Lee County Pays ‘Travel Detective’ $95,000 to Promote Tourism –

Peter Greenberg, who goes by the name “The Travel Detective” and covers the travel industry for CBS News, recently visited Fort Myers and surrounding parts of Lee County for an upcoming television segment.

Lee County government paid Greenberg $95,000 as part of the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s efforts to promote tourism. The funds to pay Greenberg came from the VCB budget, which is funded by Tourism Development taxes—taxes on rental cars and hotel nights.

The deal includes Greenberg producing a 10- to 12-minute segment that will air in the spring of 2023 on PBS the “Travel Detective” series. The program will also be available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV. It includes a segment on national unions CBS the “Eye on Travel” radio show, a one-hour Facebook Live session from Lee County and a keynote address by Greenberg at the annual tourism outlook event Nov. 10 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs.

While in town, the veteran travel journalist met up with WINK News anchor Chris Cifatte to discuss the visit and what he learned.

The goal, Greenberg said, was to visit parts of the county that didn’t appear in travel guidebooks.

Greenberg also gave some travel booking tips so the general public can save some money. He said there should be some big deals on airfares this fall; Fuel prices are falling, but so is demand for travel.

Travel demand is falling, Greenberg said, because of continued inflation and because many travelers are paying off credit card debt related to “revenge trips” after the pandemic.

Here is a transcript of the interview between Cifatte and Greenberg. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Summary: Tell me about your week. You’ve had quite a week.

Greenberg: I have been coming to Fort Myers now for 25 to 30 years. But this is an opportunity to see a different Fort Myers. One that isn’t necessarily in guidebooks or brochures. The theme of our pieces is called hidden gems. So our mantra is no gift shop, no tour buses, no brochures, no guide books. But accessible, immersive experiences that people can do. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

Summary: And that’s different than what a lot of people do when they come to Florida. They will go to the beach or Disney World.

Greenberg: The problem with resort vacations is that people never leave the resort. They go there, park themselves, get a drinkna colada, and they are there. No disrespect to the beaches. You have great beaches. But let’s leave the coast and see what else there is to see.

Summary: What are two things that stood out to you that you saw this week?

Greenberg: The one we liked best, really, was the slough. I mean, you get there, you get wet. But you will learn a lot. And you know, I’m an East Coast guy. I thought it was a swamp. Its not. There is a difference. A swamp is stagnant water; a slush is moving water.

Summary: So if you were trying to tell someone about our area in a few sentences, what would you tell them?

Greenberg: The first thing I would do, and I’m biased on this because I have a boat, is get on a boat and go out there and see some of the other islands. And not just the usual suspects. It doesn’t have to be Sanibel, does it? There are plenty of other places where you can just pull up, drop anchor and walk ashore and have a picnic.

Summary: We’ve had a couple of months here at our airport where travel numbers have dropped by 20%, which we’re not used to this year because the numbers were going up and up. Have a guess why?

Greenberg: Here’s the thing, and it’s going to be very difficult for airports to handle this: Airlines were overscheduled; and they were understaffed; and the flights they used were no longer economically viable. They were smaller planes and that’s why American Airlines parked 100 of them. Their claim was that we don’t have enough pilots to fly them. Well, that was only part of the story.

The other part of the story is that you have to have that plane 95% full to break even with fuel prices the way they were. So you will see city after city in this country lose service. By the end of next month, Toledo, Ohio, will have no American, United or Delta service. The airport will be a ghost town. And the question you have to ask is, if you want to go to Toledo to see friends and relatives, or you want to do business in Toledo, how are you going to do it? And if you live in Toledo, how do you get out? So you need to re-evaluate the types of aircraft that are flying in RSW to be able to understand what the future holds.

Summary: All of those issues in those feeder markets can affect us here.

Greenberg: Absolutely. Look, there is cause and effect. Every decision that is made has economic consequences. And when accountants run the asylum, we’re all crazy. This is what is happening now. They are looking at the numbers and not adding up.

What they don’t realize is that travel is the No. 1 industry. 1 in the world. It is responsible for one in every 10 jobs. And before the pandemic, one in every five new jobs. So for a place like this dependent on tourists, you can’t go wrong with air travel. Because if you miss the air transport, it’s no longer about the car to market. I mean, you’ll get it, but you want people from California to visit. You want people from Nevada. You want people from Nebraska. But there are no nonstop flights from Nebraska, so you’ll have to connect.

So you might have to look at some of the new airlines, like Breeze or Avelo, that are starting to go to unserved cities non-stop without going through Atlanta or Charlotte. This is what will save you.

Summary: Do you think these flight passenger numbers will go back to RSW?

Greenberg: Demand will indeed return next year. And the reason for that is this: Americans decided this summer that we are so determined to travel that we will travel at any cost. Emphasis on the words “by all means”. So, they traveled, they paid a lot of money, and those credit card bills just came. So they are deciding that for the time being they will not fly for the rest of the year.

So the fourth quarter for airlines will be a disaster. Prices will go off a cliff. If you’re a smart traveler and a strategic traveler, and you have money left in your bank account, now is the time to travel between September and December, except for those four days during Thanksgiving. But other than that, it’s a buyer’s market starting September 8th. Everything will be back next year, barring any other variations.

Summary: So strategically, if I’m looking to take a trip later this year, without a holiday, should I wait a bit and let the prices drop a bit more? Are they coming down? Now?

Greenberg: Prices are 27% less than they were in May. In another 10 days, they will be 20% less. That’s when you hit.

Summary: Ten days from now? Mark it on the calendar. What do you see on current travel trends in general? Post-pandemic? Are people changing the way they travel?

Greenberg: There’s been a history of that — when you go back to 9/11 or the economic debacle in 2008, 2009 and during the pandemic. Americans, they tend to travel in family groups because they have a Last Supper mentality about travel. If we don’t go now, we never will. Let’s get them all going. Let’s make the grandparents pay for it. But let’s get them all going. And this is what happens. But that part has already happened. Now, everyone can go back to their old patterns of traveling in small groups or with their friends or significant others.

Summary: Inflation, in general, is what keeps people from traveling?

Greenberg: It’s this perfect storm. Although gas prices are falling slightly, they are still quite high. You have airline fees, which are going up. You have inflation, which means that goods and services are increasing. And then you have hotel rates that are 34% higher now than they were in 2019 and provide half the service because they don’t even have staff. So we’ll have to settle after September 8th, not because they’re doing anything different, but because the numbers will change. Fewer people will travel.

Summary: Anything else I’m missing that I should have asked you?

Greenberg: Never book online. Almost everyone who looks at us now makes their travel reservations online. It’s a big mistake because you’re not seeing the entire inventory. You are only seeing a one-sided reflection of what the travel provider is making available to that online travel agency. You’re doing it because it’s convenient. You want to look at it for research. But to buy it based on this? Find what? You are making a big mistake. Talk directly to a travel agent or travel advisor, airline or travel provider. I know it’s hard to get them on the phone, but call at 2 am, not 8 am or 5 pm. Have that conversation, because what they’re seeing on their screen is not what you’re seeing on yours.

Summary: Even if you book directly on a travel site or hotel site?

Greenberg: Absolutely. I will give you an example. I wanted to go from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Every airline flies like this, right? American, United, Delta, Alaska, Southwest, will all go to Hawaii. And some of them you will see on the screen. They are not cheap flights because everyone is a couple on their honeymoon. But I called the airline. In this case, it was American. And I just talked to a human being. I said, is there any other way to do this? She said, “I have an idea.” Now, the air ticket quoted online from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Honolulu was an $800 round trip coach. I paid $400. How did I do it? She understood when she flew me from Phoenix to Honolulu. Look at the map. But it was cheaper. It only costs you an hour and a half more. And I saved $400. I could have done Las Vegas-Honolulu. I could have gone Sacramento-Honolulu. But if you just want to do Los Angeles-Honolulu, get out your wallet. Who will tell you this on the Internet? There are many secret flights out there. People don’t even know about secret flights.

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