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Bed tax numbers remain strong for 2017 fiscal year

November 29, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Despite the water quality crisis of spring 2016, this year's tourism tax revenues are holding steady.

The Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau released its annual report for the 2017 fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017.

According to the report, Lee County incurred $39.8 million of the tourist tax collection from paid accommodations. That's an increase of .2 percent from the 2016 fiscal year, which was $39.7 million, and 5.2 percent from fiscal year 2015, which earned the county $37.8 million.

"This is really good news for us," said Francesca Donlan, VCB Communications Director.

The tourist tax, also called the bed tax, is not charged to residents of the county; it's a tax added onto the cost of getting a hotel room or rental in the county.

Of the $39.8 million, Fort Myers Beach raked in 15.2 percent, or approximately $5.1 million, followed by Sanibel with $5.3 million.

Donlan said this year, Midwesterners dominated the largest share of visitors, and the top markets from cities were Chicago, New York, Boston and Manchester, and Minneapolis.

"The Midwest is new, but the cities take turns sharing the spotlight," she said.

The VCB conducts visitor surveys to gather data on what tourists think of the area, its attractions, etc. According to the results, Donlan said visitor satisfaction is on the rise with 89 percent saying they're likely to return and 55 percent saying they plan to return next year.

"That's really good," she said.

Donlan credits that satisfaction to the "tremendous" efforts of the customer service teams in the local tourism industry. The VCB holds a "guest first" program to train people how to deliver top notch service.

"We're trying to be the friendliest place in the country," Donlan said.

Because of Hurricane Irma's impact to the area, the VCB has switched marketing tactics. Typically it focuses marketing more strongly on efforts to bring in visitors during the "off-season" when it's slow. But this year, the VCB will switch to year-round marketing campaigns to make sure people know that Lee County is okay to travel to, and was not devastated by the storms.

"Tourism is really the economic engine here. We celebrate the visitors coming - we want them to stay longer and spend more," she said. "We're trying to make sure our message is out there about our slice of paradise."

Jacki Liszak, Fort Myers Beach Chamber president, credits some of the last year's increase to the increase in rental properties available - any vacation rental pays into the tax.

"That's a big thing," she said.

The start of the 2017-2018 "season" began early this year. The Chamber is running out of visitor "goodie bags" filled with coupons and things for tourists as fast as they can put them together at the new location at the base of the bridge. Accommodations were reporting full rooms in September, October and November, Liszak said. Some of that can be attributed to Hurricane Irma - hotels put up first responders after the storm.

"We had a lot of people come down after the storm to check on their property and they're staying," she said.

It helps that parts of the northern states are already getting cold - the sooner the chill begins, the more people come to the beach during season.

"Season started early," Liszak said. "Traffic is here, it means our snowbirds are home early and we're welcoming everybody back."



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