Casa del Mar General Manager Mark Meador remembers the days when he would see just six or seven cars in the resort’s parking lot during Labor Day weekend.
September has historically been the most sluggish of the already slow months of summer.
Children have already headed back to school, and the temperatures are still scorching, keeping away the first flock of snowbirds. Many visitors hesitate to make reservations for September because it’s the peak of hurricane season.
But, in recent summers — this one included — tourists have continued to trickle onto the Key.
The 102-unit Casa del Mar was 88% occupied during Labor Day weekend. Two months earlier, it was almost entirely booked for the Fourth of July weekend.
“It’s gonna be a challenge to top this year,” Meador said. “We haven’t had a slow week yet this summer.”
Karen Rangel, regional director of sales at Ocean Properties Ltd., which owns the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort, Resort at Longboat Key Club, Lido Beach Resort and Holiday Inn Lido Beach, said that stays and rates were up for all four resorts this summer but declined to provide specific numbers.
After a strong June and July, August remained unexpectedly strong, according to Rangel.
“Typically, we see August numbers fall off in the third week, typically before people’s kids go back to school, but it’s just now started to drop off a little,” she said. “All four of our beachfront properties saw strong leisure-driven occupancies through the third week of August.”
Stays were even up at the Hilton, which wasn’t accepting reservations past May 1 earlier this year because of plans to temporarily close to redevelop the resort, which Ocean Properties later put on hold.
That resulted in less convention and wedding business, which is typically booked six months or more in advance, according to Rangel. However, the Hilton benefited from the fact that many leisure guests booked within a short window of just four or five days in advance.
Evidence of the season’s strength can be seen in numbers other than hotel occupancies and tourist-development tax collections.
Revenues at the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center were up by 18% for June through August, while lesson/clinic revenue was up 15% compared to the same period in 2012.
“We had a lot of people this summer, including our regular people who are here year-round to people from other countries,” said Kay Thayer, manager of the Tennis Center.
Public turtle-nest excavations have drawn as many as 400 people to a single event this summer.
Veteran Longboat Key Turtle Watch volunteer Cyndi Seamon estimates that three-quarters of the people who attend are tourists and, in many cases, are guests of residents.
Longboat Key and Sarasota are popular destinations for international guests during the summer.
“Folks from the UK and Scandinavians often come to take advantage of their extended vacation and often come to stay for two or three weeks,” said Sandra Rios, director of communications at the Resort at the Longboat Key Club.
In addition to the European visitors who typically flock to local beaches, South American tourists are beginning to discover the area, according to Rangel.
But, the drive-in market made up of Floridians remains the strongest source of summer traffic.
That market can fluctuate widely with the weather — and, despite heavy rains, there haven’t been any named storms to threaten the area this summer, which is important to those guests who often keep their eyes on the weather forecast and book reservations just a few days in advance.
“The first hint that we have a tropical storm really affects us,” Rangel said.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].
COOLING OFF PERIOD
Many Key restaurants use the September slump to close or limit their hours to make time for vacations and renovations. Here’s what’s cooking (or not):
• Café Don Giovanni, 5610 Gulf of Mexico Drive, is currently closed but will reopen Monday, Sept. 16.
• Ciao Italia, 5370 Gulf of Mexico Drive, closed for summer Sept. 2 and will reopen Monday, Sept. 23.
• Dry Dock Grill, 412 Gulf of Mexico Drive, closed Aug. 19, for renovations and is scheduled to reopen in early October. Owner Eric Hammersand is working to enclose the area directly above the restaurant’s existing roof that’s used to cover a portion of its outdoor dining area and construct and enclose a walkway that will lead from a new elevator.
• Euphemia Haye Restaurant and The Haye Loft, 5540 Gulf of Mexico Drive, closed for vacation and renovations Sept. 2, and will reopen Wednesday, Oct. 2.
• Harry’s Continental Kitchens restaurant and deli, 525 St. Judes Drive, are closed through Oct. 3, but Harry’s Corner Store remains open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
• Lazy Lobster of Longboat Key, 5350 Gulf of Mexico Drive, is closed for lunch for the summer but will resume lunch Tuesday, Oct. 1. The restaurant remains open for early dining from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and dinner from 4 to 9 p.m. daily.
• For the next six weeks, Moore’s Stone Crab Restaurant, 800 Broadway, will be open for summer hours of 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday and closed Monday through Wednesday.
• Maison Blanche, 2605 Gulf of Mexico Drive, took a two-month hiatus earlier this summer but reopened Aug. 9.
• Also open to the public for business are Bayou Tavern, 6814 Gulf of Mexico Drive; Blue Dolphin Café, 5370 Gulf of Mexico Drive; Chart House Restaurant, 201 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Suite 12; Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort Latitudes Café, 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive; Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant & Pub, 760 Broadway; and Pattigeorges, 4120 Gulf of Mexico Drive.
Click here to see a breakdown of tourist development tax collections.