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'It’s a ripple effect': Collier County tourism leaders say 30,000 jobs rely on tourism

Fox 4 speaks to the Executive Director of the Collier County Visitors and Convention Bureau breaking down impacts of Hurricane Ian
Naples Tourism after Hurricane Ian
Posted at 7:37 PM, Oct 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-22 07:15:51-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Hurricane Ian's impact is wreaking havoc on Southwest Florida's tourism as industry leaders weigh in on its impact to the local economy, including in Collier County. Tourism has a $2.6 billion impact on the area, supporting 30,000 jobs in Collier County alone, according to Paul Beirnes, Executive Director of Collier County's Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

"It’s the ripple effect," Biernes said. "It's rental cars, it is renting wave runners going down to Ten Thousand Islands, it is fly fishing down Everglades City, arts and culture. So, $2.6 billion is a significant nugget that’s certainly going to be part of the equation as we bounce back from the hurricane."

This after 2022 didn't just break tourism records in Collier County, but destroyed them. Tourism leaders gage these numbers through tourism development tax dollars, which is a tax set on hotel rooms. This year, Collier County collected more than $45 million in tourism tax money, a 40% increase from record-breaking 2019 before the pandemic. The hurricane slowed that momentum down, impacting tens of thousands of jobs in the area.

"Not the way we anticipated the end of the year, but I think we are a resilient destination and all of Southwest Florida, you can’t count us down," he added.

There are already signs of hope and recovery at popular tourist destinations in the county, as iconic 5th Avenue was steady on Friday afternoon, many of the shops and cafes busy. That's where we caught up with Carrie Oglibie, celebrating her birthday with a group of friends all visiting from Texas.

"We had some conversations, some thought at first 'would be it open?' and 'would we be able to come?' Then we felt guilty, should we be coming down here shopping, partying, having a good time while so many people were struggling," she said. "It was like yes, maybe we can help, and we can be tourist for the economy — here we are shopping and having a great time."

Carrie and her friends were surprised by how many shops and restaurants were open just over three weeks after many were under water.

For Gallery One owner MaryLou Chronister and her manager Debbie Wade, water seeped in past the flood panels. Both were working in the gallery, now gutted, as the carpet needs to be ripped out and cabinetry replaced. Chronister was only able to keep on her four full-time employees, letting go of her three part-timers until they are able to reopen.

"We will come back," Chronister said with fierce determination. "It’s 5th Avenue, it will come back. It will come back better than it’s ever been."

Beirnes said right now the hotels are being kept alive by the number of workers, contractors and linemen staying in Collier County, meaning they're not quite ready to bring visitors back just yet. He hopes that soft re-launch of marketing tourism in Coller County could come as early as Thanksgiving, though that's still dependent on the area's recovery.