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Coronavirus Crashes High-Flying Keys Hotel Industry

Rob O'Neal
Florida Keys News Bureau
The natural beauty and subtropical climate of the Keys help hotels in the area lead the state in hotel occupancy and room rates.

The hotel industry in the Florida Keys normally leads the state in occupancy and room rates this time of year. But the coronavirus has changed everything.

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Last May, hotels in the Keys had an occupancy rate of almost 80 percent. And they were getting almost $300 a room on average.

Those numbers were climbing even higher this year — until the coronavirus came along. The Keys closed to visitors March 22 and there's a checkpoint at the county line. Only people who live, own property or work in the Keys are allowed in.

The latest reports provided by Smith Travel Research to the county's Tourist Development Council shows the impact: For the week of May 3-9, the hotels were at 6 percent occupancy.

Credit Smith Travel Research

Who is staying in Keys hotels? Essential workers like construction crews, health care workers — who are isolating from family — and locals getting their homes tented for termites, according to Jodi Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West.

Renting rooms requires special permission from Monroe County or the city where the hotel is located.

Weinhofer said hotels are scrambling to survive the shutdown, which is particularly difficult since the county has not provided a timeline for reopening.

"We're losing a lot of contract workers — if they can go somewhere else, they're going somewhere else," she said.

And the high cost of living in the Keys, a challenge even when fully employed, is leading others to leave the area, she said.

"If you can't pay your rent, it's so expensive that people have gone somewhere else to stay with family and friends. And I don't know if they'll come back or not," she said.