Travel ban lifted for 33 foreign countries, SWFL expects surge of visitors

Reporter: Emma Heaton
Published: Updated:

Expect longer commutes, longer wait times at your favorite restaurants and more seasonal residents coming to Southwest Florida, as the U.S. lifts pandemic travel restrictions on 33 foreign countries Monday.

It means we can expect to see more faces from around the globe, good news for our economy—in 2019, Germany and Canada each accounted for 4% of visitors to Lee County,
the UK accounting for 2%—but it could be bad news for businesses already struggling with employee shortages.

With some businesses having fewer workers, experts warn there will be a rapid increase in demand for services as Southwest Florida counties deal with a surge in non-essential travelers from Western Europe to Central and South America.

“The beauty of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades area is that wide open space… 30 miles of white sand beaches, perhaps pre-COVID[-19] that wasn’t on their must-do list, but it certainly is something that is in the psyche and the desire of visitors,” said Paul Beirnes, executive director of Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our brand assets are exactly what our travelers are looking for, that wide open space, room to stretch out. That’s a great appeal that I think is going to be with us for quite some time.”

These foreign visitors can’t travel directly into Southwest Florida, but they can catch a connecting flight from a bigger city like New York or Boston. Experts say regardless of how they get here – we can expect to see record-setting visitation – which is promising for our economy.

“As you can imagine, during the pandemic, the last 19 months, tourism is… international tourism has just simply dried up,” Beirnes said. “It amounts to, for Collier County, 20% of our visitation, so it’s a very significant date for this year, for sure.”

Beirnes also says the window in which international travelers normally show up is likely to expand, so we may see economic benefits in seasons during which we would normally rely on residents or domestic visitors.

“There is a pent-up demand to travel,” Beirnes said. “I think that all bets are off as to what that means in numbers.”

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