Visitors are staying longer and spending more.
By Laura Layden
Tourism in Collier County shined brighter in September.
Visitor numbers rose by nearly 10 percent over the year, growing from 85,700 to 94,000, according to a monthly report by Tampa- based Research Data Services Inc., a county consultant.
Meanwhile, visitor spending, room nights and occupancy increased by double digits year-over year.
Visitors to the county booked 165,600 room nights last month and dropped more than $77.4 million into the local economy during their stays. Room nights rose by 10.4 percent, and spending grew by 17.6 percent over the year.
Occupancy was at 64.2 percent last month, increasing 14 percent from 56.3 percent a year ago.
The sunny statistics were presented at a monthly meeting of the Tourist Development Council, a county advisory board.
Asked about the stronger numbers, Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau, told council members they show destination marketing is working.
With a reallocation of the county’s tourist tax, more money now is available for tourism marketing year-round, which allowed the bureau to extend the summer campaign into September for the first time, he said.
“It’s obvious more people came,” Wert said.
Part of his bureau’s mission is to replace the visitors who don’t return year after year.
“You can’t do that unless you are out there with a message, and it does seem to be paying off,” he said.
More than 42 percent of the county’s visitors in September were in the destination for the first time — and 8.5 percent never had been to Florida, according to the consultant’s report.
September tends to be a slower month for tourism, with the end of the summer driving season and the start of school.
“It’s the turning point in the season and I think it’s really significant to kind of account for just that month having $77 — almost $78 — million dollars of economic impact,” said Walter Klages, president of Research Data Services.
In Southwest Florida, the busy season traditionally runs from November to April.
A separate report from Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research Inc., which tracks only major hotel chains and brands, showed overall occupancy in the Naples area increased by 14.7 percent to 51 percent in September, but it declined 1.9 percent for the upscale ones.
Still, statistics show Collier County continues to be a draw for wealthy tourists.
“We are seeing definitely a more well-to-do and a more upscale visitor than we used to,” Klages said.
In September, the county saw more visitors from all of its primary markets. By percentage, visitation from Europe grew the most, increasing by 21.2 percent to 22,842.
The county saw the most tourists coming from other parts of Florida. There were 39,480 visitors from within the state.
Overall satisfaction remains high at 97.4 percent, with more than 90 percent of the visitors surveyed by Research Data Services saying they plan to return. But visitors are noticing the higher costs, with 17.8 percent saying the destination was more expensive than they expected.
In the county, the average daily rate in September was $121.20, an 11.6 percent increase from $108.60 last year.
The county collected $794,682 in tourist taxes for September. That was a more than 16 percent increase from the same month a year ago.
Tax collections are already $100,000 over what was projected for the entire year, with three months of collections still to go. The county’s nine-month total was $17,148,486.
The county charges a 4 percent tax on hotel stays and other vacation rentals.
Year-to-date through September, the county has attracted nearly 1.4 million visitors, a 3.7 percent increase from last year. Visitor spending already has topped $1.5 billion and it’s up nearly 9 percent over last year.
More than 68,000 visitors this year have come from what are described as U.S. opportunity markets, or markets west of the Mississippi River. Visitation from Texas has increased noticeably from places such as Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth, Klages said.
What’s not visible in the statistics is the beginning of the Latin American market, he said.
He estimates anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 visitors to the county this year have come from that market.
“There is an Argentinian market in there and there is a Peruvian market in there, but the Brazilian market is the core,” he said.
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