Englewood Beach Waterfest drives international tourism

Reporter: Erika Jackson
Geico boat speeds along at Waterfest. (Credit: WINK News)
Geico boat speeds along at Waterfest. (Credit: WINK News)

Tourism is essential to the Southwest Florida economy, but the industry took a hit last year because of red tide. In fact, Englewood Beach had to cancel an event affiliated with its annual Waterfest. But this year, the show will go on.

Speedboat racers are on the fast track, vying for a world championship title this weekend.

Joe Kilby, who is visiting from Ontario, Canada, said the event is exciting.

“The boats are so fast,” Kilby said. “You never know when one of them is going to have a spill or something.”

Englewood Beach Waterfest expects to bring in 40,000 people from around the world and generate over $6 million for our local economy.

Rick Farrell is also visiting from Ontario, Canada, to watch the festivities.

“Something different down here,” Farrell said. “I enjoy seeing all of the boats and beer tents and food and people.”

Visitors like Farrell and Kilby are helping Florida break more tourism records. Visit Florida said more than 100 million visitors stepped foot in the state so far this year. But, year to year growth is the lowest it has been since 2010.

Budget cuts could be to blame as legislators slashed a third of Visit Florida’s state funding. It is leading to less out of state television advertising.

Steve Gardiner, with Waterfest, said the event bucks the trend and has only expanded since 2015.

“We’ve got so many advance people buying tickets,” Gardiner said. “The hotel rooms are all rented. There’s no vacancies around.”

Organizers warn you can expect “larger than normal” crowds this year, with parking offsite and shuttles to the event. It brought families together to enjoy the sun, sand and speed.

“It’s a great place, great people,” Farrell said. “It’s a good weekend.”

Online purchases of tickets cost $20, but they increase to $25 if bought at the gate. That two-day ticket, which is from Nov. 23 to Nov. 24, includes bus transportation and parking. Gates open at 9 a.m. and the race starts at 10 a.m. on both days.

Right now, we do not see any dead fish out on Englewood Beach. But organizers tell WINK News, if they start washing onshore, Charlotte County will clear them off the beaches and they will post signs warning visitors it could cause respiratory irritation.

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