FORT MYERS, Fla. — Lee County's Visitor and Convention Bureau will use a new campaign to drive a strong tourism season, despite Ian. It's called "My Fort Myers," and it's designed to focus on not only beaches but also islands and neighborhoods where people can enjoy southwest Florida.
Hurricane Ian has had significant impacts on our tourism season. The bureau reports $66.5 million in tourist tax revenue last fiscal year, from October 2021 to September 2022.
Between October through December 2022, the county only brought in $2.1 million, and officials are estimating a loss of 40-60% in this fiscal year.
"The reason why the number looks so bad is because about a third of our hotel rooms are still closed for repairs right now," said Brian Hamman, CEO of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce. "I think it’s going to be a challenging year trying to market this destination, and help people on the outside understand that there are some opportunities to come, visit and support our businesses."
However, some businesses are already seeing an uptick in visitors and spending.
"I can see it picking up — in downtown Fort Myers," said Janice Danzing, board chair of Florida Repertory Theatre. "If you go down First Street, it’s crowded again."
The theatre relies on tourism for their business, and Danzing says they're only open during the season.
"We have a lot of season subscribers, people that come down the winter," she said. "We just have to get the message out there that we’re here."
It's one of the reasons why the convention bureau is focusing on the new campaign.
"Telling that story of 'My Fort Myers,' telling people about how they can have their own independent, individual experiences down here," Hamman said. "The tourists right now looks a little bit different. It’s not a leisure visitor, it’s a business visitor."
The campaign will highlight other attractions like our nature preserves and downtown Fort Myers.
"I think this is the year that the downtown Fort Myers area could really stand out — anchor for tourism this year," Hamman said. "We’re going to have to work to try and get people down here."
For the next two months, the marketing campaign will focus on bringing back past visitors and marketing the businesses that are open. They'll create promotional videos and ads featuring residents, business owners, and visitors.
"Our tourism is a tiered opportunity," said Merry Coffman, Director of Marketing for Pure Florida. "We have things on the water, we have wonderful museums and theaters."
The bureau is going to take the campaign strategy and run with it for about 18-24 months. It will target different audiences over time.
"We're open, we're ready," Coffman said.
Hamman believes once our beaches are back up and running, it will help all of our businesses.
"This is a year of rebuilding," he said. "I think the beaches are the amenity, it's the draw."