It's been a couple of years since Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce President Ric Base stopped by one of our Rotary meetings.
I guess it's because he was busy taking care of business; pun intended. As president of the chamber for the last eight years, Base has gained the confidence of the business community on island and off, along with the respect of city officials and that collaborative spirit is providing a healthy and rich business environment here on the Islands.
With a staff of nine part-time employees and give or take 35 weekly volunteers, the chamber is fielding, during season, over 1,000 inquiries a day from all over the world about the islands. Inquiries are coming from Germany, England, France, Canada, South America, and of course from all over the United States. Walk-in traffic at the Chamber office is around 175 families a day. Business is extremely good this season; factor in a colder winter season up north and a quick get-a-way to Sanibel or Captiva for vacationers and visiting relatives is sounding pretty good.
Ric Base, president of Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce. PHOTO PROVIDED.
Airport figures for the month of February reported that passenger traffic was the highest in Southwest Florida International's last 30 years. Driving those numbers are, of course, weather but add to this a great marketing campaign by the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. Driving people to Sanibel and Captiva, in particular, are great promotional output by the chamber and the islands receiving national ranking from USA Today as one of the "Top 10 Best Florida Beach Towns, Frommer's Travel Guide ranked Sanibel Island the #1 top tourist destination and the chamber's visitor's center was named the #1 attraction by Trip Advisor.
It is and will continue to be a great year and great season for business on Sanibel and Captiva, but there is the realization that today's vacationers have travel expectations beyond past generations. Our island hotel and condominium infrastructures need to be updated to keep up with the times. Larger sized hotel rooms are the norm at newer accommodations at vacation destinations. Families are now traveling together with parents, kids, grandparents, and nannies, and they need space. Internet and cellar telephone service is a must have; everyone in the family craves for a connection to the outside world.
In response to that need, the chamber has setup a new Government Development Affairs Committee, headed up by Sanibel-Captiva Chamber Board Member Robert Monk, also a Rotarian. This committee has opened a dialogue with Sanibel government officials and the Committee of the Islands (COTI) to discuss and address how to rehabilitate and rebuild hotel and condominium properties within the framework of Sanibel building codes and restrictions. In the past, families would vacation again and again in the same spot, not now. Tourists and travelers are more sophisticated than in the past. They can shop the world for their next vacation on the Internet. They want their needs fulfilled, if not here, then some other place.
Looking at it from another angle, in the past, 90 percent of all purchases of properties on the islands started out as vacationers. Improvements to hotels and condominiums will provide a springboard for real-estate transactions.
The recent opening and changeover of businesses on the islands is notable. Sanibel saw the opening of Bennett's Fresh Roast Caf and the Blue Coyote Restaurant, along with the reopening of the Sundial Resort. And islanders can now look forward to new ownership at the former properties of Blackstone on Sanibel, including the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club. Captiva welcomed Doc Ford's Restaurant and McCarthy's Marina has expanded on boat tourism routes leaving from Captiva.
With plans for development of the new cultural center on Sanibel heading in a positive direction, the non-profit cultural entities BIG ARTS, Strauss Theater, Sanibel Community House, and the Sanibel Public Library have an exciting future to look forward to and the islands will only be enriched with updated facilities to enjoy a plethora of activities good for residents and tourists.
The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m. every Friday morning at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club. Guests are always welcomed.