Q&A in the News
November 3, 2007
Lee tourism stats to be revised
Three months of reports will be revised after updating a count of rooms, condo units and campsites, statistical consultants told Lee County’s Tourist Development Council on Friday.
“We’re going to go back and fix them, and issue new visitor profile estimates for July, August and September,” said Nicole Devine, associate research director for Kennebunk, Maine-based Davidson Peterson Assoicates.
Jane E. Mount, vice president of Digital Research Inc., the company that owns Davidson Peterson, joined her at the tourism council’s monthly meeting in south Fort Myers.
The research firm leaders pledged to provide the revised reports to the visitor bureau no later than January.
Davidson Peterson Associates, which has advised visitor bureaus across the country for more than 20 years, acquired full responsibility for all Lee tourism statistics—except bed tax-collections—in July.
Since then, some people in Lee County’s lifeblood tourism and hospitality industry have questioned the credibility of the numbers derived from the reports, which are based on monthly surveys of innkeepers and a sampling of visitors.
The News-Press has outlined these concerns for the last month, including.
- The big and seemingly unaccountable differences between last year’s late-summer tourism totals and this years;
- Unusual spikes in July tourism from such places as Los Angeles and Canada;
- And lodging spending estimates that don’t square with be tax collections.
Looking for answers, the visitor bureau asked Davidson Peterson to study lodging inventory, which the company said is a key component in its calculations of estimates related to visitors.
The mostly phone-based survey of lodgings and campgrounds should be available in about two weeks, Devine said adding: “We have found new properties, but we also found properties duplicated in the database.” The latter could have caused an overcount, throwing some estimates out of whack, she said.
The tourism bureau’s previous statistical consulting firm did the last full-blown lodging inventory in 2002, at the request of the visitor bureau, Mount said. That length of time before a fresh update, is not unusual, Mount said, adding: “if you have a lot of growth in an area, perhaps it should be done more often.”
Critics of the recent reports who attended the meeting said they were encouraged to hear there would be revisions. However, Ric Base, executive director of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce, noted September’s report used a survey that included no island visitors.
Devine called September’s sample “an anomaly.”
Retorted Base: “The islands represent close to 30 to 40 percent of bed tax dollars. That’s an anomaly I cannot accept.”
Meanwhile, statistical reports on Lee County tourism in September show a year-over-year gain in bed-tax collections, as well as some numbers that cannot be compared.
The bed tax, a 5 percent levy on short-term lodging rentals, posted a current payment total of $835,376, up from $772,026 in September 2006.
Other September numbers reported to the Tourist Development Council included:
- Total visitors: 330,450. The total is an estimate based on surveys, and includes people staying in the homes of friends and relatives.
- Of those, 130,672 used commercial, short-term lodgings, according to Davidson Peterson Associates. That’s significantly higher than the estimated 79,420 visitors using hotels and other short-term lodgings in September 2006. Tampa-based Research Data Services derived the 2006 estimate. Its contract with the county was not renewed this spring.
Bureau staffers have said that a year-over-year comparison of total visitors is not possible, because the new consultant, Davidson Peterson, uses different data collection and reporting methods.
Other numbers reported by Davidson Peterson for September:
- Average occupancy: 35.4 percent, with condos, cottages and cabins (26.6 percent occupancy) pulling down the average.
- Average daily rate: $101.15, reflecting the high average of $145.19, in the condo, cottage, cabin and rental time-share sector, but also the $35.16 average reported for RV parks and campgrounds.
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