MONROE COUNTY -- A strong summer of tourism in the Florida Keys continued into the early fall, data released last week by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council shows.
The October occupancy rate for lodges throughout the Keys was 70.4 percent, according to a monthly report prepared for the TDC by Smith Travel Research. The number is up from 64.4 percent last year. Room rates also increased significantly in October, jumping to $208 in 2013 from an average of $188 in 2012.
Merchants have felt the difference, said Daniel Samess, CEO of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce, where the occupancy rate jumped to 61 percent in October from 51 percent last October.
"Some of our local restaurants have said they've had a surprisingly good October," he said. "We got similar reports in the summer."
Indeed, the summer was a strong one in the tourist industry around the state. According to preliminary estimates from Visit Florida, 22.9 million visitors came to Florida between July and September, the most ever for the third quarter.
"As we move toward our third consecutive year of record tourism growth, it is clear why the Sunshine State remains the top travel destination across the world," Gov. Rick Scott said in a Nov. 15 prepared statement.
The TDC doesn't estimate total visitation to the Florida Keys, but occupancy rates suggest that the island chain saw a strong summer influx as well. Lodges were 61 percent full in September compared with 57 percent last year. They were 78 percent full in August, up from 68 percent in 2012. July's occupancy rate was also up, though just slightly, rising to just less than 86 percent from 85 percent.
Joe Harris, owner of Kona Kai Resort in Key Largo, said his lodge was one of the beneficiaries of the busy summer. Occupancy was up 10 percent over last year and the rates, due in part to room renovations, were also strong.
Harris described the summer as "good, healthily improving." But he also sounded a note of caution, saying Thanksgiving week looked like it would be slow at Kona Kai, and from what he'd heard, around Key Largo as well.
"We're tenuous about the year, which didn't start off well," Harris said.
Samess, though, is more bullish, saying early bookings ahead of the main tourist season are beating their usual pace.
In October, at least, the news was good throughout the Keys. Occupancy and room rates were up in Key West, Marathon, Islamorada and Key Largo.