by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Sanibel experienced record-breaking traffic this past summer as tourism boomed throughout Lee County and the economic impact exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
A 129-page report released by the Visitor & Convention Bureau shows 27 percent of the nearly 1.2 million visitors to the county from July to September stayed on Sanibel. That is roughly 108,000 visitors per month. And traffic crossing the Sanibel Causeway in those months reached historic numbers.
In July and August, 560,402 vehicles were counted at the toll booth, which is a 30 percent increase compared to the same two months last year. In September, typically a quiet month on the island, a record 233,764 vehicles crossed the bridge. That is a 7 percent increase over September 2020.
Despite decreases in January and February, overall traffic on the island is up by 21 percent with 2.6 million vehicles counted through September. The VCB report shows traffic was the third highest complaint among visitors behind insects and high prices respectively.
The estimated economic impact of $1.22 billion from July to September is up 37.2 percent compared to 2019, according to the VCB report. That figure includes an increase in business and household spending as a result of tourism dollars. The 10,317 direct jobs and $231 million in direct wages supported by tourism are 40 percent higher compared to 2019.
The VCB report revealed 94 percent of the tourists traveled from within the United States and the remaining 6 percent from Canada. Beaches were the No. 1 draw to the area with the Sanibel Lighthouse, Periwinkle Place shopping center, J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge and Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum making the list.
NOTE: The economic impact of tourism in Lee County is derived from visitor tracking studies, an occupancy study, IMPLAN economic impact modeling software, various government agencies and data sources, TDT collections provided by the VCB and tourism databases at Downs & St. Germain Research, which compiled the report.