mean there’s “desperation out there”, he said.

Seven properties that remain dark have “no idea” when to reopen, but they’re all “very small” so it’s “not a big impact,” Beirnes said.

Nine others reported that they were in repairs and recovering, he said.

It’s unclear how Lee County compares. The county’s tourism manager could not immediately be reached for comment.

The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort, 400 S Collier Blvd., Marco Island, Florida.

Overall, Beirnes told the tourism board that the speed of recovery for Collier’s tourism industry is enough to “blow your mind”, with heavily damaged hotels that appeared to be closed for 90 days or more, reopening in the half the time.

“It’s shocking how fast the response is,” he said.

It’s not just hotels and resorts that are quickly recovering, but restaurants, shops and other local businesses that are attracting residents and visitors, like those on Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples.

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“About a week after the storm, I said the No. 1 question on Fifth Avenue was Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot. It was kind of irrelevant how quickly it all came back,” he said.

With many large resorts and hotels in the county returning to service, about 80% of rooms are “open for business,” he said.

“Frankly, we could be at about 86% of our room inventory in the next 45 days,” Beirnes said. “So not a bad position.”

With more properties open, he said, the “almost zero” occupancy situation has started to ease in the county, with blocks of 10 or 15 bedrooms appearing for the first time since Ian touched down. land in southwest Florida on September 28.

March 2022 construction at the Ritz-Carlton on Vanderbilt Beach

In the aftermath of the devastating storm, hotels and other rentals usually reserved for tourists were filled with first responders, adjusters and construction and cleanup crews – as well as residents displaced by Ian.

The industry, he said, appears to be turning a corner.

“Everyone wants an answer on when the season will return and when everyone does, all the contractors will leave and open the rooms. We do not know it. We will know when that happens,” Beirnes said.

Although normalcy is still a long way off, destination marketing in Collier will resume, albeit cautiously and slowly, with careful wording – and a focus on the region’s resilience and gratitude, for the outpouring of support it has view of the whole world, he said.

The stimulus campaign will be heavily anchored on social media and via email in October, November and December.

Sunrise, Marco Island, October 4, 2022

Taking over the marketing, Beirnes stressed the importance of “tone” and consideration for local residents, and especially neighbors to the north, who are still recovering and need help.

He described the recovery as regional, saying Collier did not plan to position itself in a much better or positive position than any other part of Southwest Florida.

Lee County, in particular, will have a much longer line to dig in, with far more damage and destruction to its coastal hotels and resorts, which could take years to rebuild.

Beirnes recognized it.

“I’m certain that, despite the depth of the impact in Lee County, they’re going to come back,” Beirnes said. “Over time, truly elevating Southwest Florida.”

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In Lee, many hotels and resorts — and other tourism businesses large and small — have pledged to rebuild, from Fort Myers Beach to Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

With all the rebuilding, Beirnes believes the area will become the “French Riviera of Florida.”

“We have spectacular equipment here and Lee County is going to continue to do amazing things, like they always do,” Beirnes said.

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