Saturday, April 10, 2021

Tourism Improving, Post-Irma



Visitors to Collier County in October contributed over $1.2 million in tourist tax revenue paid on overnight stays in hotels, short-term vacation rentals and campgrounds. That’s an 11.35% increase over October 2016 collections. Numbers for occupancy, average daily rate for hotel rooms and rentals, and revenue per average room were also on the plus side.

The jump in tax collections may seem incongruous considering the lingering after effects of Hurricane Irma until you consider the one-percent increase in the tourist development tax on lodging paid by visitors, which went from 4 to 5 percent as of September 1. When October 2017 tourist tax collections were recalculated at the comparable 4 percent rate, there would be a drop of 6.58 percent. distributed equitably. Dreiser brought in Pam Garrison and Laura Ice, officials from FLUMC HQ in Lakeland. The 3 of them, along with Kathy Curtis, showed up at the October 17, GCA Town Meeting. They explained that FLUMC would be administering the process whereby hurricane victims could apply for and receive a measure of relief for their losses. UMCOR had well established protocols for this, they said.

Some of the local residents who came to help with the cleanup. Submitted Photo

Some of the local residents who came to help with the cleanup. Submitted Photo

Shortly thereafter, Kathy Curtis, a parishioner at Dreiser’s church was appointed Disaster Case Manager for Marco Island and Goodland. Most of her efforts have been centered in Goodland. Curtis had been attending Dreiser’s church since 2015 and proceeded to volunteer in church activities. When Irma hit, she let it be known, that she wanted to help. Her biography reflected extensive management experience. The clincher came when GCA treasurer, Jim Inglis, for whom Curtis had worked, personally recommended her for the job. “Kathy has a passion for this sort of thing,” said Dreiser, “Because Goodland had been so devastated, UMCOR awarded [Marco Island/Goodland] their own position of Disaster Case Manager. Kathy was the obvious choice.” The award came with a six-month grant to hire the full time disaster case manager.

After a crash course in disaster case management in Lakeland, Curtis was ready to assume her duties. They are daunting. At a subsequent Goodland Town Meeting she told the packed house, what she hopes to accomplish. “We are trying to identify all of those [Goodlanders] who are in need of help getting back on their feet and into their homes,” she said, “Our goal is to fill the gaps in your recovery process, and get you back to near normal as soon as possible.” She explained that Goodlanders needing help would be identified through receipt of Community Request Forms, many of which were passed out at the meeting. After that, Curtis said she would contact and interview the petitioners, after which a determination would be made as to what could be done for them.

UMCOR has access to an expanding list of service providers, which can provide everything from cash to labor and materials for repairs. The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, and Goodland Relief Fund, are but a few of the dozens available. The community request forms were emailed to the GCA membership on November 24, and paper copies were mailed to all 385 Goodland P.O. box holders on December 7.

The process has been emotional and stressful for Curtis, who in 1992 lost her own house in Southeast Florida to Hurricane Andrew. “These folks are overwhelmed when they show up at their houses and are unable to live in them,” she says, “They have no place to go. Some have been moved to tears [during the interview].” As of this writing, Curtis has 21 active cases, and the requests are still rolling in. Curtis’s days have been packed with meetings, interviews, emails, and phone calls. “Each day I discover still more resources that we can offer to [Goodlanders],” she says. Right now, Curtis is looking for a construction coordinator, whose job it will be to estimate reconstruction costs for each petitioner’s residence. “We will send these estimates to [appropriate resources], to give them an idea of what’s needed,” she says, “We are trying to maximize every dollar we have.”

So much to do and so little time to do it, but Curtis is fully invested in what she is doing. She has the backing and confidence of UMCOR, and just as important, of Pastor Kirk Dreiser as well. As the pastor says, “Disaster relief is what Methodists do well.”

Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.

Approximately 1,600 lodging units were still closed in October for either post-Irma repairs or planned renovations. Total visitation for October decreased 11.3 percent to 139,100, but with the smaller number of available rooms, the occupancy level rose to 79.3 percent, a 6.2 percent increase.

“There was a 3.2 percent increase in average daily rate for rooms over October 2016, fueled by high demand from returning visitors and post-hurricane workers,” said Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Hoteliers were pleased to see that revenue per average room increased 9.2 percent, a big help to them considering the revenue they lost while properties were closed due to damages and waiting for power to return.”

Even with tourism visitation and spending decreases in September and October due to Irma, the 2017 year-todate visitor statistics show only slight negative impact. Total visitation January through October is 1,477,600, a slight 1.1 percent drop over 2016. Total rooms nights are down by 2.3 percent. On the plus side, total year-to-date direct visitor spending of $1.4 million and total economic impact from tourism at $1.7 billion are both up 3 percent.

When recently surveyed, eight out of every ten, or 81.4% of area lodging managers report their three month forward reservations levels as up or the same compared to last year. “We continue to spread the word through advertising, public relations and social media that our destination is open for business and welcoming visitors, and we’re looking forward to a solid winter visitor season,” said Wert.

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