LEE COUNTY, Fla. — 2022 is on pace to break all records when it comes to how many people are visiting Southwest Florida, according to the latest numbers released by the Lee County Tourism Development Council.
Tourism leaders met at the latest TDC meeting back in April where a presentation showed that 2022 has already brought in more visitors than 2021, which broke the record-breaking 2019 before the pandemic.
Industry leaders in Lee County measure the numbers based on how much hotels are collected through Bed Tax Dollars, which is a tax visitors pay when they book at the hotel.
According to the latest numbers, in January of 2021, the county collected $5.1 million in tourism bed tax dollars. Compare to January of 2022, the county collected more than $7.7 million dollars, $2.5 million more.
The same for February, showing in February of 2021 $5.6 million dollars were collected, in 2022 that number went up to $8 million.
A chart showing each month through Lee County's peak season, October through April, shows huge jumps year over year.
"The percentage year over year is just outstanding," said Bill Waichulis, General Manager of The Pink Shell Beach Resort. "We are out-beating 2021 and 2021 was the best we have ever had, so it's amazing to see those numbers just continue and just the airport traffic too is amazing."
Waichulis also sits on the board of the Lee County Tourism Development Council, which also presented airport traffic numbers at the April 14th meeting showing in the month of February last year, 725,000 travelers came through the airport. In February of 2022, that number shot up to 1.1 million travelers - a 58.4% increase.
"It will be the best year we have ever had in tourism in Lee County," Waichulis added. "You have a traveler that doesn't have many options - do you go to the Bahamas and test positive and then can't get back to the US? Am I going to get on a cruise with restrictions, so I think beach destinations give people that comfort they can travel and not have any issues and that's what we are seeing."
The Chiappetta family, visiting Fort Myers Beach from Minnesota this week, is their first vacation since the beginning of the pandemic which is more than 2 years now.
"It's been a few years since we have been able to take any vacations," mom Lori Chiappetta said. "This was our first out-of-state vacation and it's been a long time and we wanted to grab an opportunity to get out and take a trip."
Chiapetta not surprised by the record-breaking numbers recently released said, "I can believe it. It's been a hard few years and people have been pent up and the opportunity to get out and take these trips again, it's probably happening for most of us - not just me."
To see the full presentation of our latest tourism numbers presented at the last Tourism Development Council meeting, click here.