Southwest Florida’s Shift from “Seasonal” Tourism

By Gary Tasman

If “season” in Southwest Florida felt a little different to you this year, it’s probably no surprise. We’ve all grown accustomed to seasonal population fluctuations, but the variance between our busy winters and lazy summers is decreasing rapidly—and this new year-round tourism trend will have a significant impact on our local economy and business climate.

Just 15 years ago, it was not uncommon for restaurants to close for several weeks during the summer, especially in tourist havens like Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, or Marco Island. Many small businesses took advantage of a major dip in tourism from mid-May through mid-October. Today, taking two months off during the “slow months” seems nearly unthinkable for a local business.

A glance at passenger traffic through Southwest Florida International Airport explains this phenomenon. In 1984, the first full year RSW was open, the airport saw 194,287 passengers in March, its busiest month. By contrast, August 1984 only saw 75,638 passengers travel through RSW, 61.1% fewer passengers.

In 2021, seasonal fluctuations still exist, but not at the extreme level we’ve seen in past years. 1,162,342 passengers traveled through RSW this March, an astounding number considering the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In August of this year, 647,534 travelers passed through the airport, a drop of just 44.3% from the airport’s busiest month.

Why the shift? Certainly, the pandemic had some impact on travelers. Pent-up demand after months of coronavirus isolation had consumers itching for travel, and Florida’s open business climate and scarcity of coronavirus restrictions made the state an ideal tourist destination in 2021. Tourists could travel to Florida without fear of beaches, parks, golf courses, and restaurants being closed due to coronavirus controls.

While the pandemic may have accelerated this trend, we expect it to continue. Since those early days of travel through RSW, our economy has diversified. Today, people visit Southwest Florida in the summer and discover that even with our sweltering afternoons and evening thunderstorms, this region has much to offer: a nurturing environment for business and employment, outstanding schools, and top-of-the-line healthcare.

We’ve all seen the impact of this realization in the number of homes being sold and built in Southwest Florida, and seasonal homes are a large part of that equation. Nationwide, the U.S. saw a huge jump in the number of vacation homes sold in early 2021, and as of 2019, Lee and Collier are the country’s #1 and #3 counties for vacation homes. And as more people realize that they can be effective while working remotely, our population boom—both seasonal and permanent—will continue.

With population growth comes opportunity, a concept we’ve discussed here before. Homes need to be built, fueling the construction industry. New residents need services like physicians, auto repair shops, air conditioning technicians, and landscapers. They also need grocery stores, restaurants, entertainment, and recreation centers. The need for these businesses and services drives even more growth, and the cycle continues with commercial real estate in high demand to fulfill the needs of our growing population.

As long as Southwest Florida can continue offering everything that makes it special— year- round recreation, outstanding healthcare and educational opportunities, and growing employment opportunities–– we anticipate the exponential growth of our region to continue its upward trajectory.

To learn how you can take advantage of the demand created by our current market, contact the commercial property experts at Cushman & Wakefield | Commercial Property Southwest Florida.

Whether it’s time for you to sell, or you’re just considering your options in our current commercial real estate market, the commercial property experts at Cushman & Wakefield | Commercial Property Southwest Florida have the knowledge, data, and resources to determine the best strategy for you. Contact us by calling 239-489-3600 or contact-us.

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