Reed Travel Features
NAPLES, Fla. -- It's old but new, historical but funky,
predictable but full of surprises. Naples, on Florida's Gulf Coast,
is projecting a new image these days, targeting new markets and
testing the waters with a promotional campaign.
John Ayres Jr., president of Visit Naples, an autonomous tourism
group formed last fall and made up of 15 directors from hotels and
other travel industry groups, described Naples as "a flat Bermuda
with better service."
"New hotels and inns are opening here, we have a revamped
shopping area on Fifth Avenue with more than 50 new shops and
spruced-up landscaping, and there is a visible collaborative effort
among the merchants and proprietors," said Ayres, who also is
president and managing partner of Edgewater Beach Properties, which
includes six full-service hotels in Naples. Hotel openings in
Naples include a Hilton within the next two years, the 60-room Old
Naples Trianon on Fifth Avenue in December and the conversion of
the 82-room Old Naples Inn on Third Street into an all-suite
property next year.
Nestled between the Florida Everglades and the Gulf of Mexico,
Naples is shaking its image of a winter-only retreat for the
wealthy and retired and is reaching out to previously untapped
markets, such as families, environmentalists and ecotourists. "We
are seeing a lot of changes here," said Tammy Matthews, managing
director of Visit Naples. "Our tourists come from all over the
world at all times of the year."
To symbolize the year-round aspect of Naples' tourism, city
officials recently staged a mock funeral, complete with a casket
and a jazz band, to officially "bury" the off-season and rename it
the Vacation Season.
Already, the summer season has shown strength. Matthews said
that hotel occupancies averaged between 85% and 90% in early June
and that advance bookings were solid for the rest of the season.
"We are selling and promoting a quality vacation destination, and
it seems to be working," she said.
Ayres said that agents are the key target of the Vacation Season
promotions, which seek "to differentiate Naples from the rest of
the destination pack." "We want upscale travelers to come here. We
want agents to come here and see what we have to offer and then
sell us," he said.
Tourism took hold in Naples after Hurricane Donna's visit in
1960. The aftermath of that storm required a substantial amount of
rebuilding and replanning of the city. Prior to the storm, Naples
was best known as a getaway for wealthy Midwesterners, who
maintained a low profile during their winter visits.
Because of the proximity of Everglades National Park east of
Naples, more than 50% of public land around the city is protected
from development. The region is known for its strong environmental
stance. The park joined the national park system in 1947 and ranks
as the third largest in the U.S., after Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Eight different parks and nature preserves, the National Audubon
Society's Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, the Ten Thousand Islands and
the 52-acre Carib Gardens as well as Everglades National Park are
the heart of the area's ecotourism attractions. A younger
clientele, often with toddlers in tow, come to visit the park and
Naples and now fill many of Naples' 5,511 hotel rooms.
Although Naples claims to have more Fortune 500 chief executive
officers residing within the town limits than anywhere else in the
world, according to Matthews, "we have plenty of accommodations for
the mid-market range. We just have to get that word out."
Options are numerous for families visiting Naples; that market
is being courted aggressively through means of a Family Fun Guide,
which describes attractions, bike routes (helmets are required for
children under 14 years old), horse-and-carriage rides,
kid-friendly accommodations and restaurants. Many Naples hotels and
resorts accommodate children in the same room as parents at no
Ayres reported a 12% hotel room growth in the past 10 years, a
total of 53 public and private golf courses ("more holes per capita
than any other U.S. city," he said) and a strong interest in golf
in the group market. Group business is particularly strong in the
summer at the Registry Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton Naples,
accounting for 70% of the total bookings at each hotel. Matthews
said that the Midwest, the Northeast, Texas, California and the
Florida drive market make up the bulk of the tourism business.
A $489,000 promotion budget, funded by the 3% Collier County
tax, has been allocated for the Naples marketing campaign. The
majority of the funds raised by the tax go toward beach
refurbishment and anti-erosion measures, according to Matthews.
"More than $12 million was spent in 1996 to protect and sustain our
10 miles of beaches, and all of it came from the bed tax," she
For more information, call Visit Naples at (800) 605-7878.