OJ ON LOCATION: Agents Find Fort Myers Area Has Something For Every Client
From the powdery white sand on Fort Myers Beach to the shell-strewn paradise on Sanibel, these two destinations couldn't give off more different vibes, despite being linked by a short drive across a causeway.
Travel advisors and the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau’s Jeanette Faria and
Stephanie Zinke at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
Just off a five-day FAM that explored Fort Myers, Sanibel, Captiva and Cabbage Key -- one of the 100 surrounding barrier islands – agents discovered that the region is a destination unto itself with something for all demographics and all budgets – and beaches are only part of the story.
L-R: Bernadette Pakert, Travelplus; Elly Raftis, CAA South Central Ontario;
and Lori Anne Westenbrink, CAA South Central Ontario heading over to Cabbage Key by boat.
"Although people consider this a snowbird destination for mature adults, what people don't realize is that we also have something for families and younger generations, with the sailing, 190 miles of kayaking, golfing and all the different outdoor activities," says Jeanette Faria, Sales Director with the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau (VCB).
"In the Gulf, the water is warmer and calmer [than on the Atlantic side]. I think it's great for families, for someone who wants to unplug and someone who wants soft adventure."
From fawning over manatees and dolphins to watching the sun set at bustling Time Square and Fort Myers Beach Pier, the group of 10 agents all agreed that any type of traveller can find somewhere to love on The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel.
Spotting manatees in the harbour at South Seas Island Resort was one of the
highlights for many agents.
The diversity of the destination was exactly what the VCB hoped to showcase.
"What we want to push with the agents is that we're multiple mini-destinations in one, and therefore we're suitable for a broader audience," Stephanie Zinke, International Tourism Sales Manager with the VCB, told Open Jaw just before the group visited the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge where agents spotted migrating white pelicans (snowbirding all the way from Canada), mangrove crabs, tri-coloured herons and more.
With so much to do, Ranka Matejic with Kemp Travel Group pointed out that it's important to qualify the traveller when selling the destination.
Agents had to pedal to earn their lunch at The Island Cow. Front to back:
OJ’s Anna Kroupina, Pakert and Linda Tanfield, Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
"Sanibel is more for mature clients who like calm and quiet, maybe some families, depending on what they like. Fort Myers Beach is better for people who want white sand beaches and more action," she says. "But they can still do day trips to Sanibel or Captiva to do things like the boat cruise [to Cabbage Key] or to visit the Ding Darling Park."
The destination as a whole has an "old world charm" lacking the "sirens and noise" of its Atlantic counterparts, says Lori Anne Westenbrink, CAA South Central Ontario. She suggests spending four nights in Fort Myers Beach and four on Sanibel or Captiva to mix things up and get the best of both worlds.
Travelplus' Bernadette Pakert says she often sells the Fort Myers area as an add-on to Orlando.
"If your time allows, do a two week stay, go to Kissimmee or Orlando and do your parks, and then do your transfer to the Gulf and spend a week down there. It's a completely different experience."
"Home Away From Home"
With an array of cottage and condo-style units with full or partial kitchens, it's also a highly economical destination, says Zinke, because travellers can cater to their own needs.
"You have the commodity and comfort of having more space than a regular hotel room, but the service and amenities that you would have at a resort," she said. "It's like a home away from home."
That also makes it a great destination for families and multi-generational travel, she adds, with cottages that can accommodate as many as 12 people.
Snowflakes To Seashells In Under Three Hours
With a flight time of under three hours from YYZ, clients can board in the morning and be doing the Sanibel Stoop (bent over looking for shells) by early afternoon.
For the upcoming winter season, WestJet will operate 11 weekly flights out of YYZ, and twice from YOW.
The FAM group sitting down for the last breakfast at Flipper’s.
Air Canada will fly to RSW four times a day this winter from YYZ, as well as weekly from YUL.
In 2023, RSW is expected to complete a US$200 million renovation that will decrease wait times at security checkpoints, among other enhancements.