Key West has set an Oct. 20 target date for reopening the
Florida Keys city to visitors, said Andy Newman, who heads media relations for
the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.
"It could be sooner, but that is a date that everyone
is comfortable with," Newman told Travel Weekly on Wednesday.
Oct. 20 marks the beginning of Fantasy Fest, perhaps the
biggest event on the Key West calendar.
Hurricane Irma made landfall on Cudjoe Key, 20 miles to the
east of Key West, on Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm. The hurricane washed out
sections of the Overseas Highway that runs through the 125-mile-long island
chain, making communications with the mainland difficult and delaying
assessments of hotel properties.
As of Wednesday, only Keys residents who live in the Upper
Keys areas of Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada had been allowed to return.
Nevertheless, county officials have said that all 42 Keys
bridges remain drivable, so transit won't be a long-term impediment to the
resumption of tourism.
Newman said that from all that he has heard, the hotels of
Key West weathered the storm without significant structural damage.
He said he had heard less about the hotels further up the
island chain, though he added that there are reports of a few small motels that
were flooded on Grassy Key, just north of the city of Marathon.
For the most part, hotels on Key Largo appeared to be in
reasonably good stead on Tuesday, though all were shuttered as Monroe County
has yet to allow visitors back into the county. The Hilton Key Largo, a resort
undergoing a major renovation, had minor roof damage.
Newman said that Key West was fortunate to have been on the
weaker, left side of Irma as it passed over the Keys.
"This destination will come back. No doubt about that,"
In the Naples/Marco Island area, where Irma made its U.S.
mainland landfall, the short-term picture for tourism is looking rosier.
According to Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island and
Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach
Resort, the largest on Marco Island, will be ready to check in guests on Oct. 2. The JW Marriott's restaurants are open with limited hours. Smaller hotels on Marco are closed until further notice.
The major hotels along the Naples beachfront, including the
Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, Ritz-Carlton Naples, Naples Grande Beach
Resort and LaPlaya Beach Resort & Golf Club all escaped significant
structural damage. A storm surge that was predicted to be 10 feet or more
stayed below five feet when Irma suddenly veered inland.
Wert said the Naples Beach Hotel is likely to reopen this
weekend. And he expects the overall Naples tourist infrastructure to be fully
functional within a couple weeks once cleanups have been completed and power is
restored throughout Collier County.
One Naples icon that did take some damage is the Naples
Pier, which is located at the end of the town's main commercial street, 5th
Avenue. The pier is presently closed for inspection, but Wert said that he
doesn't believe the damage is enough to cause it to collapse.
"It should reopen," he said.
Just up I-75 in Fort Myers, the Lee County Visitor &
Convention Bureau began doing hotel site visits on Wednesday. Early indications
were good, said executive director Tamara Pigott, but they don't yet know
whether any hotels had taken major damage from Irma.
"Literally we are knocking on doors," she said,
noting the problems caused by power outages and down communications networks.
Correction: The JW Marriott Marco Island won't open until Oct. 2.