International travelers looking forward to returning to Southwest Florida

Reporter: Sydney Persing Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

Southwest Florida will soon welcome back international visitors. The United States is lifting all travel bans on foreign visitors from 33 countries on November, 8 which is great news for tourism.

People looking to enter the country will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide proof. That is going to be handled by the airlines abroad before anyone ever boards a plane.

The same goes for showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

But you can still expect RSW to get busier because there are a lot of anxious people ready to return to Southwest Florida.

Rolf Weiss is one of the people looking forward to being able to visit again. He lives in Germany and for 12 straight years made the trip here. Then the pandemic hit and shut everything down.

Weiss, to console himself, made himself a faux Fort Myers Beach in his backyard in Germany, but there is no need for the decorations now. Weiss said, “I said to my family, well great, we can go back!”

The Biden administration will lift travel bans for fully vaccinated visitors from 33 countries on November 8. There are limited allowances for foreign nationals who are not vaccinated.

Weiss has already booked a beach house for January. “We are crazy for Florida,” he said.

That type of enthusiasm is exactly what Lee County Commissioner Brian Hamman wants to hear. “I think we are in for probably one of the busiest seasons we’ve ever seen in our history,” said Hamman who is also the chairman of the tourist development council.

Hamman said Lee County is already flooded with domestic visitors, possibly more this year than any other year.

Foreign tourists made up 15-25% of Lee County visitors before the pandemic, so busy businesses are about to get busier. And the beauty of that is they stay longer, and they spend more money here helping out small businesses.

Hamman said the area typically sees Canadians come down in the winter, Germans in the summer.

The first flight from Germany to RSW isn’t until late March, but Weiss is not waiting. He’ll be here in January, flying into Miami and driving across the state.

Collier Tourism Director Paul Beirnes said, “we’re really excited. November 8, has been a date that we’ve been waiting for, unknowingly, for now 19 months.”

Before the pandemic 19% of tourists in Collier County were international. Now Beirnes is bracing for, and hoping for, even more.

Beirnes said, “we heard tales from international or European tour operators of 300 to 17,100% increase in call volume, the next day, there is a pent-up demand to travel. I think that all bets are off as to what that means in numbers.”

Those numbers are likely to be good news for all of Southwest Florida.

There is no telling now how many foreign flights will touch down in Florida come the 8th, but Beirnes believes they’re going to keep coming. “We believe that those travel windows that international visitors normally come will probably expand.”

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