provided to The Santiva Chronicle
Tamara Pigott, executive director of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB), looks to the summer of 2021 with optimism, she told members at the March 10 virtual business meeting of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m very bullish on the summer of 2021,” she said. “We are going to have a bang-up summer. We don’t know what we are going to do with all the people who will be coming,” she added with a chuckle. “We are expecting that much demand. It’s going to be like season this summer; fingers crossed, that’s how I’m looking at it.”
She, along with VCB director of marketing Brian Ososky, reviewed the county tourism agency’s efforts, especially as they relate to reacting to the pandemic. The county has shifted seasonal spending in 2021 to a winter focus. This year’s weighted winter spending comprises 26.9 percent of the annual advertising and promotions budget, compared to 14.7 percent in 2020. Summer season spending will thereby decrease slightly, from 39.2 percent last year to 30.4 percent in 2021.
Pigott says that decrease does not worry her, however, because of how visitor markets have shifted and public relations efforts have paid off, including a cover shot of Sanibel Island on April’s Southern Living issue on “The South’s Best.”
The VCB targets some new summer drive and fly markets based on research indicating tourism trends. Jacksonville, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Nashville, Tenn., for example, have strengthened as drive markets with the COVID-19 situation.
“Don’t forget to market locally,” Ososky advised. “People love to vacation in their own backyard, and that’s especially true during the pandemic.”
New target fly markets include Dallas/Fort Worth, Tex.; Dayton, Ohio; Baltimore, Md., Fort Wayne, Ind.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Green Bay, Wisc.; Lexington, Ky.; Louisville, Ky.; Pittsburgh, Penn.; Providence, R.I.; South Bend, Ind.; and Toledo, Ohio.
Statistics also show a strengthening of visitor numbers from the Northwest, southern California, and Denver, thanks to new airline flights.
The VCB pivoted to meet pandemic demands and trends with the introduction of podcasts, a new consumer website on the horizon, 360-degree tours for “visitor-facing businesses,” and its new Sun Saver Passport. Looking ahead to fall and to 2022, the team is already planning for the Island Hopper Songwriters Festival and the return of international and group travel.
“We have a plan for both ways for Island Hopper,” said Pigott. “We don’t know what that’s going to look like, in all fairness. We have to see where consumers are at that point. Visitors drive how we manage things; what they’re comfortable and uncomfortable with drives that.”
She predicts that leisure travel will rule the industry again in 2022, depending upon how international travel recovers. “We’re looking for more normalized trends. We’re certainly proud of you as a community,” she told chamber members. “You are one of the highlights of the area, and we are grateful for the conservation ethic you bring to the destination.”
“Thanks for everything you do for us and our community,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “We appreciate your enthusiasm, optimism, and tremendous efforts.”
In his chamber announcements, Lai talked about what the chamber is doing to push its legislative priorities during the current session, including hosting U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds next month to impress upon him the importance of fighting for Everglades restoration. He also introduced the chamber’s new visitor center manager, Aaron Walton, who grew up on Sanibel Island, and announced the next virtual business meeting
It will take place at noon on Wednesday, April 14. Jesse Lavender, director of Lee County Parks & Recreation will speak about the forthcoming causeway improvement project. For more details, contact Lai at 239-472-2348 or John@sanibel-captiva.org.
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With over 560 active Chamber members from both islands including businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr. Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes over 160,000 visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the Visitor Center one of thirteen official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers. The Visitor Center is open 365 days a year and provides visitors with comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, where to stay, shop and dine. The Chamber website http://sanibel-captiva.org receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.
For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org or contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or John@sanibel-captiva.org.