Tourism businesses feel the cold temperatures, wait for season to heat up

While Southwest Florida produce growers are still tallying the losses from this week’s freezing temperatures that killed or damaged much of the crops, the tourism industry seems to have weathered cold relatively unscathed.

Farmers have reported major vegetable damage during this week’s rare December freeze. It will take days before farms can tell how much damage was done — but another, less severe freeze Thursday morning did not help.

Initial reports show that damage may not be as bad as last January’s freezes, which damaged or killed an estimated $250 million in produce.

“I wouldn’t be surprised in South Florida if we don’t still rack up $100,000 in losses,” he said. “It’s big.”

Fortunately for Southwest Florida’s tourism industry, cold temperatures this week did little to frighten away travelers.

There were no reports of hotel cancellations due to cold weather, reported Jack Wert, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Marc Dos Santos came to Naples with his wife and kids early this week when temperatures dropped into the 30s. Dos Santos said they were looking for warm weather, but never thought about canceling. He pointed out it that it was still a lot colder in Canada.

Wert said that’s typically the case with winter travelers.

“It was cold here but it was sure a lot worse everywhere else,” he said.

Jason Parsons, general manager of the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Resort, said he agrees with that assessment to a point.

Parsons said he had no cancellations, but his resort, which relies on outdoor activities to keep guest spending money at the hotel, was still hurt by temperatures.

“When the weather is so miserable, windy and cold you tend to lose a lot of that traffic,” he said.

Parsons said there were fewer people on their beach, and outdoor dining and bar services suffered. Activity on their golf course dropped about 50 percent, he added.

Paulette and Sandy Balsam, a wife and husband from Long Island who stayed at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Resort, said they have not spent much time outdoors until Thursday, when temperatures began to warm.

However, Parsons said the timing of the freeze could have been much worse.

This time of year is typically lighter compared to the week leading up to Christmas and beyond. Parson expects business to really rev up the week of Dec. 26.

“We’ll trade in weather from this week for nice weather that week,” he said.

Travellers can expect warmer temperatures in the immediate future.

According to the National Weather Service seven-day forecast, temperatures are expected to reach 70 degrees through the week and lows are not expected to drop below 50 degrees.

That swing in weather could actually help Southwest Florida businesses. Jason Peters, a traveler from Boston, had planned to go with friends to Orlando this weekend until they discovered how could it would be there. They decided to come to Naples instead.

If it had still been cold in Naples, Peters said a trip to Arizona was the back up plan.

Connect with Aaron Hale at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale

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