LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Southwest Florida relies on tourism to bring in tax money to help pay for things like maintaining our beaches.
With snowbird season starting, local business owners are hopeful visitors will come back this year.
"First thing that always gives it away for me is the changing of the color of the license plates," said Jay Johnson, Chair of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.
Johnson is also the owner of Bubba's Roadhouse and Saloon in Cape Coral.
"I think we’re going to see a good season compared to last year," he said. "We were on pace to have a record-breaking year last year before Ian hit."
Johnson says last year would have brought us more than $60 million.
This year, new numbers from the chamber show we're only at $34 million as of August, with another month's worth of numbers waiting to be reported.
This is also the first, full tourism season since the hurricane, which comes with more options than last year for visitors.
"We’re now up to just over 10,000 hotel rooms in the county out of 14,000 prior to the storm," Johnson explained.
He says most of the hotels still closed are on the barrier islands, likely bringing people closer to land.
"So people can stay inland in downtown properties and down closer to 75 and the airport and now have a beach to go to," Johnson said.
Johnson says a bulk of the visitors will likely go to Cape Coral and downtown Fort Myers, which is an area former chair Brian Hamman said last year would be a hub for tourism after Ian.
"We have a long way to still recover, but we’re well underway," Johnson said.
With our area bouncing back, Johnson hopes it will not take much to convince tourists to come to paradise.
However, if it does take convincing, Johnson knows what to say.
"Take a look out your window and when you see the snow, know that when I look out my window, I see sunshine and beaches," he said.