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Island entities join positive online push

August 24, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

With the islands' estimated revenue losses due to the water quality crisis already in the millions, a new social media campaign aims to highlight the area's positives that can be found away from the beach.

A group of Southwest Florida marketing and public relations professionals has launched an effort to share positive aspects about the region on social media in response to the ongoing water quality issues. Businesses, attractions, residents, visitors and others are encouraged to use #SWFLChallenge to share videos and images of them enjoying and patronizing local spots, restaurants, shops and amusements.

"We are not trying to ignore the reality of what's happening with our waterways and marine life, but we want to remind people that there are still a lot of positive things about our region to be appreciative of," Albert Arguelles, vice president of iPartnerMedia, said via an online blog. "We invite everyone to join us and take the Southwest Florida Challenge and share their positive experiences on social media using the hashtag."

Article Photos

John Lai

On-island, the Sanibel and Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce hopes the word spreads.

"The #SWFLChallenge encourages our region to shop small, support local restaurants and help your neighbor," President John Lai said. "We're joining together to help local businesses, our residential community, and working with local organizations and state organizations to do our part."

While best known for their beaches and shelling, there is more to the islands.

"We think it's important to realize that there are no chain restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva, and the fact that there are unique boutique stores and businesses," he said.

Lai pointed out the miles of bike trails, visitor attractions like the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife and the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, and variety of restaurants and retail shops.

"I believe that now, more than ever, we know locally what a gem we live in," he said. "I think that by promoting the #SWFLChallenge, we're encouraging people to come out to the islands - and that's more important now than ever before."

Because many island businesses are seeing year-over-year declines in revenue.

Toward the end of July, the chamber initiated an online monthly survey for businesses to fill out in order to track the economic impact of the water quality conditions for the duration of the crisis.

Lai reported that the data collected for July - which only experienced the red tide and algae events during the last 10 days of the month - revealed over $4 million in lost revenue. Surveys came in from accommodations, retail, restaurants, real estate and "others," such as construction and boat captains.

Halfway through August, a check of the mid-month figure was staggering.

"That number came in at about $12.58 million," he said. "And surveys are still coming in."

Lai explained that it is money not going in tax coffers and represents thousands of employees.

"They're seeing a year-over-year decrease of over 40 percent," he said of island businesses. "From a financial standpoint, this is astronomical for our small businesses and small business owners."

"We know that's not sustainable," Lai added. "A change has to happen."

And one way may be promoting the positive things to be discovered in the midst of the crisis.

"We'd love to see this take off and go viral," he said of the social media campaign.

"We'd love nothing more than to have our community come out and support not just our islands, but Southwest Florida as a whole," Lai added. "There's so much to see, so much to do."

And some on-island have already jumped onboard. The Sanibel Public Library, Captiva Cruises and Sundial Beach Resort and Spa are some entities already sharing online using #SWFLChallenge.

"The Sanibel Public Library has an active social media presence and it makes sense for us to promote enjoyment of local libraries, as well as parks, gardens, and other activities the marketing and real estate consortium is working with," Executive Director Margaret Mohundro said. "We are sharing information, which is what we do every day."

She noted that there are terrific activities at both the island and regional libraries.

"I think those who follow our social media and see #SWFLChallenge will be prompted to explore further," Mohundro said. "We are pleased to support initiatives by other organizations in the region to talk about all the positive things happening in Southwest Florida."

Phillip Starling, general manager for the Sundial, echoed that sentiment.

"Sundial wants to help highlight the positive as our community works through the current water issues," he said. "By showcasing great dining, area entertainment and local opportunities, we're driving community business while sending an uplifting message that Southwest Florida has much to offer."

Leslie Junghans, of Captiva Cruises, agreed but added that the key is staying truthful.

"We're very careful right now with what we're posting because we want it to be true," she said. "The truth is we're suffering like everybody else in the area with the red tide, but we have other things going on on the island that are not affected by the red tide."

She described social media as the "way of the world" in today's times.

"Social media is just a great way to get the word out," Junghans said. "And we just kind of want to help the area."

Lai encouraged island businesses, employees, residents and visitors to use #SWFLChallenge.

"I think it's a win-win for everybody," he said.

"Sanibel and Captiva islands are being put to the test, but our community is resilient," he added. "Sanibel and Captiva can weather this storm - we're strong - and we'll be back and better than ever when this passes."

Other firms behind the campaign launch are CONRIC PR & Marketing, M&M Multimedia, Pushing the Envelope, SEO Mechanic, Testimonial Tree, TLC Marketing & Creative Services, and Veer90.



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