Southwest Florida Parks Welcome Holiday Crowds
Neither higher airfares nor gasoline prices that are almost $1 more per gallon than last year figure to stop people who crave a getaway to Southwest Florida this Memorial Day weekend, the News-Press reported.
It's just that the visitors might be more bargain-minded than they were before the national recession, say local hoteliers.
"It's all about value. People are shopping better than they did two or three years ago," said Rick Hayduk, managing director for South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island.
South Seas is aggressively pursuing the value market, Hayduk said, with such summer incentives as a fourth night free after a stay of three consecutive nights, free meals to children younger than 12 who are accompanied by a paying adult, and a $20 gasoline credit.
"We hit the sweet spot," Hayduk said, noting year-over-year "demand is up double-digit."
Overall, innkeepers and restaurateurs along Southwest Florida's coast are bullish about the holiday, and the summer travel season it ushers in.
Last summer's public misperceptions about the oil spill in the northern Gulf dealt another blow to a market suffering from unemployment and lower consumer confidence.
Now, tourism and hospitality-related businesses are counting on pristine beaches, pent-up demand and good deals to deliver visitors. So far, they're not disappointed.
Lodgings filling up
At the Naples-Marco Island KOA campground, available lodgings – ranging from a basic Kamping Kabin to an Airstream trailer to a log-adorned, park model manufactured home – were spoken for. About 20 overnight spots for visiting RVs remained available as of Wednesday, according to manager Ted Mangels.
In south Lee County, the San Carlos RV Park stretching along Hurricane Bay is full for Memorial weekend and the Fourth of July, said spokesman Paul Morrissette.
"We also don't have an open boat slip – and we have 78 slips," Morrissette said.
SunStream Hotels & Resorts operates seven properties in Lee and Collier counties, including the 124-unit DiamondHead resort on Fort Myers Beach.
"The Fort Myers Beach properties are basically sold out for the weekend," resort spokeswoman Michelle Moran said Thursday.
"Our properties in Naples and in Cape Coral still have some availability," Moran noted.
Throughout the summer, SunStream is offering Florida residents a 15% discount off their resorts' best available rate with no minimum stay required.
At Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa south of Fort Myers, most weekend guests are driving from homes less than a tankful of gas away, said general manager Cory Clark.
Key origination markets include Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa and Orlando.
"We also have a pretty good European contingent," Clark said.
What gas prices?
Grant Phelan, president and director of operations for the local Pinchers Crab Shack restaurant chain, said he's expecting a busy weekend.
He said gas prices won't cut into consumer spending.
"I think we are all getting used to gas prices being as high as they are," Phelan said. "I'm very optimistic about this Memorial Day weekend, and it has been a while since I have been able to say that."
Phelan said Pinchers commissioned a sand artist to sculpt an 8-foot tall kneeling soldier in honor of veterans at the Fort Myers Beach location, 18100 San Carlos Blvd.
In Estero, Adam Freiberg and his wife, Laura, drove over from Kendall in Miami-Dade County on Thursday morning and planned to stay in Southwest Florida through the weekend.
"We came to spend some time at the beach, and we wanted to come early to get a jump on the crowds," Adam Freiberg, 58, said as they made their first stop to shop at Coconut Point. "It's worth the trip just to get away and relax a bit."
He said gas prices weren't really a consideration for the trip. "We just got here, and we are shopping already.
"Gas prices may be the last thing I have to worry about."
Chris and Kim Schmadtke of Marco Island are headed to San Carlos RV Park this weekend. That's where they're keeping a travel trailer and a 15-foot outboard boat for occasional visits during the summer.
Higher gas prices are one reason the working couple decided to travel less with their trailer. They also love the park's waterfront location that allows them to island-hop around Lee County for fishing, happy hour drinks and dinner.
"We live in a condo on Marco Island. We're surrounded by all this water and entertainment, but we don't get to live it," Kim Schmadtke said, noting when they go to the RV resort this weekend, "we're tourists."