FORT MYERS

As more and more of us get vaccinated, people want to travel. But if you are set on taking a trip, the days of cheap travel are on the decline—don’t wait, book now.

Not only are prices starting to go back up, but you could be be grandfathered into cancellation policies if you book soon, and if there’s been one constant about this pandemic, it is that the situation is always changing.

AAA says enough people are booking flights again that airlines are returning to using their larger planes. Even sales for cruises are picking back up, and cruise lines are planning with the Centers for Disease Control on how to safely set sail this year. Travel experts say there’s a lot of pent-up demand to travel after the past year, and now that vaccination has ramped up, more people than ever are ready to get out and explore.

“Travel is going to continue to grow from local to regional to domestic, and domestic travel, by some measures, is getting back to what it had been pre-pandemic,” said Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA. “I mean, certainly there are pockets, with people really feeling most comfortable with beaches and natural settings.”

Haas says Southwest Florida, in particular, is booming because we’re surrounded by beautiful beaches and lots of wildlife. While we’re still mostly seeing local tourism within the state, numbers are trending up, which is good news for our local economy.

Compared to visitation numbers in January and February 2020, before the pandemic, we are only down around 17%, and Collier County thought the loss was going to be double that. Driving visitors from other parts of the state are up 36% compared to 2020. We’re seeing businesses pick up, with hotel occupancy rates back to pre-pandemic levels. And with vaccinations ramping up, the county expects tourism to get even better.

“The pent-up demand for warm weather in Florida is their number one destination; the northeast and the Midwest are going to come to Florida, and we’ll get our our piece of that,” said Jack Wert, executive director of tourism for Collier County. “I think it’s pretty good news, that recovery and visitation coupled with some some good occupancy in our numbers, and also good rates that the hotels have been able to maintain, that’s going to help our overall revenue for the coming year.”

If you live here year-round, you know tourists pay for a lot. The money they spend gives discounts to homeowners on taxes, pays for beach renourishment projects and other beach facilities, as well as some museums. The tourism industry is cautiously optimistic that even though we’re going to hit the slow season, tourism did well enough to carry us through the year.