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No surprise, tourism is down so far in 2023: Moore About Business

CapA House Republican on Monday filed a bill that could lift restrictions on the numbers of hours that 16-year-old and 17-year-old youths can work in Florida.
A House Republican on Monday filed a bill that could lift restrictions on the numbers of hours that 16-year-old and 17-year-old youths can work in Florida.

Post-Ian, it's been and will continue to be a challenging time for the hospitality industry and for our Southwest Florida community, particularly the restaurants. Without the hotels that we normally have on the coast full of guests, it's really challenging for the restaurants to function.

Lee County Visitors & Convention Bureau Executive Director Tamara Pigott recently spoke to the local chapter of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association regarding the Hurricane Ian recovery.

Pigott noted that normally, nearly 5 million people come to visit Lee County each year, and that drives our local economy. In 2022, the total spent was $4 billion. So, she pointed out, we’re missing those big spenders in our community this year—and that’s a big challenge.

"I do have some good news today though," said Pigott. "So, as you know, we've been tracking re-openings of hotels. We are at 70% and we are only nine short of 10,000 hotel rooms. So that's good news...But the reason people get on a plane and fly here from all around the world is to go to that beautiful beach and that's the truth. And so it's going to be a challenge until we have more hotel rooms on the white sandy beach."

She then stated the current local hotel availability. Sanibel/Captiva has 180 rooms available, 1,850 are not. Fort Myers Beach has 348 rooms available, 1,748 are not. Pine Island has 63 rooms, so it’s about 41% open. Bonita Springs has most of its rooms open.

That means, Pigott noted, that for many of the re-opened local restaurants to remain in business, locals need to support them, especially this summer.

Pigott remarked that this summer will probably be the hardest on our local hospitality industry, and then it will get better every year. In three to five years, she predicts, the makeup of the local hospitality industry will be completely different than today.

She indicated one potential change that would impact the foundation of our local economy:
"If hotels get replaced with single family homes, and that's a very real possibility, it's going to be a different economy than if those are hotels and you know, it again, it's a very delicate line," she said.

Pigott then told the audience, "We want this to be a special place. We are all here because it's magical here. But we also have to understand that some business activity has to occur for us all to stay employed and have an economy that's thriving. We want our kids to be able to grow up here and our grandkids to be able to grow up here...But I think we we as citizens need to be very, very conscientious of when we think about what we want. Understand that there's an economy that goes with all of those things."

Karen Moore is a contributing partner for WGCU and the publisher of SWFL Business Today.

Publisher of SWFL Business Today