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Lee County promotes tourism post-Hurricane Ian with a four-stage recovery campaign

 People listen to live music at Fort Myers Beach.
Katie Fogarty
People listen to live music at Fort Myers Beach.

It focuses on hope and resilience, curiosity, excitement, and confidence in an effort to lure visitors.

The Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau developed a four-stage recovery campaign to promote tourism in Lee County by spreading excitement as the current focus.

“The goal is to show that the destination is bouncing back,” Tamara Pigott, the director of VCB said. “While things may not be “normal” just yet, there is still an opportunity to have an enjoyable experience and support the community they’ve so enjoyed visiting in the past.”

The four-stage recovery campaign focuses on different ideas to promote to potential visitors: Hope and resilience, curiosity, excitement, and confidence.

VCB has a recovery roadmap that takes different factors into account when promoting tourism, including current traveler attitudes and behaviors, desired traveler attitudes and behaviors, and brand roles for VCB.

The excitement phase promotes excitement and hopes that potential visitors see that Lee County is rebuilding and improving in many ways. VCB wants visitors to feel good about booking vacations in Lee County and to be excited to see the new development since the area began to rebuild.

“Personal testimonials from residents, visitors and loyalists will speak to treasured experiences and the emotional connection they have here,” VCB said in a statement. “Every day our area is improving – from the businesses that are reopening and welcoming back their guests, to our natural beauty and resiliency.”

Pigott said moving forward in phases is based on the community’s recovery and reopenings.

As of Jan. 23, 67.3% of the hotel rooms in Lee County, 9,651 rooms, are open.

 A man rides a bike at Fort Myers Beach.
Katie Fogarty
A man rides a bike at Fort Myers Beach.

To see what businesses have reopened, many residents and visitors have turned to the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce’s website for the most updated information.

“The resiliency that we see from the business community has been just awe inspiring,” Jacki Liszak, president of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, said. “The way people here roll up their sleeves and get back to work and support each other has been just a pleasure.”

The Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce is a small organization. It relies on VCB and other organizations to promote tourism.

Liszak said a key issue is that Fort Myers Beach needs tourists and tourism revenue, but Fort Myers Beach continues to recover from the damage Hurricane Ian caused.

“We are still a disaster zone, so you know, there's debris piles everywhere and there's debris everywhere,” Liszak said.

Despite that, Liszak has seen many visitors come anyway, and help either physically or financially.

“I'll call it volunteer tourism,” Liszak said. “As soon as people start to know that things are open they want to help. If they can't get out here and like physically help, another way they can help is with their wallet. They'll come and they'll eat lunch and they'll come listen to some live music and they'll, you know, go out to Times Square.”

Debbie Dunlap evacuated before Hurricane Ian came. She said that while the destruction left is tragic, she hopes people will continue to come and visit Fort Myers Beach.

“Coming back was really heart wrenching and tragic. To see all the destruction was not a good thing, but we’re making it through,” she said.

She said that traffic is coming back and that Fort Myers Beach will build back better than ever.

“We see the traffic and it's like the season all over again so it's good and bad,” Dunlap said. “We're happy to have people coming back, and I think that we’re going to have a big resurgence and it’s going to be great."

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at  katiefogarty22@gmail.com.

Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Katie Fogarty