Communities on Florida's gulf coast are struggling to recover following Hurricane Ian, with Sanibel Island Mayor Holly Smith recently stating, "There's no spring break here." The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce estimated that Sanibel and Captiva offered approximately 2,800 lodging units, including hotel rooms and short-term rentals, before the storm; only 155 remain available. The chamber is now encouraging visitors to sign up for "voluntourism" options like helping to clear trails at the nature reserve or remove debris from beaches. Meanwhile, Lee County's government said Fort Myers Beach had 2,384 hotel rooms before the storm, of which 360 were available as of this month. Betsy Anderson, who rents out an apartment in Cape Coral via Airbnb, is concerned that the hurricane has permanently altered the area's character, noting "people are saying big investors are going to come in with big money and turn this into the new Miami." Smith expects it will take at least a year before Sanibel can lodge tourists in any numbers, while a persistent "red tide" of toxic algae on beaches exacerbates the situation.
New York Times (02/13/23) Shannon Sims
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