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Lee TDC meets on Beach

December 18, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Lee County Tourist Development Council visited the current largest municipal area of bed tax collections last Friday.

The TDC held its weekly meeting on Fort Myers Beach at DiamondHead Beach Resort -the first such regional meeting that the tourist development tax fund overseers have created and not held in its downtown Fort Myers facility this year. For fiscal year 2013, which ended Sept. 30, 2013, Fort Myers Beach ($4,364,497) took over the top spot from previous No. 1 Sanibel ($4,308,537) in tourist tax breakdown.

"The Council this year decided to take this meeting on the road," said Lee County Commissioner and TDC chairman Larry Kiker. "It is our first one. We thought it was important for you to actually see the folks that make the decisions on where the TDC money goes."

Article Photos

The TDC board was well-represented at DiamondHead Beach Resort last Friday.

Councilman Bob Raymond thanked the TDC members, reviewed upcoming Town projects and reminded the advisory committee to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners how much of a population jump the Beach witnesses during the tourist season months.

"We grow from under 7,000 people to over 40,000 people. That's quite a jump," he said. "With the help from County Commissioner Larry Kiker, we are working with the County on almost $50 million worth of improvements for Estero Boulevard. This will include totally re-designing the road, sidewalks, bike paths and storm water drainage where possible. Fort Myers Beach is and will always be the working man's family beach."

The TDC is a nine-member Council as well as advisors that oversee the tourist development tax fund, provide direction on programs and budget and review the expenditures of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. They are comprised of Joe Murgalo, Kevin Ruane, Jeff Webb, the Beach's Fran Myers, Tamara Pigott, Andrea Fraser, Rene Affourtit, Forrest Banks, Colleen DePasquale, Rob Wells and Tony Lapi.

Pigott, the executive director of the VCB, shared data and research numbers during her report. In it, she stated the bed tax revenue increased "7.4 percent in preliminary collections in October 2013 over October 2012.

"We are up 4.5 percent for the year," Pigott said. "For the Smith Travel Research report, occupancy was up 3.6 percent, Average Daily Rate (charge on a room) up 1.7 and Revenue Per Available Room up 5.4 percent for the month of October."

Piggot gave a brief update on the county strategic plan with different imperatives. She stated that roughly 5 million people come to Lee County with approximately half staying in paid accommodations.

"That's the focus on this organization - people staying in paid accommodations," Pigott said. "Together the paid accommodations and the what we call 'visiting friends and relatives' contribute about $3 billion to our local economy. That's a great economic driver."

MMGY Global's Clayton Reid spoke on the significant increase in business and leisure travel during a marketing presentation.

"We are beginning to see demand drive rates higher," he said. "We think there is demand, especially in high-end lodging, that there is room to grow because consumers are understanding that they are willing to spend more and consumer confidence is at seven-year highs."

Two special presentations involved a collaboration with TravelZoo (travel deals on flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises and local & entertainment) and Florida Weekly's CEO discussing how to use media better to reach tomorrow's visitor.

In action items, the regular TDC meetings were unanimously approved to move to the second Thursday (9 a.m.) of every month, while Affourtit was elected to TDC vice chair.

According to its website, the Lee County VCB is devoted to maintaining and building year-round tourism in Lee County. To achieve this goal, the VCB works closely with the local industry to increase domestic and international visitation through integrated programs targeting key markets. Local tourism businesses are encouraged to actively participate in all of the programs and grass roots outreach efforts, such as marketing meetings, media initiatives and trade/consumer shows.

The TDC/VCB are funded by a five percent tourist tax collected on accommodations rented for six months or less. The funding is allocated in the following manner:

- 53.6% - advertising and promotion (VCB operations and Lee County Sports Authority operations)

- 26.4% - beach and shoreline improvements and maintenance

- 20.0% - stadium debt service (includes debit payments for the Lee County Sports Complex and Jetblue Park, as well as major maintenance for both the City of Palms Park and the Lee County Sports Complex)

The travel and tourism industry is one of the United States' largest industries, generating $739 billion in travel expenditures this past year and $116 billion travel-generated tax revenue. In Lee County, tourism employs 1 out of every 5 people.

--the TDC website provided some information to this report



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