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MIPD, Marriott reflect on busy season as snowbirds begin to fly home

Lisa Conley
lisa.conley@naplesnews.com; 239-213-5308

Restaurants around the island are slightly less busy, the lines at Publix are a bit shorter, and the roads and beaches are a little less crowded, all of which can only mean one thing: the end of season is near.

Season doesn’t officially end until after Easter, according to most Marco Island residents, but things have started to slow down as some snowbirds have chosen to fly the coop early, marking the beginning of the end of what many are calling one of the busiest seasons in a long time.

Megan Hurrell dances during the  33rd Annual Mullet Festival in Goodland, on Sunday, Jan. 29.

Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) Captain Dave Baer said he’s heard that it’s been a busier year than usual, but – even though the department has been “exceptionally busy” lately – season just doesn’t impact the police force as much as it impacts the hospitality industry or other businesses, he said.

“Last year our statistics in August were equal to or exceeded our statistics in January, so while this concept of ‘season’ may hold true for restaurants and hotels and other folks, it doesn’t necessarily hold true for us,” he said. “We may see different types of activities that are seasonal,” like more boats on the water in the winter or more accidents during the rainy season, “(but) I don’t know that we see the same seasonal flux that other people experience.”

Another thing the department doesn’t experience is a staffing change; contrary to popular belief, MIPD does not employ more officers during the winter months, Baer said.

“Our staffing does not change throughout the year,” he said. “There may be times, like during spring break, when we may use our staffing differently, but it doesn’t change.”

The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort is a different story; the island’s largest employer spent the entire season working on its $320 million renovation and re-branding as the luxury-tier JW, which has involved re-training existing staff and bringing new people on board, like executive chef Eric Vasta.

JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort’s director of sales and marketing Robert Pfeffer said it’s been a strong season for the hotel despite the changes it’s undergone; in fact, it’s because of those changes that business has been booming.

“We are having a phenomenal year and we’re up two percentage points in occupancy over last year,” he said. “From the minute we changed out the flag on our hotel, the call volume went up dramatically; the first six weeks of the year we saw double what it was the previous year.”

Marco Marriott general manager Rick Medwedeff unveils the new JW Marriott sign in front of the hotel Friday, Dec. 30, 2016. The Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa announced the completion of phase two of its $320 million multi-phase expansion and enhancement project as it converts from a Marriott-branded beach resort to a luxury tier JW Marriott-branded property.

Another factor that’s contributed to the Marriott’s success is how late Easter is this year, he said.

“Easter pretty much represents the end of peak season, and last year it was at the end of March,” Pfeffer said, “so the extra couple of weeks has really helped.”

But regardless of how great of a season it’s been, Pfeffer and the rest of the Marriott staff are already looking forward to next season when construction of the new Lanai Tower — the epicenter of the renovation project — will finally be complete.

“We are very much looking forward to getting the construction completed,” he said.

The new tower will include a 12,000-square-foot state-of-the-art indoor entertainment center, 94 adults-only rooms and over 100,000 square feet of meeting space, with up to 24-foot ceilings and extensive views of the Gulf of Mexico.