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Vero beachside having a busy summer season

Photo: A very busy summer at the Lemon Tree.

The trend toward busier summer seasons in Vero Beach is continuing and even accelerating this year, with bustling shops and restaurants, full hotels and record beach attendance during what used to be a sleepy part of the year.

“Costa d’Este has had a great summer so far, with business levels higher than we have seen in previous summer seasons,” says Amanda Aucoin, the Ocean Drive hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

“We’ve been full every day this summer,” says Jeanne Radlet, general manager at The Driftwood Resort for the past 30 years.

“This has been our busiest summer yet, with a lot more vacationers and more people moving down here,” says Marissa Young, manager of The Lemon Tree restaurant on Ocean Drive, across from Costa and Driftwood. “We have more customers this year than in previous years,” with most coming from other parts of Florida.

According to county records, summer tourism revenue from the bed tax has more than doubled during the past eight years. For example, a total of $273,047 in tourism revenue was collected during May, June and July in 2009. That total climbed to $568,853 last summer and the trend is continuing.

Bed tax revenue for May 2018 was $192,149, up 12.8 percent compared to $182,547 in May 2017, said Allison McNeal, director of tourism for Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. Occupancy rates for hotel and other resort housing were up 9.5 percent in June.

With all those visitors, Vero’s beaches were busier than ever, pulling teens, couples and families who also patronize beachside restaurants.

“June 2018 broke the record for having the largest attendance at the beach ever recorded in any month, with over 110,000 people within and near the guarded beaches [on Vero’s barrier island] since we started tracking attendance in 2011,” according to the Vero Beach Lifeguard Association. 

“The attendance record was shattered [with 10,000 more visitors than in any prior month] even though there were many afternoons in June when lightening and stormy weather caused beach patrons to cut their beach day short.”

July saw a new beach attendance record as well, with 92,000 visitors, up from the previous July high of 84,000 in 2017.

McNeal credits stronger promotion efforts and an increase in summer events and activities as driving forces behind increased summer tourism.

“I spend the majority of the marketing budget during the summer when we need tourism the most,” McNeal said. “We have focused heavily on earned media and press trips that have garnered major articles for the destination in the last several years. This year much of our advertising efforts have been focused in the Orlando market.”

The targeted marketing seems to be paying off.

Radlet said most of Driftwood’s summer customers are Florida residents, and Mary Jane Morton, manager of The Islander Inn on Ocean Drive, said many of her guests come from Orlando and other large Florida cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

“They just want to get away from the traffic, pollution, crime and all the craziness,” Morton said. “Vero Beach has clean neighborhoods, lots of convenient parking, and it’s safe and low-key. It’s a great place to relax . . . This summer we’ve been sold out almost every day.”

“Business has been outstanding,” agrees Vero Beach Hotel and Spa general manager Awet Sium.

“We’ve had a substantially better summer than last summer. So far so good. Customers are coming primarily from Florida – Sarasota, Tampa, Jacksonville, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. We also have customers from Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey. Summer travel with kids and families.”

Florida’s rapidly growing population – up more than 3 million in the past decade, from less than 18 million to more than 21 million – a full schedule of training camps and tournaments at Historic Dodgertown, a successful push by island hotels to attract weddings and family reunions and draw more locals to their bars and spas all are factors helping drive the increase in summer business.

Longtime island real estate broker Christine McLaughlin, who lives and works in Central Beach, says this summer has been the busiest ever. “You can’t find a parking spot on Ocean or Cardinal.”

“We’re very busy in the summer from mid-June through August [now],” says Radlet.

“The only time things slow down nowadays is after school resumes,” Morton adds. “By October the busy [winter] season has already started again.”