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Keys Tourism Forecast: Another Banner Year

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Rob O'Neal
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Florida Keys News Service
The Southernmost Point in Key West is a popular tourist attraction. Lodging operators in the Keys are seeing a high demand for the tourist season.

  The week between Christmas and New Year's is traditionally the beginning of the busiest part of the tourist season. And despite warm temperatures up north, this year looks like no exception, according to Jodi Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West.

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Credit Andy Newman / Florida Keys News Service
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Florida Keys News Service
Even though the weather up north has been much milder so far this year compared to last year, Keys hoteliers are still seeing a strong demand for winter travel to the Keys — where it's always bicycle weather.

  "Initially we were all a little concerned because the weather's been much warmer. Last year we had a crazy cold winter so we had tons of people that had been snowed in in October and by December they wanted to be here," Weinhofer said. "But demand has already been really strong for December, even though the weather up north has been quite calm."

Weinhofer said "what's been happening in Europe" could also be leading more travelers to stay within U.S. borders this year rather than head overseas.

Last tourist season was a banner year for the Keys, with occupancy and room rates that led the state and in some cases the nation. Finding a room may be slightly easier this year, with hundreds of new or renovated hotel rooms back online.

"We had four major properties in Key West alone that were offline for two, two-and-a-half years," Weinhofer said. "All but one of those are back up online; the last one will come up at the end of January, beginning of February. And all the other properties have done major renovations of their rooms. So the product we have is better than ever."

It's also pricier than ever. Weinhofer said hoteliers are aware that they are charging top dollar — but much of that is because of the cost of operating in the Keys.

"As much as there's a road to come into the Keys, we are an island destination," she said. "Living on an island, working on an island, owning a property — just turning on the power and paying employees is quite a bit more expensive than anywhere else."

And she said the lodging industry is second only to airlines in dropping its prices when demand starts to lag.

The tourism industry is responsible for 60 percent of all spending in the Keys and has a value of $2.7 billion annually, according to a recent fact sheet produced by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. That's the agency that spends the lodging tax collected on hotel rooms. The money is used to promote the Keys as a destination, promote specific events and support capital projects that have a connection to tourism.

More than half the jobs in the county are tourism-related, according to the TDC.