Coronavirus pandemic hurts Southwest Florida tourism tax

Fort Myers Beach pier. Credit: WINK News.

Flights are down by nearly 70%. There is barely any traffic on roads throughout Southwest Florida, and most beaches are deserted. The coronavirus has grounded Southwest Florida’s tourism industry, which translates into millions of dollars lost for our area.

Hotels are considered essential businesses, but just because they are open does not mean anyone is staying in rooms.

Many hotels on Fort Myers Beach have closed like many other hotels across Southwest Florida, causing the tourist tax to plummet.

Southwest Florida thrives on tourism, so empty beaches mean nearly empty or closed hotels.

“It’s definitely been quiet,” said Alex Cass, a hotel consultant at Carousel Beach Inn. “It’s been quiet for a month and a half.”

That’s mainly because COVID-19 brought the economy to a standstill during some of the region’s busiest months of the year. That’s made it harder for counties to see any revenue from the tourist tax.

Executive Director Jack Wert, with the Convention and Visitors Bureau for Naples, Marco Island, Everglades City, also told us about the negative trend for the Southwest Florida tourism industry due to the pandemic.

“It has reduced occupancy levels for instance for where we would normally have been in March in the 90 percentile to where we are here in April less than 10 percent occupancy in hotels,” Wert said.

When someone stays in a Southwest Florida for less than 6 months, they pay an extra five-percent bed tax.

Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties were all on track for record breaking years. Lee county expected to see close to $51 million from the tax in its fiscal year. Now, that number has dropped to closer to $33 million.

In Collier County, much of that money is used for things such as marketing, beach renourishment and county museums.

Once restrictions begin to lift, Collier County wants to try and get locals to take staycations. As we get closer to the end of the year, they’ll start marketing to the rest of the country as usual to try and bring tourism and that tax back up.

And experts believe it could take up to a year and half to even begin to see the normal amount of revenue like before the pandemic began.

“Projections are probably a 25, 30 percent drop,” Wert said. “So in the one, one and a half million is where we are going to be in the tourist tax revenue for the next couple of months.”

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