Record crowds fill tourist sites with post-COVID restrictions
For Floridians, summer is OUR time in the Keys. The islands are meant to be easy to get to, free from winter crowds, relaxed, and economical.
This is not the case this summer. Tourists are racing the archipelago, forcing hotel prices to skyrocket and creating long waits at restaurants and landmarks.
“Every tourist attraction has a long line,” reported Dara Krauss of Boca Raton, who visited Key West and Islamorada last week with her son, Jackson, 23, who just graduated from college. âThe resorts were full and hotel prices were high. There was almost nothing to be had.
Krauss said her family typically travel abroad every summer but are staying closer to home this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. âWe do a lot of small trips to the United States,â she said.
Hotel and business owners say many tourists tell them the same. Several countries, including Canada, are still closed to most Americans. Those who allow Americans could close their borders at any time depending on the spread of COVID. And traveling abroad can require long periods of mask wear and other inconveniences, including virus testing before entering the country and before leaving.
At the same time, airlines have made it easier to access the Keys, creating an incentive to head south. Allegiant, American, Delta, Silver, JetBlue and United began offering new non-stop flights to Key West International Airport in June. The airport had already reported a record number of passengers earlier this year, even as Florida reported a 14% drop in tourism statewide.
As visitors swarm the Keys this summer, consumer costs are skyrocketing. The average daily hotel rate in 2019 was $ 288 per night; now it’s $ 385, according to the Keys Tourism Development Council. In May, the islands recorded a record hotel occupancy rate of 83.6%; Key West hit 91.3% with average daily hotel charges of $ 412.38, numbers the tourism board called “astonishing.”
These shocking costs do not seem to deter visitors. Marathon Pontoon Rental, which offers daily charter boat trips starting at $ 279, is fully booked for July and August.
The Hemingway Home and Museum, where writer Ernest Hemingway lived in the 1930s and wrote some of his most famous novels, receives 600 to 800 visitors a day, which is unusually high for the summer, said the spokesperson Alexa Morgan. Guided tours leave every 20 minutes to welcome the hordes.
âWe have had our best June in many years,â Morgan said. âIt’s usually off-season now, but it’s more like the crowds we get in the winter. “
Restaurants also describe their best business in years.
âWe’re definitely up significantly from last year, more towards 2019 numbers,â said Nick Rodriguez, general manager of Ms. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo.
Ronald Skrumbellos, owner of Hobo’s Cafe in Key Largo, said his typical busy season runs from Christmas to Easter. But, “it hasn’t stopped since Valentine’s Day,” he said.
Skrumbellos said he had to increase some prices because his costs had increased, especially for beef and chicken wings, he said. Crowds always come, he said, with typical waits of 20 minutes for lunch and up to 45 minutes for dinner on weekends.
To deal with the crowds and a staff shortage, Skrumbellos said he resorted to the restaurant’s phone because he decided his team should prioritize restaurant customers over take-out orders. .
“It’s unprecedented,” he said. “But this is self-preservation.”
Sheldon Suga, vice president and general manager of Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key, said his influx of guests was mostly Floridians, but also families from as far away as Ohio. Room rates start at over $ 500 a night this month, according to the hotel’s website.
Suga noted that costs for hotels have increased exponentially since COVID closed many businesses that had to reopen with new limitations. Staff are scarce and receive higher salaries to entice them to stay, while cleaning protocols have become more complicated and laborious, Suga said. He said food prices have also gone up, including 60% increases in some beef products in recent months.
Rick Savage, owner of Key West Sandbar Trips, said he was tempted to increase his fares this summer, but he resisted. He charges $ 550 for a four-hour trip for up to four people. The company has subscribed 85 groups in May, 121 in June and 130 are registered for July.
âThis is all the result of COVID. People are finally allowed out, âhe said. âIf the community wants to keep tourism, why would you increase your prices? You will lose the business. Other charters are furious with me, but I think we have to be reasonable about this. “
If you decide you want a 2021 Keys vacation this summer, here are some tips for avoiding the hordes and enjoying a reasonably priced trip:
Go for the day. This way you don’t have to pay the increased hotel costs. A drive from Fort Lauderdale to Key Largo is just an hour and 40 minutes.
Bring yours fishing gear, kayak and snorkeling gear and pack a picnic for lunch.
Visit a park, such as John Pennekamp Coral Reef or Bahia Honda State Parks. Admission is $ 8 per vehicle. Arrive early; both open at 8 a.m.
Wait until the end of August or later. Florida students return to school from mid-August to the end of August. Hoteliers and concessionaires say they expect prices to start falling at this point.