'Tis almost the season: Winter visitors returning to region, but busiest time ahead

Tourists and residents crowd the Naples beaches Wednesday afternoon.  The U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that Naples is the seventh fastest-growing U.S. Metro Area trailing such cities as Cape Coral and Fort Myers, and St. George, Utah, which is the fastest  Photo taken Wednesday April 4, 2007.

Garrett Hubbard/File

Tourists and residents crowd the Naples beaches Wednesday afternoon. The U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that Naples is the seventh fastest-growing U.S. Metro Area trailing such cities as Cape Coral and Fort Myers, and St. George, Utah, which is the fastest Photo taken Wednesday April 4, 2007.

File 
 Naples resident Jessie Collins, right, tells a story to his family who visited from Ohio at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club in 2010. Area businesses who cater to visitors and seasonal residents are finishing preparations in anticipation of the large increase in population.

Photo by LEXEY SWALL // Buy this photo

File Naples resident Jessie Collins, right, tells a story to his family who visited from Ohio at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club in 2010. Area businesses who cater to visitors and seasonal residents are finishing preparations in anticipation of the large increase in population.

File 
 Throngs of people line the water at Vanderbilt Beach next to the Ritz-Carlton hotel and resort in Naples.  Seasonal residents and visitors are on the rise as Southwest Florida prepares and braces for a large population increase.

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI // Buy this photo

File Throngs of people line the water at Vanderbilt Beach next to the Ritz-Carlton hotel and resort in Naples. Seasonal residents and visitors are on the rise as Southwest Florida prepares and braces for a large population increase.

— Season is almost here.

But despite the fact streets, businesses and restaurants in Southwest Florida are a little busier than just a month ago, experts said November is traditionally a time to work out kinks before the deluge of seasonal visitors arrive.

There's renovations to be completed, menus to be tweaked and more employees to be hired. And business owners in Collier County said all those final touches generally need to be completed before Thanksgiving rolls around.

"It's a really exciting time," said Sukie Honeycutt, co-owner of Ridgway Bar & Grill, and Bayside Seafood Grill and Bar. "It's a time we're always looking forward to, because we're on the upside."

Honeycutt said Third Street South businesses already are seeing a boost, and it will only get busier as the month goes on. But Honeycutt said the popular downtown Naples district is an anomaly because it hosts the annual Festival of Lights during Thanksgiving week.

"It's a wonderful week for us," Honeycutt said. "For one, it's a great boost to cash flow and it gets our servers in the mode for when we get to ... Christmas week."

But just because November is busy at Honeycutt's two Naples restaurants, it doesn't mean there aren't tasks to get done before the real influx occurs.

Honeycutt said both restaurants are in the process of hiring seasonal employees. The restaurant will increase staffing by about 35 percent, and most of those hires will occur in the coming weeks.

Honeycutt said they've also increased the inventory, spruced up the garden and bought new outdoor furniture, like tables, chairs and umbrellas.

Much of the same is happening across town at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club on Gulf Shore Boulevard.

"We call this the ramp up," said Jason Parsons, the resort's general manager.

Hotel staff is in the process of putting the finishing touches on two major renovations — an overhaul of Florida building B, one of the hotel buildings located off Watkins lawn, and a renovation of beach-side meeting rooms — that were started over the summer.

Parsons said the "noisy, messy construction" part of the renovation was completed earlier this fall, and now staff is just putting finishing touches on guest rooms in the Florida building.

"Where it used to be a building challenged because of the age, it will go from last to first," he said. "It is by far the most interesting building."

The Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club isn't the only Naples hotel where staffers are feverishly working to finish up renovations.

Evita Reyes, group sales manager at Inn on Fifth, said the hotel's lobby renovation should be finished in a couple weeks. A months-long project to renovate the hotel's rooms is also complete, and Reyes said there are plans to renovate the hotel's facade.

Business may be picking up, but Jack Wert, Collier County's tourism director, said the real boom will happen in the weeks after Christmas. While it's too early to tell how the 2013 season will end up, Wert said he's hopeful it will be better than the previous year.

"It's a little early, but early indications from hotels that do group meeting business (is) they're above pace," he said. "We're above where the advance reservations for group meetings were over a year ago. (This year) was a good year, so 2013 looks stronger."

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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