The Florida Keys, where hotels have the highest occupancy rates and daily room rates in the state, are adding more than 1,000 new and renovated hotel rooms in the next few months.
While only a few of the rooms are brand new, some have been unavailable for years while the properties were wholly reinvented.
The latest addition, which opened last week, is The Marker Resort in Old Town Key West. The 97-room hotel is in the historic seaport area known as the Key West bight. Where shrimpers and turtlers once landed their catches, visitors will now sip craft cocktails and sample California-Mexican cuisine.
"You can actually sort of see the history of the city in this site. The city’s gone through all kinds of different transitions," said Pritam Singh, the developer and co-owner of The Marker. "There’s shrimping, the turtling, the fishing, the sponging, the wrecking. It constantly reincarnates itself."
The Marker's rooms reflect current standards in the industry, with higher ceilings and bigger bathrooms, said Bryan Barbieri, spokesman for Northwood Hospitality, which is Singh's partner in the resort.
"In design and approach, the way you built a hotel 20 years ago and the way you build today are totally different," Barbieri said.
Nine properties are expected to open in the next year with new or extensively renovated facilities. They include the Playa Largo Resort & Spa in Key Largo, the Faro Blanco Resort in Marathon (re-opening as a Hyatt Place) and, in Key West, a new boutique hotel called The Gates. Several other longtime properties, like the Islander Resort in Islamorada and the La Concha Hotel in Key West are undergoing extensive renovation.
The Florida Keys as a whole, and Key West especially, have some of the highest occupancy rates and daily room rates in the state, according to Smith Travel Research. So far in 2014, hotel rooms in the Keys have an 80 percent occupancy rate with an average daily rate of $254. Key West has an 87 percent occupancy rate and averages $279 a room.
That kind of performance draws investors, says Jodi Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys.
"When you have a destination as great as ours that’s built out, the only thing you can do is to renovate and keep it fresh," she said. "The stock market’s not doing anything. Pretty much the only thing since the recession that’s come back full-bore is tourism. This is what’s driving our economy down here."
Many are waiting to see if the addition of a significant number of rooms will bring those room rates down. The Monroe County Tourist Development Council this week directed its researcher to study the issue.
Singh, developer of the Marker, said he doesn't think rates will drop.
"The renovations and improvements are catching up with what’s being charged," he said. "If we’re charging 300 bucks a night, we should be giving people a room that’s worth 300 bucks a night."
Weinhofer, president of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys, said she does expect rates to lower some and is pleased that the Keys will have an easier time accommodating large groups, like weddings.
"We have a lot of new properties coming on. They’re all going to be unique," she said. "It’s a good thing for the Keys to have additional rooms. Competition is a good thing for the consumer as well."