Coronavirus crushes Florida Keys resort occupancy

Hotel occupancy has declined since the March pandemic hit the Florida Keys, when the installation of a resident-only checkpoint on March 22 closed the island chain to visitors through June 1.

Keys Weekly looked at hotel, guesthouse and vacation rental occupancy and spoke to a number of frontline professionals – and front desks – of the critical lodging industry, which is also one of Keys’ largest employers.

While the checkpoint closed the popular destination for everyone but those who live, work or own property here, hotels in the Keys saw occupancy fall 92% in April and an 87% decrease in May, compared to the same months in 2019 figures compiled weekly by Smith Travel Research (STR) and extensively evaluated by Monroe County Tourist Development Council officials.

In Key West, which has most of the hotel rooms and other short-term rentals in the county, occupancy declined 89% in April and 83% in May, also compared to those months in 2019.

Numbers rebounded slightly when the destination reopened to visitors on June 1, with Keyswide down 34% in June and 30% down in July.

The comparison to 2019 was a little bleak in Key West, where June was down 42% and July was down 35%.

“This is certainly not sustainable in the long run,” said Jodi Weinhofer, president of the Florida Keys & Key West Lodging Association. But, she added, there are some silver linings and graces.

“While we are certainly not back where we need to be, the weekends are starting to look better and remember this is September, which is never amazing anyway,” said Weinhofer. “But it’s a big problem for several reasons: business travel is gone; The international travelers do not come because of foreign travel bans. Weddings do not take place, at least not the large ones that take up an entire floor of hotel rooms. and all of our events are canceled.

“We worked very hard to become a year-round travel destination, but we’re back to where we were decades ago when Duval Street was deserted and many stores were closed for one to three months during the summer,” she said.

The Keys are also well positioned to relax, perhaps faster than other tourist destinations such as Manhattan.

“We’re not a crowded, urban destination,” she said. “The Keys have lots of safe outdoor activities and we are accessible from many other locations by car. This fall is going to be a tough time, but I think there is a tremendous pent-up demand for travel and I think we will be well positioned when that happens. “

Michael Knowles, general manager of the Doubletree Grand Key Resort in Key West, told the Key West City Commission last week that its occupancy “has dropped 42% in occupancy points. I was at 92% last August and I am now at 51%. ”

In the Upper Keys, the occupancy rate in Key Largo in June was 53.6% and in Islamorada 61.8%, which corresponds to a decrease of 74.7% in both markets in the previous year. Bookings increased in the months after the checkpoint ended. Dan Martin, sales and marketing director for Islander Resort in Islamorada, said drive-to markets feed the resort. Overall, Martin said, the resort is fine with the weekends being full and the days of the week quite busy.

“Nobody can travel to the Caribbean effectively. Cruises are still down. You are not going to Europe or anywhere overseas. Mexico is still difficult, ”he said. “Flying is doubtful. You are looking for that island experience. “

Weinhofer pointed out that the lodging industry – including both large hotels and smaller guest houses – is slightly better positioned than many restaurants and retail stores.

“The good news for real estate housing is that the assets they own have not changed. These are huge, valuable properties, ”said Weinhofer. “I feel like our industry here has a small head start over retail stores and restaurants, where many of the business owners don’t own the properties their business is in.”

The biggest concern Weinhofer hears from members of the accommodation association is keeping their employees busy.

“Unlike huge, high-rise hotels, these properties are like families, and our managers understand the difficulty of finding and keeping good workers. So they do whatever it takes to keep their people busy,” she said.

Keys Weekly will be taking a closer look at above-average hotel room rates next week and cheering the crowd on Labor Day weekend. Stay tuned.

The graph above shows a monthly comparison of the occupancy rates in Monroe County. SMITH TRAVEL RESEARCH / Monroe County’s Tourism Development Council
The graph above shows a monthly comparison of the occupancy rates in Key West. SMITH TRAVEL RESEARCH / Monroe County’s Tourism Development Council

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