With Pelican Cove due to reopen on Friday, Feb. 16, and Cheeca Lodge & Spa opening on Mar. 30, the number of lodging and hotel rooms available in Islamorada will reach the halfway mark of its pre-storm figures.

Altogether, the number of rooms throughout the islands that make up Islamorada is 1,300. Only 63 rooms are needed to reach 650, or half. Some resorts or hotels have full room availability while others have only partial availability. To compare, 91 percent of Key West’s rooms are available, Islamorada currently sits at 48 percent.

Immediately following Hurricane Irma, the total number of rooms open in Islamorada was only 80, said Islamorada Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Judy Hull.

“The majority of those rooms, if not all, were used to house recovery workers and displaced citizens,” said Hull. “Due to the lack of availability since then, we’ve seen the region have a downturn in bed tax revenue.”

The “bed tax” is refers to the four-cent tax added to every dollar spent on lodging in Monroe County. Funds generated from the tax are used by the county to advertise the Florida Keys nationwide.

Monroe County Tourist Development Council revenue reports indicate that of its five regions, Islamorada, which is District IV, has been affected the most by the shortage of rooms.

Compared to the previous fiscal year, tax revenues were down 76.8 percent in Oct. and 72.5 percent in Nov. That’s nearly $329,000 less than the year prior. If the trend continues, the Village of Islamorada could see losses of more than half a million dollars in the first quarter of the year alone.

The lack of tax revenue, though, does not indicate a lack of desire to visit.

Florida’s official state travel and vacation website, VisitFlorida.com, conducted research from Nov. 16 to Dec. 8 on tourist impressions in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Some of the questions used were based on feedback on social media just after storm and were given to travelers intending to visit the Keys.

The results were surprising.

“Prospective tourists were asked about the likelihood of vacation in the Keys in the winter months. The survey showed that travelers haven’t shifted their likelihood of coming,” said Monroe County Tourist Development Council’s Kelly Fountain.

As the research was concluded, the tourist council began its month-long visitor profile study on Dec. 1. Questions related to water quality, visiting expectations, and motivation for visiting were included in the surveys. The surveys were conducted when visitors had already arrived in Monroe County.

Eighty percent of those surveyed say they were motivated to visit the Keys, in part, to stimulate the economy and 70 percent say their expectations of the Keys in the aftermath of Irma were exceeded, said Fountain.

“We asked visitors about the media’s portrayal of the after-effects of the storm. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said the Keys were in better shape than the media had portrayed,” said Fountain. “Perceptions keep getting better the further we get away from the hurricane. Once they get here, they have a really satisfying experience.”

As the busiest months of tourism season pass, there is optimism that the situation in Islamorada will improve, said Hull. Tinsley Advertising, Monroe County’s advertising arm, has purchased ads in nine major cities for February and March and has begun an online marketing campaign that includes digital partnerships with the Chicago Tribune, Philly.com, and Boston.com. The reopening of each resort and hotel is something businesses and residents alike should rejoice over, said Hull. We’re halfway there.

Hawks Cay to partial reopen March 16

Hawks Cay Resort has announced it will open for business on March 16. Approximately 100 villas will be available for rent. In addition, the resort will open the Calm Waters Spa, Sunset Pool, Coral Cay kids activities center, and Angler & Ale restaurant, which will be serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The resort will be staffed by 160 crew members during the partial service.

The main hotel, with 177 guestrooms, is set to reopen this summer.

“We have a ‘Can’t Wait Rate’ that is available from March 16 until the resort’s grand reopening,” said a spokesperson.

The Middle Keys resort closed after Hurricane Irma to repair damages and also undergo a significant renovation. The reopening is a significant milestone in the recovery from the storm, as the resort represents about 25 percent of the bed taxes collected in the Middle Keys district of the Tourist Development Council.

The Connecticut-based company HEI Hotels owns Hawks Cay and manages 70 hotels and resorts across the country.

Last week, Cheeca Lodge in the Upper Keys announced it would also reopen at the end of March.

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