Demand for nature-based tours spurs area's growth

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FORT MYERS -- A growing demand for nature-based tourism experiences and more meeting space is spurring development in this area, according to Elaine McLaughlin, executive director of the Lee Island Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Sanibel Island "We are finding more and more Americans are interested in having a tropical island experience and a connection with nature," she said. "Our hotel expansion is growing to meet the needs of the marketplace, some of which [requires the] expansion of meeting space and [in other cases the creation of] new meeting space," she added.

A 100-room lakeside hotel at the entrance to Bonita Bay, Trianon Bonita Bay, opened in February. It has two meeting rooms for groups of up to 60. Rates, including breakfast, are from $150 to $220.

Meanwhile, southern Lee County is growing with golf- and meetings-related properties.

A 450-room Hyatt Regency in Bonita Springs should break ground by this summer, McLaughlin said. Hyatt Equities purchased 27 acres along Estero Bay to build the 17-story resort that will have two restaurants, a 10,200-square-foot spa and nearly 30,000 square feet of conference space. An 18-hole championship golf course will open with the resort, late in 2001.

The 320-room Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers Beach will add 23,000 square feet of meeting space in October. A skyway will link the new space, which is all on one floor, to the existing 22,000-square-foot meetings facility. The new area will overlook the shores of San Carlos Bay and offer vistas of Sanibel and Captiva islands. The hotel's winter rates range from $275 to $339.

The Admiral Lehigh Golf Resort, Lehigh Acres, added a spa and fitness center. The latter offers cardiovascular equipment and training, weights and aerobic classes, men's and women's steam baths, a redwood sauna room and a tanning salon.

Hotels opening late last year included a 104-room Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Fort Myers, which has a heated pool and spa, and the 12-story, 124-unit, DiamondHead All Suite Beach Resort, Fort Myers Beach, which has 6,000-square-feet of meeting space for groups of as many as 200. The resort is operated by Sunstream Hotels & Resorts.

In other news:

  • Babcock Wilderness Adventures, which focuses on wildlife in natural surroundings as seen from swamp buggies, has added off-road biking.
  • Bikers learn about Florida ecosystems and are accompanied by trained naturalists. Rates start at $35 per rider ages 15 and older for three hours; $30 for those 10 to 14.

  • Upgrades at the Manatee Park east of Fort Myers include a 66-seat amphitheater, the addition of canopies over three observation decks, more sidewalks and expanded parking.
  • More than 90,000 visitors per year here get close-up education on the endangered West Indian Manatees.

    Trianon, Bonita Bay, Phone: (941) 948-4400
    Sanibel Harbour Resort, Phone: (941) 466-2169
    Admiral Lehigh Golf Resort, Phone: (941) 369-2121
    Fairfield Inn by Marriott, Phone: (941) 437-5600
    DiamondHead All Suite Beach Resort, Phone: (941) 765-7654
    Babcock Wilderness Adventures, Phone: (800) 500-5583
    Manatee Park, Phone: (941) 694-3537

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