The Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau says the time is right for tourism to rebound this year. It predicts the reopening of international markets is going to improve things significantly, and a large enough portion of the world population has been vaccinated that travel should be popular into 2022. The plan is to rebrand.
The new name will be “Fort Myers: Islands, beaches & neighborhoods.”
Gone is “The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel” and instead “Fort Myers: Islands, beaches & neighborhoods.” Tamara Pigott is the executive director of the Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau. “When you’re at the terminal in Atlanta or Charlotte, the gate says Fort Myers you know that’s where you’re going,” said Pigott.
Leaders hope this will help them bounce back from the worst single-year drop in sales tax collection in Lee County.
Southwest Florida had a record-breaking September, a month usually so dead that some restaurants shut down for its entirety, which says a lot about how the area is doing so far.
“So we believe that Fort Myers is Lee County’s front door. We know that from our visitors it’s how they refer to the area,” the bureau said in a presentation.
The VCB says it’s been a rollercoaster few years, with tourism taxes taking the lowest dip we’ve ever seen during the pandemic and now bouncing back in the highest jump the VCB has ever seen in a given year.
While it has been a difficult year and a half, tourism seems ready to explode for Southwest Florida. although, not everyone feels that they’re being included in this rebrand.
Sanibel Business owner Bill Kirkland is not sure that dropping Sanibel from the ‘sell’ is the correct choice. “We need to play off of what we have to keep the people coming here and if we get them here, they’re going to get to those places and do the other things too,” said Kirkland.
He’s worried that he’s paying to bring tourists to places other than Sanibel. “Don’t forget where the tax dollars come from. And you want to take my money that we have customers coming here and take it somewhere else? I don’t think so,” said Kirkland.
“I can promise you this marketing will not leave out our beaches,” said Pigott.
Jermaine campana is the owner of 400 Rabbits Restaurant. “If I were exploring an area I’d really want to know all the areas that it has to offer and what they have there that I might be missing out on because Sanibel is very unique,” Campana said.
“It’s been feast or famine,” said Pigott. “And we prefer the feast, obviously, which is where we are now. But this year we do have, you know, some exciting new things that we’re rolling out. We’re just really excited, as you can guess… it’s time for tourism to get back on track.”
The VCB is kicking off a whole new look to launch our busy season Tuesday, representing a fresh start for tourism in Lee County. The local economy thrives off visitors, so they say international travel opening back up is the perfect time to unveil a new aesthetic.
“It’s been a rough road for most of us, and the mental health aspects of the pandemic… pretty predominant,” Pigott said. “People are a little dreary, and they’re ready for a good day. And we’re excited to share with them how many good days they can have here in our community, what we call our destination, Lee County.”
Lee County saw a record-breaking year for tourism dollars. In 2021, Lee County collected $10 million more tax dollars than in 2019, before the pandemic. Much of that money goes towards protecting the beaches that make Southwest Florida beautiful.