PUNTA GORDA — Mark Kuharski recently told fellow Punta Gorda City Council members that Hurricane Ian seems to be good for Charlotte County — as far as tourism goes.
Kuharski chairs the Charlotte County Tourist Development Council. At a recent meeting, he learned some favorable statistics for restaurants and lodging after Hurricane Ian.
“Ninety percent of the restaurants damaged (in the Sept. 28 hurricane) have reopened,” he said, adding about 80% of the area attractions are now open.
He said hotels in Charlotte County are also at capacity.
“I don’t know if it’s good news or bad news — we are full and the room rates are way, way up,” he said. “It is really interesting that the tourist tax report for the first quarter is up 11.4% over last year. Despite all of the impacts of the hurricane, people are still coming in droves.”
Kuharski said along with tourists are out-of-town workers here to repair hurricane damage.
“There’s been a horrible amount of crazy traffic in the city and county,” he said. “There are a lot of snowbirds and people who came to make sure their houses are OK after the storm.”
At the prior meeting, Jim Finch, Charlotte Harbor Events & Conference Center manager, reported bookings through fiscal year 2022 at the event center were up year over year in most categories, except government.
Currently the city is dealing with the reconstruction of historic City Hall and the destruction of dozens of city structures. The Federal Emergency Management Agency used the event center to assist hurricane survivors for a couple of months.
Finch also reported state and regional conference bookings are returning to pre-COVID-19 levels. Multiple events are already booked for next year.
According to the first quarter report, Charlotte County’s revenue for the tourist development tax — a 5% charge on hotel stays and other rentals under six months — was $440,189 in October; $469,913 in November; $614,798 in December and $963,143 in January. Those numbers are all up from the same months in 2021.
Out of that 5% tourist tax, 3% goes to the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitors & Convention Bureau for marketing and public relations; and 2% goes to the Charlotte Sports Park, mainly to pay down debt service on the loan the county took out to pay for renovations to make it a spring training venue for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Prior to the hurricane, the bureau reported Charlotte County visitors spent $719,907,000 on accommodations, restaurants, groceries, transportation, attractions, entertainment and shopping. There were 972,100 visitors to the county and paid $1.2 million in rented rooms in 2022.
According to the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach VCB 2022 Economic Impact & Visitor tracking report, prior to the hurricane, countywide hotels were filled 55.1%. The average room rate was $156.79, which was up 18.2% from 2021.
The report showed 93% of Charlotte County visitors live in the United States and 7% were from outside the country.
Visitors spent an average of seven nights in Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach area.
The top states visitors traveled from were Ohio, Michigan, New York, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Of the visitors, 19% were first-timers and 365 visited more than 10 times.
On the satisfaction portion of the report, 96% of visitors would recommend Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach, and 84% would definitely recommend the area.
While red tide sometimes plagues area beaches, the tourism bureau has a camera at Englewood Beach that, on Thursday, showed no signs of red tide, and the beach and all the restaurants on the strip were packed.
“I came here from Michigan. It’s snowing there and the sun is shining on me here on Dearborn Street (in Englewood),” said Grace Goddard, 72, who was wearing a bright pink “Florida United & Strong” shirt she bought after Hurricane Ian.
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