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Record Passengers for RSW -but are the inland businesses benefitting?

Strong numbers for passengers into Fort Myers for December 2023
Posted at 9:58 PM, Jan 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-25 21:58:36-05

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — Winter has brought a surge of visitors to Fort Myers Beach, filling up Estero Boulevard and sparking optimism for a region still grappling with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

The increased tourism is a welcome sight for the area, especially on the other side of the Matanzas Pass Bridge, where recovery efforts continue.

The Lee County Port Authority announced a record-breaking milestone for Fort Myers Airport, the busiest December in its 41-year history, with more than a million travelers passing through its gates.

Richard Citrola, owner of Citrola's Italian Restaurant on McGregor and John Morris, shared his struggles post-Hurricane Ian.

"This little section of town for some reason is forgotten about. It's still...devastated," Citrola remarked, highlighting the area's slow recovery.

Citrola's background in construction allowed him to rebuild his restaurant in just five months.

"This place is beautiful, there was 4 ½ feet of water in this restaurant where you sit. Think of that nightmare, you got to open your door to your restaurant, you built it. This is your life," he said.

The Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau's recent recap of 2023 shows visitor spending down by 34%, a significant hit to the tourism sector. However, for businesses in Iona, the impact has been even more profound.

Stefan Kuenzel, owner of TikiPub & Kayak Excursions, and Robert Donze, owner and captain of the Sea Trek, reported declines of around 60-65% and 45-50%, respectively, in their revenues compared to previous years.

Despite these challenges, there's a shared sense of hope among business owners, as they begin to notice the increased visitor traffic since December.