November 21, 2018

FLORIDA KEYS — The peak tourism season is fast approaching as visitors swarm the island chain swapping winter’s blast for ocean views and balmy temperatures.

Chamber of commerce leaders concur that businesses in their respective areas are looking forward to a strong season considering that last year’s season stumbled out of the gate due to September’s Hurricane Irma.

“We are optimistic the 2019 season is going to start strong and continue through,” said Key Largo Chamber of Commerce President Elizabeth Moscynski. “Even though we started off slow last year, Key Largo still did well. We were lucky compared to other Keys. However, a lot of businesses are getting ready and looking forward to a stronger season, and with Islamorada almost completely back online, I think the Florida Keys will do just fine this year.”

Key Largo anticipates the former Hilton to reopen this season, completely rebranded as Baker’s Cay, a Hilton Curio Collection, adding 200 more units to the island’s lodging stock.

Bungalows Key Largo, a new all-inclusive adult resort offering 135 individual units is slated to open Dec. 15. The 11.2-acre resort will feature a spa, gardens, two in-ground pools, more than 1,000 feet of shoreline, and indoor and outdoor dining venues.

Islamorada’s Postcard Inn reopened earlier this month to offer 151 redesigned guest units and upgraded facilities, and the Islander Resort is expected to reopen its 114-room resort in the near future.

“When the Islander fully reopens, we’ll have approximately 1,100 of our 1,300 rooms available,” said Judy Hull, executive director to the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce.

She’s noticed a bump in tourists already.

“We’ve been seeing an increase in tourists in the last few weeks, and we’re hoping that’s a good indicator for a strong season to come,” Hull said.

Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Samess said that aside from some lodging units still down on Grassy Key, Marathon is ready to receive visitors.

“Our vacation rentals are online somewhere between 92 to 95 percent,” he said.

Samess said he’s optimistic, as are a lot of the businesses he serves.

“So far, hotel bookings and car rentals have been strong. I think we’ll have a lot of snowbirds back for season this year,” he said.

Samess said business owners are struggling to find staff and he suspects the lack of affordable housing is a culprit.

Big Pine Key & Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce Executive Director David Turner is hopeful for a stronger season following last year. His region was hit hardest by Irma and continues to recover.

“There’s no way that businesses won’t continue to get better and better,” he said.

High peak season in the Florida Keys generally runs from end of November to February.

tjava@keysnews.com