And it’s just what the beach needed after a business busting Red Tide season, a COVID killing 2020 season, and a season without any major beach events this year. It’s pretty much unanimous from hotel and restaurant owners on Fort Myers Beach. The 2021 season has been spectacular. In many cases, it’s been record breaking.
Thanks to Governor Ron DeSantis, after a short shutdown when the virus broke out just over one year ago, Florida’s top executive has had a philosophy of protecting the most vulnerable, education over government mandates, and opening up schools and the economy. He withstood enormous pressure to lockdown the state.
On Fort Myers Beach, that philosophy proved to be a winner for businesses on the beach. And, with other states still struggling to open, beach business owners may see a longer season than usual. Most visitors normally head back home around Easter. But as we’ve learned over the past year, nothing is normal anymore.
Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak confirmed to us Thursday that this has been one of the busiest seasons in years. “Our visitors are thrilled that we’re open. I was just speaking with someone this week who said their state is still only at 50%. I definitely feel that we’ll stay extremely busy through summer.”
Tim Malbon is the managing general partner and owner of the Best Western on Fort Myers Beach. Tim says business picked up around the Valentine’s Day/Presidents’ Day weekend and lead into a record-breaking March for the hotel. “I definitely feel business will continue after the Easter weekend, April is 10% above our April average, we’re booked at 96%, and May is looking outstanding. The vibe has been pretty good with all of our customers. Sometimes the traffic to the beach can leave some a little short tempered but overall they are happy to be out of quarantine and enjoying themselves.”
About a mile down the road from the Best Western is The Sea Gypsy, owned by Scott Safford, who also says momentum started to pick up in February. “I’ve had a lot of last-minute reservations which has kept us extremely busy. We’ve had so many last-minute reservations for April and May, mostly from states that have more restrictions so I’m hoping that momentum continues through the summer. Everyone who comes here is so happy to be here. They seem a little freaked out at first but once they settle in they are completely relaxed and enjoying themselves.”
Just up the Boulevard from the Sea Gypsy Brian Nagle who manages Shuckers says he is having a record-breaking season. “I definitely believe people will stay after Easter. I believe this will be one of our busiest off-seasons we’ve ever seen. We’re seeing a vibe of comfort, and a sense of normalcy, especially from our tourists.”
Mangoritas owner Jacinta Ingream agrees with Brian, people feel normal in Florida, she says. “The Mango team expects to stay steady after Easter and through the summer due to the people we talk to daily. We have states still not 100% open and these people want to be in Florida.”
Valerie Ganim-Moessner at SunPalace Vacations said she is also busier than normal and guest expectations are also higher than normal. “We are busy after Easter with guest that are more cost conscious and Florida being more relaxed and other area. Our guests are more demanding this year than in the past and I am hoping that is not the new normal.”
The town of Fort Myers Beach continues to have a mask and social distancing ordinance on the books, which has not been enforced, or enforceable, since the Governor told local governments all fines would be forgiven.
The town has not been issuing events for special events, hoping to avoid large, maskless crowds from gathering. The next big event decision this current council has to make will be the annual 4th of July Fireword celebration. The planning for that event will need to start soon, if it’s to take place in 2021. The 4th of July is 90 days away.