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Some southwest Florida businesses report strong visitor spending after Ian

Tarpon Lodge
Posted at 3:05 PM, Jan 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-13 19:26:21-05

BOKEELIA, Fla. — It's hard to imagine that southwest Florida could have a tourism season after Hurricane Ian, but some businesses are reporting an influx of visitors.

The Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island in Bokeelia says people are coming to eat and rent out rooms. However, it's not your typical visitor.

"We have rented them out to a number of people who have been visiting primarily at this time visiting friends and relatives," said Rob Wells, president of Tarpon Lodge. "We got these rooms open right around Thanksgiving."

They were first housing displaced employees, neighbors and a construction firm working on Pine Island. With no clear vision of the future of tourism, Wells is staying optimistic.

"From a tourism perspective it’s going to be interesting to see who the vacationers are in February, March and April," he explained.

Normally, tourism season brings in seasonal residents and visitors. In 2021, Lee County's Visitor and Convention Bureau reported $3.73 billion in visitor spending.

Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce president Brian Hamman says this year, spending comes from a variety of sources.

"This year our visitors are a mix of people who are actually down here hoping to perform work and help out people who are rebuilding for Hurricane Ian," he said. "We also do have a few visitors that come down for their traditional leisure travel."

Of the businesses open, Hamman says they're hearing strong visitor spending. The same message is echoed by Tarpon Lodge, though a full bounce back is going to take time.

"I think it’s two-fold. I think we need to have businesses that are in business, that are open," Wells said. "And then I think it’s the customer service that people have come to know and love about southwest Florida."

Wells believes to achieve this, businesses need to lend a helping hand.

"We’re all part of one large tourism marketing destination, but we need to work together to help each other out," he said. "It’s going to be a process, but long term I think we’re going to get these customers back."