News of Key West’s 10 p.m. curfew for the New Year weekend is spreading quickly and prompting significant hotel cancellations, according to lodging industry insiders.
City officials last week were concerned about hotel occupancy projections of 95 to 100% for the long New Year weekend — potentially 50,000 visitors passing the coronavirus while partying shoulder to shoulder.
Mayor Teri Johnston, with support from Commissioners Jimmy Weekley and Greg Davila, emphasized that she wanted to reduce the holiday crowd size to protect the community as much as possible. It seems that mission is being accomplished.
Since Johnston announced the curfew on Dec. 4, occupancy predictions for the New Year weekend have fallen to 50 or 60% and continue to drop, Jodi Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys & Key West, told the Keys Weekly on Dec. 11.
“I think we’ll be down to 40 to 50% for that weekend with the curfew in place,” Weinhofer said. “News of it is all over the industry and in all the trade publications and websites.”
The Associated Press picked up the curfew story, which has run on news websites and television channels in Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, North Carolina and dozens of other cities in Florida and the nation.
In addition to the New Year cancellations, people are also canceling Key West hotel bookings for the two weeks prior, Weinhofer said.
“For two weeks before the curfew was even announced, we were seeing more cancellations than bookings every day,” she said, adding that the pre-New Year cancellations are a result of what’s happening in other places, not in Key West. People are learning what rules are in place in their hometowns or workplaces, and those rules are impacting holiday travel plans, she said.
A lot of places, including businesses, are requiring 10 or 14 days of quarantine after someone returns from traveling, and people are realizing they can’t afford to miss two weeks of work after they’ve been away, Weinhofer said.
Hotel bookings for the New Year weekend are stronger in Marathon and the Upper Keys than in Key West, she said, pointing out that without the attraction of Key West’s New Year’s Eve events, there’s less reason for people to drive all the way down the island chain. No curfew has been announced for the rest of the Florida Keys.
The Key West curfew will be in place from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. Alcohol sales will end at 10 p.m. All nonessential businesses will close at 10 and people will be banned from the streets and sidewalks unless they’re walking their dogs within 250 feet of their residence or going to and from work in an essential business or a religious service, the city’s directive states.
“It’s certainly going to be different with much fewer people,” Weinhofer said. “The hotel industry understands that the intent is not to hurt businesses, but to protect people. But the bars and restaurants, which really need the influx of holiday business right now, will be hit the hardest by this.”
Hotels and guesthouses are making guests and potential guests aware of the city’s curfew as soon as they make a reservation for the affected dates, Weinhofer said, adding, “No one wants a guest to be surprised or angry as soon as they arrive.”
As of Dec. 12, no Key West hotel website visited by the Keys Weekly mentioned the New Year curfew on any page prior to the submission of a credit card to complete a reservation, including a reservation for the dates the curfew applies. But most properties’ websites do state that free cancellations are available through Dec. 30 or Dec. 31.