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Record-breaking tourism, booming growth shifting 'seasons' in SWFL

Industry leaders say 'off-season' might not start until August
Fort Myers Beach Spring Break
Posted at 3:34 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 01:24:46-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Lee County tourism industry leaders say record-breaking tourism numbers, booming growth and more seasonal residents staying year-round is shifting 'seasons' here in Southwest Florida.

According to the Lee County Tourist Development Council's website, typically peak season in Southwest Florida is January 15th through April. However, some of those same tourism leaders now say the pandemic has shifted 'seasons' as we know it.

"I think the seasons are changing,"said Bill Waichulis, General Manager of the Pink Shell Resort in Fort Myers Beach. "I think there is a paradigm shift of people now coming down in the summer. The same amount of people on the road now, you will have in June and July."

Waichulis spoke to us at the height of Spring Break, where the resort was running at 100% occupancy. He said most all hotels on the beach were booked and 2022 is shaping up to be a record-breaking year for tourism, beating out 2019.

"Lee County is having the best year ever," Waichulis added. "We are up 12% from 2019 and that was the best year before."

Couple that he said with seasonal residents who have decided to stay in Southwest Florida all year-round, residents like Lloyh Nohl.

"The original plan was to stay down here for 7 months in Minnesota for 5 but after being here for a couple of months I have no desire to go back," Nohl said. "Another obvious choice for us, it starts with 'T' and ends with 'axes', Minnesota was a high tax rate so that played a role."

A spokesperson with Lee County told us the county does not track how many seasonal residents decide to become permanent residents, but Distric 4 County Commissioner Brian Hamman knows it's happening.

"Anecdotally, people are actually staying longer. Where we used to get our roads and restaurants back after Easter, some are going back but not as many as there are used to," Commissioner Brian Hamman said. "I think it's good for our area – the biggest challenge now is to keep up with the infrastructure to build roads that are wider and bigger and can accommodate the traffic and people that are here."