Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
A strong winter season appears to be building in South Florida as snowbirds gear up to travel again, hotels report strong bookings and the region’s events scene regains traction after being sidetracked by COVID-19.
The indicators area already present, with would-be visitors declaring their intentions to travel and businesses reporting upticks in patrons.
Discover the Palm Beaches Florida, the tourism promotion arm for Palm Beach County, said Tuesday that it anticipates travel demand “to increase significantly,” breaking records in January through March of next year.
“With international borders reopening later this month, we expect to see a surge from our key international markets, specifically from Canada,” the agency said.
Cities in the Northeast U.S. are also expected to drive more people to Florida, “specifically from those who may have decided not to travel last winter.”
Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of Visit Lauderdale, said Broward County’s tourism recovery “continues to be steady.’
“We are very encouraged about visitation for the holidays and for our upcoming winter season,” she said. “Based on falling numbers of COVID cases, good attendance at recent events and continued demand for hotel rooms, we seem to be pulling out of the delta dip.”
“Certainly, we’re hearing from our contacts that they’re seeing pent-up demand on both the tourism and real estate front,” said Susan Harper, Canada’s consul general based in Miami.
Prior to the pandemic, the New Lighthouse Caffe in Fort Lauderdale was a popular watering hole for snowbirds who dropped in for lunch after strenuous mornings playing shuffleboard and tennis. The cafe had only been opened a few months when the pandemic hit and Canadians who were just getting to know the staff on a first-name basis fled home.
“We lost all their business, it just abruptly stopped,” said manager Lise Fortin. “I have heard a few of my regulars — I am very hopeful they’ll come back.”
Pierre Carriere is counting the days until the annual Canadian migration to Broward County begins.
Carriere, of Gatineau, a city in western Quebec, said he and his wife are headed for the Aztec RV Resort in Margate where the “majority” of the snowbirds who take up the 645 lots are French Canadian like himself.
Carriere came last year but admits the price was onerous: It cost him $4,500 to transport his RV over the border, plus airfare. After shelling out the cash, he and his wife had the place mostly to themselves.
“Last year was pretty much empty,” he said of the RV development. “People were afraid to come down because they were hearing on the news there was a lot of COVID-19 in Florida and also it costs a lot of money to come down [with transport],” he said. “This year is a different story. They want to have fun and enjoy life.”
So this weekend he’ll begin the 30-hour drive and make it just in time for the border opening. He knows he won’t be alone as the floodgates open.
“You can imagine how it’s going to be on the road,” he mused. “This year it’s going to be hell on the roads, I’m telling you; 99.9% of people are coming back and anxious to come back.”
He and his wife have their days already planned: parties with friends, shopping and pickle ball. “Life is short. Enjoy it now,” he said.
Bobby Stoller, 49, a consumer products entrepreneur from Quebec, said he and his wife and two daughters are eager to fly south in mid-December.
Earlier this year, he bought a luxury condo — sight unseen — at the Royal Palm Residences in Boca Raton.
He also bought a membership at The Boca Raton nearby, the decades-old resort which is undergoing a multimillion-dollar redevelopment.
“It’s about 40 degrees and wet, and chilly here,” Stoller told a reporter Tuesday by phone. “I think I’ll trade for what you’ve got.”
“We’ve been coming down probably for the last 15 or 20 years and between staying with family or hotels we figured it was a good time to buy a condo,” he said. He and the family flew back to Canada on March 11, 2020, and have not been back since.
Others such as Stoller are eager to jump into the state’s heated real estate market, said Todd Richardson, vice president of sales for Group P6, the Royal Palm’s developer. He said another client from Vancouver also bought a unit after taking a virtual tour.
“They’ve been chomping at the bit to get into the Boca area and see the project they’ve purchased,” Richardson said. “I think we are going to have a really strong snowbird season from Canada.”
Longtime New York snowbirds are eager to return to Florida, too.
Renee Lieberman, 94, from Long Island, N.Y., has a condo in Margate. She usually stays at her second home from December through April, but “got stuck” last year until the end of June because of the virus. Still, she’s anxiously awaiting this year’s trip.
“My twin sisters live in Florida. If I don’t come to Florida I don’t get a chance to see them,” she said.
Big events deliver strong bookings
But some hoteliers say they haven’t had to wait for snowbirds, as a calendar loaded with festivals, concerts and trade shows is drawing visitors from all over Florida and elsewhere around the country.
“The month of November is for our hotel one of the best Novembers we will have,” said Heiko Dobrikow, general manager of the Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. “It is a very strong leisure demand we see coming in for the holidays we are already ahead of pace.”
Morning Update Newsletter
Start your day with the top stories in South Florida.
Although the hotel does not serve many long-term guests, Dobrikow thinks snowbirds have already made their presence known through a key indicator: rolled-up hurricane shutters.
“It seems like the birds are already down here,” he said. “When you drive down [State Road] A1A you slowly see the shutters going up.”
“If you just look at this window from the middle of October to the end of the year, literally every week is packed with a significant event in our marketplace,” he said. “I believe that spurs on leisure travel in a tremendous manner.”
In Delray Beach, Crane’s Beach House Boutique Hotel & Luxury Villas said out-of-state travelers are already in-house.
“We have numerous ‘snowbird’-style travelers in-house right now and many who stay with us throughout the year,” a spokeswoman said. “All current in-house guests are from out of state, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, and Michigan. The length of stay for in-house guests is around four-plus nights for this time period. However, we have several upcoming reservations for six to seven-plus nights.”