Skip to main content

Times of the Islands Magazine

Sanibel and Captiva invite visitors as a part of the 'Savor the Shore' campaign

Aug 15, 2023 08:00AM ● By Francesca Block

Photo by Melissa Mullin on Unsplash

It's been a long road to recovery for the islands of Sanibel and Captiva after Hurricane Ian's landfall nearly one year ago, but the islands' businesses are continuing to open up for business.

The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau approved a new initiative, the 'Savor The Shore' campaign, to support the recovery of local businesses and entice more visitors back to the vacation destinations even during the typical off-season. As a part of the initiative, the Lee County Commissioners will waive the fees on the Sanibel Causeway each Sunday through Sept. 10.  Toll fees can typically be up to $9 for visitors without an E-Z pass transponder. 

Sanibel Mayor Richard Johnson said the island is eager to welcome back visitors and support the recovery efforts of local businesses. 

"With the devastation of Hurricane Ian, it wiped out a large part of our accommodations and almost totally put a stop to our business community. So ten months after the storm, we're working hard to revitalize that," he said. 

Johnson said many of the first businesses to reopen after the storm were restaurants and shops, which he said the new campaign is geared toward supporting. While the businesses have successfully reopened, Johnson said foot traffic on the island has been down since the storm, and many residents have still been unable to move back into their homes because of long waits for repairs. 

"So the restaurant properties that are opened are struggling to remain open and continue to be viable businesses," Johnson said. "S the idea with 'Savor the Shore' is we've encouraged people from the local area to come out to Sanibel and Captiva and trade with us in the businesses that are open. And since it's primarily restaurant businesses, that's where we came up with 'Savor the Shore.'"

Data from the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau paints a difficult picture of the economic impact of the storms on southwest Florida's' world-renowned tourism business. The quarterly report from January to March of 2023 showed that occupancy rates in Fort Myers and the surrounding islands was down 21.2% compared to the year prior. The number of visitors to the area also decreased by 34.6% and the total visitor economy of the area took a 31.1% hit. 

Johnson said many of the economic areas hit hardest, such as the hospitality industry, are "in disarray," though they are working their way toward rebuilding. But even as the islands are making slow and steady progress toward recovery, when asked the one message he wanted to share with the greater southwest Florida community, Johnson responded: "We are open for businesses." 

For more information about recovery efforts and the "Savor the Shore" campaign, visit the Lee County Government's Facebook page at or sign up for newsletters at