Spring is just around the corner, but, baby, it’s still cold outside. January and February highs on Longboat Key hovered in the 50s and low 60s. Temperatures dropped as low as 35. The Key also got showered with 4.72 inches of rain during the first two months of the year, compared to 2.79 inches in January and February of 2009. So, what happens when it isn’t all that sunny in paradise?
Turns out, it’s a mixed bag for businesses. Some hotels and resorts report that bookings are down slightly. But there’s an upside to the low temperatures. When people aren’t at the beach, they’re inside shopping and eating out — and spending money.
In mid-February, snowstorms hit throughout the United States, leading to the cancellation of more than 1,900 domestic flights.
Mary Kay Ryan, director of sales at the Longboat Key Club and Resort, said the Key Club has been impacted by the cancellations and the cold snap in general. Overnight stays were down between 2% and 4% in January and February from what officials had forecasted for those months, although some guests had to extend their stays at the resort, because their flights home were canceled as well.
“(Guests) simply couldn’t get here,” Ryan said.
Visitors who did make it into town have been playing less golf than in past seasons and have been spending less time at the resort’s swimming pool and dining at the Key Club’s poolside Barefoot’s Bar & Grill. But they’ve been spending more time and money at the Key Club’s indoor facilities, including its restaurants and spas.
Casa del Mar General Manager D.M. Williams reported that for the resort’s fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, that if bookings stay as scheduled for the first week in March, bookings through April 30 would be approximately 7.3% lower than they were for the prior year. According to Williams, the cold weather has been a major factor in the decrease.
“We’ve had people cut their reservations short and go home,” he said.
Williams said that he is optimistic that the resort can make up for the slight decline with last-minute business.
“We’ve been taking a lot of reservations,” Williams said. “We hope to make some of it up with walk-ins.”
Ellie Ellis, vice president of rental operations and corporate administration at Sun Resorts International, which manages 150 rental units, including the 21 units at Beach Castle Resort, said that the company has gotten large numbers of walk-ins this season.
“People tend to book shorter stays and book later in advance,” Ellis said.
Ellis said that some visitors initially planned to cancel their stays when the cold snap hit Florida. Then, when cold spread throughout the United States, they changed their minds.
Michele Knuese, president of Florida Vacation Connection, which manages about 200 rental properties, said that bookings have fallen slightly over the past few years. However, compared to last season, numbers are almost identical.
“I don’t see any significant increases or decreases,” she said.
For the first week in March, the company had just two vacancies. For the week of March 27 through April 2, just one property has yet to be booked. Knuese said that visitors make plans far enough in advance that the weather hasn’t been a factor.
St. Armands Circle Association Executive Director Diana Corrigan said that Circle businesses are reporting a stronger season than last year.
“The fact that it’s cold puts people on the Circle because they’re not going to the beach,” Corrigan said.
According to Corrigan, the cold weather has shifted the patterns on the Circle, bringing more people to the Circle for lunch and early dinners, but fewer people later in the evening when temperatures drop.
At Panache Salon and Spa in Avenue of the Flowers, owner Joanne Nicholson said that although business has been down slightly this year, it has been steadier, with customers coming in throughout the week, instead of at the end of the week in preparation for weekend events, like she has seen in the past. Plus, on rainier days, she has had more customers visit the salon seeking massages and body treatments.
Jimmy Seaton, co-owner of Longboat Limousines and Liquid Limousines Charter, said he isn’t surprised that boat rentals have been significantly down this year.
“Nobody wants to go on a boat when it’s 30 degrees and windy,” he said.
But the company’s limousine-and-car services have been steady with last year’s numbers, Seaton said. He said that the company has also benefited from a trend that others who work in the tourism industry on Longboat Key and its surrounding islands have noted over the past decade: Visitors are booking shorter, more frequent visits. For Longboat Limousines, it means more trips back and forth from the airport.
Bill Herlihy, general manager of Café L’Europe on St. Armands Circle, said that he watches the weather every morning in order to plan assignments for staff members. Herlihy has been assigning more staff to indoor tables since the cold spell began. According to Herlihy, the drop in temperatures has created a large spike in lunch traffic that has more than made up for the slight decrease in dinner traffic.
At Harry’s Continental Kitchens on Longboat Key, co-owner Lynn Christensen said that although breakfast has dropped off slightly, lunch and dinner have remained strong.
Rob Ball, who owns Blue Dolphin Café, which has locations on Longboat Key at the Centre Shops and St. Armands Circle, said that business is up slightly at both restaurants from last year.
“The weather has actually helped us for breakfast,” Ball said. “People don’t get up and go to the beach right away.”
Most resort and business owners say that March is looking strong.
At the Key Club, Ryan said that bookings for the entire month of March are up 14% from last year. Additionally, group bookings for February through June are set to outpace last year’s numbers.
Ball said that March has been stronger than he predicted so far. He’s also seeing people who had visited Longboat Key in past seasons, but didn’t come to the island in 2009.
Williams said that he worries about the effect that the cold weather could have on next season more than this season.
“(When you have) a bad winter here or any kind of crisis like a hurricane, it takes three years to recover,” he said.
But he is optimistic that, if March is sunny, that could bode well for next season.
Larry Starr, president of ResortQuest International’s Southwest Florida division, said that the company is preparing for the end of March and beginning of April to be “off the charts.”
Although Knuese said that she has wondered about whether this year’s temperatures could affect next year’s season, she said she isn’t concerned.
“(Visitors) know that this year is the exception rather than the rule,” she said.
Recent reports have suggested that this year could be Florida’s coldest in approximately 50 years. Here’s a look at Longboat Key’s January and February weather from the past three years.
Date high low
January 2008 72 60.1
February 2008 75.7 59
January 2009 70.4 53.7
February 2009 71.4 54.1
January 2010 64.2 50.6
February 2010 63.8 48.4
Year-to-date total (in inches) for Jan. 1 through Feb. 28
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected].