The pandemic has created winners as well as losers, and at least one set of businesses in Charlotte County has done well.
Hotels and short-term rentals in Charlotte County soared this summer as urban dwellers fled extended lock down and others abandoned their overseas plans.
Tourism tax dollars were up 42.8% this August compared to last August, Tourism Director Sean Doherty recently told the Sun. July was up 44% and June, 21%. In dollars, for example, the county earned $252,850 in August.
“That all came after we took a hammering in March and April like everybody else,” Doherty said. “We shot out of that … People were looking for something to do, but they were avoiding the metro areas. We were the natural beneficiary of that.”
Last year was a good year as well, so the new numbers are startling. Overall, the county will likely end the fiscal year (through September), up a little, Doherty said.
The tourism tax dollar is the 5 cents added on to hotels, motels and short-term rentals under six months. Two cents goes to pay off the debt for the sports park, and the rest to the county’s tourism bureau. It is a good indicator of how many people are vacationing in the county, Doherty said.
Doherty credited the county’s award-winning advertising campaigns, “Outsiders Welcome” and “Outside is Our Best Side,” as being perfect for this particular pandemic. After halting advertising in March, the campaign started up again in late June. “Outsiders Welcome, BACK.”
A survey of local tourists showed that 75% this year said they were influenced by an ad. That’s up from 35% last year, Doherty said.
The advertising firm Aqua Marketing and Communications on Friday gave the Tourism Development Council a run through some results of the online onslaught of targeted advertising. Aqua’s online advertising analyst, Chip Futch, told council members that advertising software can now track people via their phone or laptop to see if after they view an ad in, say, Cleveland, they end up spending six days in Punta Gorda. They add the person’s credit card purchases to show, ultimately, how much the county got for its advertising dollars spent. The data does not identify people by name, but does track millions of individuals. The full analysis of return on investment for the county is not available for a few months.
The county is using $100,000 of federal pandemic aid to buy some of this advertising analytics, Doherty said.
In general, data is showing that from April through June, 22% of visitors were from instate, compared to 17% last year. Twenty-four percent were from the northeast compared to 25% last year. Thirty-three percent were from the Midwest compared to 37% last year. Travel from the southeast and Texas was similar to last year.
They don’t have data yet from the height of the summer when travelers soared. Doherty said he expects to see the numbers reflect a boom in visitors from the east coast of Florida, which had severe restrictions all summer.
Future questions include: will people keep coming to Charlotte County when their regular vacation spots come back online? Or will they hang out in Miami, cruise the Caribbean, explore the Scottish highlands instead?
The county pays another company to ask visitors about their stay, Doherty said. This year, 95% say they will return, but that’s typical.
“Hopefully, we can continue the momentum,” Doherty said.