Will season heat up or will snowbirds and tourists give Longboat Key the cold shoulder? The answer, of course, depends on many factors, and is first and foremost on the minds of many in this economy. But the answer will also depend on another factor: the weather.
Key residents and businesses were reminded last season, when high temperatures often didn’t go past the 50s or low 60s, that it isn’t always sunny in paradise.
“People remember very much the weather we had last year,” said Mary Kay Ryan, director of sales at the Longboat Key Club and Resort.
According to Ryan, customers want value in an economy that remains shaky. As a result, the Key Club has experienced an uptick in last-minute bookings from guests who want to be sure that the forecast is sunny before they make plans. One out-of-state guest arrived during the second week in January and booked a seven-day stay the day she arrived, Ryan said. The Key Club has even seen the short-term reservation trend carry over to the corporate group market, which typically makes reservations nine-to-10 months in advance.
Still, calls and bookings were up during the holiday season. But when temperatures dipped during the days following Christmas, call volume dropped as well. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Florida’s chilly weather made national news, along with the fact that thousands of flights were canceled because of snowstorms. Ryan estimated that bookings are currently approximately 5% to 7% lower than they were last January.
“The business is very susceptible to the weather here as well as the weather up there,” Ryan said.
But the weather’s impact depends on whom you ask.
D.M. Williams, general manager at Casa Del Mar, said that February through April is looking strong, with numbers set to be about the same as last year.
“The cold weather has increased business,” Williams said. “It’s colder where (guests) are than it is here.”
However, Williams said that last year’s cold weather has resulted in guests booking later stays.
“Because it was cold last year, a lot of people are waiting until after the 15th of February (to book vacations),” he said.
Wayne Lashway, manager at White Sands of Longboat, a timeshare resort, said that both the economy and cold weather has made renting units difficult.
“I don’t have any problem selling a rental if it’s 80 degrees, but if it’s only going to be a high of 60 and a low of 40, people don’t want to spend the money,” Lashway said.
But at LaPlaya Resort, Manager Dick O’Dowd said that the cold weather has not had a lingering effect on guests’ plans.
“The main thing this past year is that people were not afraid to ask for discounts,” he said.
Naturally, the effects of cold weather — both recent and from last year — have blown into non-hotel businesses that depend on tourism.
David Miller, owner of Cannons Marina, said that business for boat rentals and charters is currently slow and was slow during the first four months of last year.
“This business is 100% driven by the weather,” Miller said. “But the good thing is, even as bad as the first four months of the year were last year, we were able to make it up with the remaining eight months of the year.”
Ed Chiles, owner of the Chiles Restaurant Group, which includes Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub, on Longboat Key, the BeachHouse restaurant, on Bradenton Beach and The Sandbar restaurant, on Anna Maria, said that year-to-date January gross sales have been better this year than last.
“December was down so far, and January is up, but we were going against a January last year where we had as bad of weather as we could possibly have,” Chiles said.
However, last year’s cold snap, along with the BP oil spill, has affected the restaurants’ wedding business, because people who were planning weddings last year were hesitant to choose the area because of uncertainty.
At Harry’s Continental Kitchens, co-owner Lynn Christensen said that the cold weather’s effect on restaurant traffic is mixed.
“When the weather is bad, it does slow down a little bit, but then because people can’t be on the beach and they can’t be playing tennis, they go out to eat,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lazy Lobster Longboat Key owner Michael Garey said that the cold weather usually has a positive effect on business.
“If the weather is either very cold or there’s precipitation, we can count on a busy lunch.”
Most business owners say that peak season is about a month away and typically spans from Valentine’s Day until Easter; the fact that Easter falls later than usual, April 24, could stretch out the season. And, although it’s too early to predict the tourist traffic — or the weather — most are hoping for a sunny forecast.
“If we can get a significant number of days where our weather is out of the media and in the 70s,” Ryan said, “I think that will bode well for all of us.”
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]