We all remember watching the 2019-2020 season come to an agonzing and abrupt hault when it was clear COVID-19 was a serious health concern. The Town Council, at the time, struggled with having to cancel the biggest annual event on the beach for the first time ever, The Shrimp Festival. All major events were canceled, restaurants moved to take-out only and hotels were ordered not to take any guests.
Now, with cases rising again, a mask mandate in place on the beach and a new President-elect who vows to crack down even more to get the virus under control, it’s unknown how all of this will affect annual visitors to Fort Myers Beach.
Under Governor Ron DeSantis, the state of Florida is not as locked down as many other states across the country. Despite a mask mandate on the beach, Lee County does not have a mask mandate. The beach remains open, and bars and restaurants are able to operate at full capacity, without restrictions.
So, are the snowbirds coming our way? Let’s find out.
Scott Safford is the owner of Sea Gypsy Inn. He says reservations are on track from last year’s season with the exception of Thanksgiving week, Christmas week and the month of March. Safford says the holiday weeks may be slow, because, normally entire families come together. “Many people at higher risk for COVID won’t travel so maybe that’s why families are staying home. With regards to the month of March, colleges are canceling spring break and therefore that has also affected reservations.”
Safford says his booking window, which is normally at about 38 days, is now 18 days. People are booking trips more last minute so he is hopeful to see more reservations during those slow times improve.
With regards to COVID, they are taking several precautions to keep their guests and staff safe by assuring every part of the hotel is disinfected before a guest steps foot in their room including all door handles, light switches, remote controls, phones etc. Linens are being washed at a steam setting to assure complete disinfection. They also have contactless check-in and checkout.
Heidi Jungwirth from JPS Vacations says they are a little slower then normal but doing well. Last week their reservations really picked up. Heidi says she believes people will come down for season and noticed people are not booking as far ahead as they normally would. Booking seems more last minute.
With regards to COVID, Heidi says all CDC cleaning guidelines are being met. They also leave extra cleaning supplies for guests in case they feel more confident cleaning areas themselves and there is plenty of extra hand sanitizer.
Roland Weinmann at Myerside Resort says the season is looking good. He says all of his seasonal guests are returning and he also noticed people are booking more last minute.
Myerside has implemented a 15-step COVID-19 protocol which includes sanitizing stations throughout the resort, extra sanitizing equipment in rooms and each hotel room is blocked out the day before and the day after a guest arrives and leaves to assure the least amount of people in and out of the rooms.
Roland also indicated that when people are reserving rooms their main question is not about sanitizing or cleaning, they’re more interested in knowing whether or not the beach and local restaurants are open. “People want to make sure there’s something to do when they arrive.”
Joerg Eifler has been the owner of the Flamingo Inn for 20 years. Joel says, he’s a little slow right now compared to least season but is hopeful for this to change.
His front desk staff has spoken to several repeat guests who indicate that many states still have travel restrictions which they feel is the reason they’re still slow.
As far as COVID precautions, the Flamingo Inn was reviewed by a health inspector when hotels were allowed to re-open and was told by the inspector that the Flamingo Inn was the best prepared hotel he had seen all day. Joerg told us he’s extremely proud of his staff.
Valerie Ganim-Moessner the Digital Marketing rep with Sun Palace Vacation homes tells us they are a little slower this season but are also getting a lot of last minute reservations. Their booking window is much smaller than normal. Many people were reluctant to book until the election was over due to the fear of riots and their inability to leave the state.
Valerie does believe people will come to Florida this season especially since many states have extreme restrictions and Florida is more open.
Lastly Valerie feels people like staying at their homes because they are private homes and do not have the traffic a hotel has in lobby’s and elevators for example. They deep clean all homes using a CDC product called prevent Tex which kills germs on all surfaces. Hazmat suits are required to be worn when spraying the product. As a result, she says, their homes are extremely safe.
Marie Schleiffer contributed to the story.