State Tourism Gurus Cast Sunny Outlook on Florida’s Recovery, Future

provided to The Santiva Chronicle

Chamber president and chief executive officer John Lai gathers with business luncheon special guests Samantha Padgett, Dana Young, and FRLA’s Lois Croft on Sundial’s balcony overlooking some of Sanibel’s greatest tourism assets.

Florida had a head start in opening to tourism; the state’s tourism is outperforming the national average in key performance indicators; and the 2021-22 Visit Florida budget is at an all-time high. These were all strokes that Dana Young, Visit Florida president and chief executive officer, used to paint a sunny picture of the statewide industry’s recovery and outlook when she spoke at the June 17 Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce business luncheon at Sundial Beach Resort.

“When the rest of the nation generally shut down, but for a couple of weeks, Florida was open,” she told more than 140 gathered attendees at the sold-out luncheon. “We were the only voice out there, which leaves us in a fantastic strategic position.”

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) partnered on this, the first in-person San-Cap chamber meeting since March 2020. Adventures in Paradise sponsored the event.

At the meeting, Young aired ad spots that Visit Florida, the state’s marketing agency, had broadcasted early in the pandemic, ahead of other states. Visit Florida immediately targeted the drive market and, later, western states California, Oregon, and Washington during their bleak winter months. Statistics and anecdotal data uphold the success of the campaigns.

Locally, Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) numbers demonstrate the impact with 3 million more seats currently available compared to 2019, as reported to Young by Tamara Pigott, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau executive director. Many of the new flights connect to West Coast destinations.

Samantha Padgett, FRLA general counsel, spoke also to reasons for optimism, hers related to this year’s state legislative measures. She highlighted the COVID-19 business liability protection bill, take-out alcohol sales for restaurants, and comprehensive sea-level rise measures, all of which benefit the tourism industry with a show of support.

Padgett also spoke to the pressing issues at hand: labor shortage and required employee vaccinations.

“Right now, there’s not a great solution to staffing issues,” she said, but directed FRLA members to to list their needs.

“The vast majority expect service to be as good or better than before the pandemic,” Young reported from recent survey findings. “There’s that disconnect between perception and the reality of the shortage.”

As for employee vaccinations, Padgett advised: “You can require it, but not in all circumstances…. You should talk to your attorney to discuss the benefits and pitfalls.”

New chamber board president Mark Blust emceed the meeting, with introductions of the FRLA Lee County chapter and chamber board members present. He announced upcoming chamber events, including the next business luncheon on July 14 at Casa Ybel Resort with speaker County Commissioner Kevin Ruane and sponsor H20/911 Restoration; and the Aug. 11 business luncheon with speaker Army Corps of Engineers Col. Drew Kelly and sponsors Captains of Clean Water.

“What a warm and wonderful and informative event we got to enjoy once again with a sense of normalcy,” said John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer. “It truly was a celebration of our mission of commerce and tourism, and I thank our distinguished speakers and all who attended to support that mission.”

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 receives over 1.3 million website visits per year.

For more information about the chamber, contact Landen Drake, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or

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