Hotel room rates in the Florida Keys have increased every month for the past 64 months. That’s more than five years of constantly increasing hotel revenues, Jessica Bennett, market research director for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, told members of the local lodging association during their luncheon Friday. Florida Keys Tourism is booming.
“Forbes named Key West the ‘top luxury hotel market’ in the country,” Bennett said to the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Keys West. She then introduced tourism researcher Neville Bhada, whose company Tourism Skills Group recently completed a four-part lodging study of the Florida Keys.
The study compiled traveler interviews, property surveys, review of lodging trends and review of comparable destinations.
What lodging officials learned Friday was what travelers think of the Keys, how much more they’d be willing to spend on accommodations, what would make them choose another destination and the role attractions and excursions play in vacations.
Perhaps the most surprising statistic showed that 47 percent of Keys visitors said yes, their price of their accommodations was reasonable. Nearly 80 percent of travelers found the price of souvenirs, food, drinks and excursions also to be reasonable, though Bhada pointed out that the survey did not define “reasonable,” rather letting participants use their own definition.
Eighty-eight percent of visitors said they’d return to the Keys, while the top reported dislikes were the cost of Keys accommodations, students on Spring Break and the Duval Street atmosphere.
“We were here conducting our one-on-one traveler intercept surveys in March, at the height of Spring Break,” he said. “And the ferocity of people who didn’t like the Spring Break crowds was intense. Also, many of those people felt the timing of Spring Break has driven up the cost of their accommodations.”
Bhada also pointed out that “people either love Duval Street or hate it, with many of them comparing it to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. “People seemed to either come for the party scene, or they avoided it entirely, and were here for nature or relaxation,” he said.
In analyzing their study results, Bhada’s team was surprised to see that most travelers spent an average of $3,062 for total trip expenditures on a four- or five-night stay.
“That’s the highest we’d ever seen, and the Keys were the only place where more than half of the total trip cost was spent on accommodations,” Bhada said. “We encountered several people who were spending $800 to $1,000 per night.”
Business owners in the audience questioned the statistical significance of Bhada’s study when he said, upon questioning, that his team only surveyed 75 visitors throughout the island chain, with 80 percent of them in Key West.
“We conducted 75 one-on-one intercepts with people answering a 30-question survey,” he said. “When done in such a way, anything more than 50 responses becomes statistically significant.”
The TDC paid Tourism Skills Group $47,000 for the study, Bennett said after the luncheon.
“When we received Neville [Bhada’s] results, I immediately compared his percentages and extrapolations from the 75 surveys with the 4,000 visitor surveys we conduct each year through all parts of the Keys,” Bennett said, acknowledging some lodging members’ concerns about the validity of Bhada’s methods.
“The comparison was the first thing I did, and his interpretations from those 75 surveys aligned perfectly with our figures and percentages, so I was satisfied that we got a good and accurate picture of people’s perceptions of their Florida Keys vacations.”