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Guest Commentary | Travel & tourism light up Lee County’s economy

By Staff | May 20, 2024

Cecil Pendergrass, Lee County commissioner

When it comes to tourism, Lee County has a lot to celebrate.

The week of May 19-25 is designated National Travel and Tourism Week by the U.S. Travel Association. Established in 1983, NTTW underscores travel’s essential role in driving our economy, cultivating vibrant communities and forging connections.

Light Up Lee is one of several initiatives being implemented by the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau to highlight the value of tourism to Lee County. Several landmarks in Lee County will be illuminated in blue lights at night to give recognition to the week celebrating tourism.

Light Up Lee locations include:

• Cape Coral Veterans Memorial Monument, Cape Coral Parkway near the Cape Coral Bridge

• Cape Coral City Hall fountain on Cultural Park Boulevard

• Control tower at Southwest Florida International Airport

• The Luminary Hotel in downtown Fort Myers

• The Sydney & Berne Davis Art Center, also in downtown

• Old Lee County Courthouse

• Fort Myers City Hall

We anticipate that as word spreads about this, even more will join the blue-light celebration!

For Lee County, travel is an economic powerhouse, job creator and community builder. In celebration, it is time to bring out the blue lights! I would like to encourage all businesses in Lee County to Light Up Lee in celebration of NTTW.

In Lee County, tourism generated $2.9 billion in economic impact in 2023, supporting more than 48,000 jobs and generating $1.5 billion in wages and salaries. Visitor spending also saves local residents about $1,000 per household in state and local taxes.

The Tourist Development Tax is a 5% bed tax on hotel and vacation rentals. That money is used to fund the VCB and its programs.

We have a more vibrant and richer economy, thanks to tourism. For example, the direct flights that bring visitors to our area are also used by Lee County residents for their travel to places like Boston, Chicago, New York and abroad.

Visitors and locals alike enjoy spring training and seeing the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins play baseball in Fort Myers. The debt payments for their stadiums — JetBlue Park and Lee Health Sports Complex (Hammond Stadium) — is funded by the bed tax.

Visitors come here for our beautiful islands, beaches and neighborhoods. We are fortunate in that we get to enjoy them year-round. The VCB’s Beach & Shoreline funding program provides direct benefit to visitors and residents alike, with the goal of promoting tourism while preserving and enhancing the beaches and shoreline. Since 2000, more than $195 million of bed tax revenue has been allocated to projects related to beach maintenance, beach renourishment and beach park facility development.

The VCB’s other funding programs are Arts & Attractions Marketing and Events Marketing. Since 2004, the VCB’s Arts & Attractions Marketing program has provided financial assistance to not-for-profit arts and attractions organizations to strengthen awareness of local arts and cultural venues. To date, $7.9 million has been allocated to the program.

The Events Marketing program provides funding assistance for out-of-market advertising and promotional efforts to not-for-profit organizations with the goal of generating additional room-night stays in Lee County accommodations. To date, $3.3 million has been allocated to the program.

An example of an event receiving this funding is Island Hopper Songwriter Fest, which is celebrating its 10th year and will be held Sept. 20-29. Performances by singer-songwriters will be on Captiva Island, Cape Coral, downtown Fort Myers and Fort Myers Beach.

Based at RSW, the VCB’s Visitor Services Department oversees 130 volunteer Tourism Ambassadors, who welcome and assist travelers. These amazing volunteers donate more than 27,000 hours of service and answer more than 400,000 questions annually.

These are only a few examples of how tourism enriches our community in so many ways. Please join me in celebrating National Travel and Tourism Week by adding blue lights to your business.

Cecil L. Pendergrass chairs the Tourist Development Council and is a Lee County Commissioner.