South Florida’s hotels were fuller in October and enjoyed higher room rates than a year ago, a reversal of fortune that could help offset the erosion of tourist traffic caused by Hurricane Irma-related cancellations and refunds.
Last month, many local hotels enjoyed a boost in room and food and beverage revenues as crowds of visitors filed through their doors again for leisure, business, sports or convention trips.
The throngs of arriving travelers — spurred perhaps by destination marketing messages touting the region as ‘open for business’ following Irma — was a stark contrast to the September exodus caused by mandatory evacuations.
In Broward County, hotels were 76 percent full, up from 68.2 percent in October 2016, according to new data released Monday by the industry-research firm STR. Broward’s average daily rate rose to $127.34 from $118.29 last year. The county’s revenue per available room climbed to $96.78 from $80.70 the previous year, according to the Tennessee industry data and analytics specialist.
“October was a very good month, which traditionally is not, so we’re very happy with October,” said Eduardo Fernandez, general manager of the 240-room Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach. “In the weeks since Hurricane Irma’s passage, the Sonesta has seen an upswing in short-term leisure, group and wedding business.”
Last month, Palm Beach County’s hotels were 75.7 percent occupied at an average daily rate of $138.42, while revenue per available room rose 21.1 percent to $104.55. That compares to occupancy, average daily rate and revenue per available room of 65.2 percent, $132.41 and $86.35, respectively in October 2016.
“The Palm Beaches saw dramatic occupancy increases year-over-year for the month of October, even while our room inventory increased,” said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO for Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s official tourism marketer. “While being sensitive to the areas that were negatively impacted by Hurricane Irma, we do want to celebrate that so far this year, all our hotel performance metrics show positive growth.”
Irma’s arrival in September did carry one mitigating factor in that it hit during a traditionally slow tourism period.
“It’s never a good time for a storm but September is the weakest month historically,” said Scott Berman, a hotel and tourism analyst at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Miami.
Still, some lodging properties in South Florida remain closed due to damage sustained during Irma, including the Sheraton Suites Fort Lauderdale at Cypress Creek, Bahia Cabana and The Ritz- Carlton, South Beach. While the Florida Keys are accepting tourists again, not all hotels and resorts have reopened.
In October, South Florida’s hotel sector benefited in part from the absence of a major outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which had produced tourism headaches last summer. A new Florida Department of Health website, ZikaFreeFlorida.org, just listed no active Zika transmission zones statewide and only two Florida acquired cases out of a total of 217 Zika cases overall in 2017. By comparison, there were four transmission zones and 296 local cases from a total of 1,467 in 2016.
The positive post-Irma tourism results seen in October augur well for the remainder of 2017, industry specialists say.
“We’re confident that tourism will continue to see increases across the board for the rest of the year,” Pesquera said.
“‘Is it business as usual [since Irma]?’ Yes, pretty much,” PwC’s Berman said. “So we’re cautiously optimistic it’s going to be a good winter.”