Things are continuing to improve in Lee County, with tourist tax collections up in record numbers from previous years.
The so-called bed tax in May was up nearly 17 percent from 2013. Lee County collected nearly $2 million in bed taxes, with hospitality occupancy rates countywide up about 6 percent to an average 62.4 percent. Occupancy rates are higher in Sanibel and Captiva. April figures show a similar rise in countywide occupancy and bed taxes from 2013. Bed taxes are charges added to vacation rentals and reflect the economic health of a community or a region. May is the last month the figures were available.
The numbers are tracked by the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.
"We'd like to credit ourselves" with a marketing campaign, said Lee Rose, the Bureau's communications manager and a long-time observer of the health of the region. "But there are great attractions in Lee County. I just think there's more confidence in the economy. And it's nice to see the figures (grow) in summer time, too."
The improved figures are a sharp change from just a few years ago when the US economy was bottoming. Bed taxes collected in 2010, for instance, were about $16.6 million. The number almost doubled last year, and the figures this year will top last year's. In regions like southwest Florida, and especially Sanibel/Captiva, the rise in bed taxes is an obvious indicator that more visitors are choosing to visit, and that social marketing and other outreach is working, said Ric Base, president of the Sanibel-Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is one of southwest Florida's more popular, with its website recording hundreds of comments and tips for fellow travelers. Thousands of visitors stop by chamber offices just off the Sanibel causeway.
"What (bed tax revenue) means," Base said, "is more marketing dollars for the area. More people are traveling as the economy continues to improve and that raises occupancy. As occupancy rises, rates follow. It's all positive news."