This season’s warmth is a ray of sunshine for local businesses.
After weathering last year’s record-low temperatures and a chilly January, resorts and other businesses are reporting that tourists are fleeing the cold for fun in the sun.
“It was like someone flipped a switch when the weather finally turned great in mid-February,” said Mary Kay Ryan, director of sales at the Longboat Key Club and Resort.
At the Key Club, call volume increased by 150 calls a week mid-February. Typically, anywhere from 26% to 30% of inquiries are converted to reservations, but some weeks, the rate has been as high as 43% to 44%. March bookings are currently 12% ahead of March of last year.
At the 106-unit Casa del Mar, General Manager D.M. Williams said that this year’s fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, is running slightly ahead of last year’s, and that demand is picking up.
“We’ve been taking a lot of reservations with the weather the way it is,” Williams said. “Probably by the middle of February, I could hear the phones ringing more.”
Karen Rangel, regional director of sales at Ocean Properties Ltd., which owns the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort, Lido Beach Resort and Holiday Inn Lido Beach, estimated that bookings for March and April at all three properties are up by approximately 10% from last year.
“I think Mother Nature plays a huge role in this when you think of all the cold weather they were getting up North and the fact that the weather here has been nothing short of delightful,” Rangel said.
The warm temperatures have been good for other businesses.
Lazy Lobster Longboat Key owner Michael Garey said that this season, he has been able to seat diners at the restaurant’s outdoor terrace, something that last year’s weather prevented until April. As a result of the additional seats, the restaurant currently serves 450 dinners per night, compared to 275 to 300 last year.
“The terrace being available for an additional six weeks has been a major increase in business,” Garey said.
St. Armands Circle Association Executive Director Diana Corrigan said that many business owners have told her that last month was their best February ever. Corrigan said that businesses have benefited from the weather, which has drawn visitors to the area, and the fact that customers are gradually beginning to spend again.
Longboat Limousine/Liquid Limousine/Suncoast Sedans owner Jimmy Seaton said that the warm weather has resulted in an increase in boat charters.
“As soon as the weather turned nice, we had a flood of boat charters,” he said. “It was awful this time last year.”
With last-minute bookings being the new normal at hotels, it’s still too early to predict how strong this season’s numbers will be. Spring-breakers used to book reservations three months in advance, according to Rangel. Now, they book a week or two before their vacations.
At the Key Club, Ryan said that guests often book last-minute stays once they have checked the weather forecast. But, she said that the last-minute traffic is also the result of a shift in who is visiting the area.
Although the Key Club has lured visitors from its traditional markets such as the Northeast and Midwest, it is also attracting Floridians who want a short getaway.
“We always pull from Florida, but not with the percentages that we see now,” Ryan said.
The Easter effect
This year’s Easter falls on April 24 — 20 days later than last year’s Easter. So, will that impact this year’s season?
At the Longboat Key Club, Director of Sales Mary Kay Ryan said that Easter visits are shorter this year — three-to-four nights — than in years in which Easter fell earlier, which sometimes coincided with spring breaks, thus resulting in longer stays.
Casa del Mar General Manager D.M. Williams said that the resort is full through April 9 and will have a gap of a week or two before traffic spikes again for Easter weekend.
But, regardless of the traffic patterns, most resort officials and business owners agree that a late Easter is a good thing.
“It’s always good for us when Easter falls late, because that stretches out our season,” said Karen Rangel, regional director of sales at Ocean Properties Ltd.
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]