“Visitors drive the economic development in Collier County,” said Jack Wert, Executive Director of the Naples, Florida Convention and Visitors Bureau. In his January 5 luncheon talk for an audience of Press Club of Southwest Florida members and guests numbering close to 50, Wert pointed out that residents of Naples, Marco Island and Everglades City benefit by the tourists and the development that tourism supports.
“The restaurants, the culture, the shopping—all are part of the overall Collier County quality of life. The short-time visitors, the part-time visitors, the part-time residents and the full-time residents all benefit from that. Some of those who start out as short-time or part-time visitors later become full-time residents,” said Wert.
Wert talked about the branding of Collier County’s Paradise Coast. The Paradise Coast brand themes are: “Paradise is a feeling,” “Discover Your Paradise,” and “This is how paradise looks … imagine how it feels.” Those taglines are featured on the Visitors Bureau website and in promotional ads in the Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Cleveland areas, and in the Miami, Palm Beach, Tampa and Orlando areas. Internationally, promotional ads are in Germany, Canada and the U.K. Social media sites are also used, along with blogging.
“Season is defined as November-May each year,” he said, “but season is practically year-round now in Collier County. In the winter months, more arrive in Collier County by plane through the RSW Airport, but in the summer months, there are more drivers. And 38 percent of Collier County visitors came from elsewhere in Florida, many from Miami. Visitor comments were good—96.4 percent were satisfied with their Collier County visits; some said that it was more expensive than they expected.”
“The hospitality industry is the largest employer in Collier County, and our county has the greatest job growth in Florida, since the recession and the oil spill, “said Wert. “In 2014, there were 1.28 million overnight visitors to Collier County, who spent nearly $2 billion. The Collier County sales tax dollars stay in the county, part of the reason that Collier County homeowners saved $998/year per household because of tourism dollars.
“There were 585,352 visitors to Florida in 2016,” Said Wert. “They come because of the weather, beaches and sports—and food is a big thing; people love to eat when they are on vacation,” said Wert. “Our international visitors come because they feel that Florida is relatively safe, and that is very important. They also stay longer, spend more money, and travel in the summer months. All of that is good for us. In Florida, we’re in direct competition with all of the other Florida beach communities, even though our Average Daily Rate is somewhat higher; the bottom line is that Naples offers them what they want,” said Wert.
Wert gave background information about the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau. It was started in Naples in 2002, and was re-accredited in 2015. “There are only 305 accredited Visitors Bureaus in the world,” he said. “We have 12 staff members, we report to Lee Ochs, Collier County Manager, and we are 100 percent funded by the four-percent Tourist Development Tax. Last year, the Tourist Development Tax Revenue was almost $22 million. That money also supports beach parks, beach re-nourishment,
Collier County museums and the Tourist Bureau.”
During the Q & A, the four NPC Scholarship Students in attendance were invited to ask questions.
Villy Satine (FGCU) asked if the tourism drives prices up which then can be a challenge for the year-round residents. Wert pointed out that there are good deals for year-round residents in the off-season, and that the tourism dollars create savings on their tax bills.
Ellie Rushing (Rollins College) asked about water issues in Corkscrew Swamp and in the Everglades, and how that affects tourism. Wert answered that the Visitors Bureau is working closely with the Everglades Eco-adventure groups, but that help is desperately needed in restoring the Everglades.
Tamica Jean-Charles (Miami International University) asked if the Visitors Bureau also tries to reach out to teenagers and young adults. Wert answered that our visitors are primarily baby boomers, but that there is a need to get the word out that Collier County can be affordable, that there are many choices. He mentioned that the annual Stone Crab Festival seems to attract many young people.
Jaynie Tice (FGCU) pointed out that engagement with e-newsletters is phenomenal, and that the Visitors Bureau could use that to get people to click on its website link. Wert agreed and said that’s the type of communications that the Visitors Bureau needs to focus on in the future.
David Silverberg, V/P Programs for NPC, presented Jack Wert with a one-year Honorary Membership in the Press Club of Southwest Florida, and thanked him for his presentation.