NAPLES — More feet on the street. More toes in the sand. More tushes in the seats of local restaurants.
Tourism officials say more people visited Southwest Florida in the first quarter of the year — nearly an 8 percent increase in Collier County alone — compared to a year ago.
Officials said the uptick in visitors is a sign of good times to come, but they’re acutely aware visitor numbers have miles to go before they match the peak tourism years of the mid-2000s. Still, increased group bookings and direct visitor spending means tourism is on the rebound.
“That’s a good sign the economy is getting better, but we aren’t back to what we would call the top years,” Collier County tourism director Jack Wert said. “That was the height of it and it’s going to take a long time (to get there).”
Collier County saw about 551,500 visitors in the first quarter of 2012, according to an April 30 report to Collier County’s tourism development council. That’s up 7.8 percent over the same period in 2011.
Direct visitor spending in Collier also is up: Visitors spent more than $537.5 million in the first quarter, up 12.9 percent from the same time last year.
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