Hardly had the uprooted palms, shattered roofs, overturned mobile homes, and even stranded fishing boats been cleared off the Overseas Highway connecting the Florida Keys to each other and the mainland, and tourism officials were already planning their strategy to bring visitors, foreign and domestic, back to this southern part of Florida—battered by the vicious winds of hurricane Irma in September.
For an area where 60 percent of all spending and 54 percent of all jobs are dependent on tourism (a $2.7 billion industry in these parts), bringing visitors back for the 2018 winter season is a challenge that can’t afford to be leisurely or timid.
And for Florida’s Canadian visitors, enjoying an 80 cent loonie, this combination of events might mean some truly meaningful bargains for snowbird, Christmas, or spring break visits. Don’t settle for rack rates—they need you back to show they’re still in business.
So how do tourism officials plan to overcome the horrifying video images of Irma’s impact on the Keys in September? How else but to replay them, again and again, in promotional TV videos and ads just to show how this quirky and resilient community intends to bounce back.
The video, which is already running, is part of a $1 million public relations campaign, sponsored by Monroe County, entitled “We are 1.” The title refers to US Highway 1, which bisects the Keys into Florida Bay (Gulf of Mexico) in the north and the Florida Straits (Atlantic Ocean) in the south.
Though the Keys met Irma’s landfall head-on and huge tidal surges swept several feet over the sea-level-elevation properties, there were relatively few lives lost and main centres of attraction, particularly Key West, survived well. The truth about the Keys’ resilience is that no matter how bad the storm, once it passes, the natural attraction remains: the placement of these islands reaching 125 miles out into a sparkling blue sea.
Within a week of Irma’s passing, cruise ships began returning to their Key West port, and cruise passengers were back in droves visiting and shopping as if nothing had happened. In the middle and upper Keys, there will be reconstruction of buildings going on for many months, perhaps years, but that’s also part of the natural evolution of the Keys and it hasn’t ever been different.
Even among the ruins, Keys people survive and visitors continue to relish the natural beauty of the place as well as its water-based activities.
For mainland snowbirds and other shorter term visitors to Florida, the Keys allow a perfect three- or four-day change of pace, in a vastly different environment from, say, Zephyrhills, Orlando, Sarasota, or Port St. Lucie. No borders to cross, no fancy dress to worry about, plenty of choice in moderately priced hotels and eating places, and no chance of getting lost in metro-like areas. There’s only one road in town—which can be a drawback on a Sunday when the rest of Florida needs to get back home for a work week.
Despite Irma’s destruction, the Keys remain a place where even Floridians go for a change of pace and “relaxation.”
Planning your next trip? Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance.