Tourism flourishes in Florida Keys despite shortage of workers

Seven Mile Bridge run to be held on Saturday

DUCK KEY, Fla. – There is traffic on U.S. 1 from Miami-Dade County to Duck Key, an oceanside community in Monroe County. Tourists have been flocking there during the coronavirus pandemic.

The island is home to the Hawks Cay Resort, which has hotel rooms and villas about a half-mile from Duck Key Marina in the middle Florida Keys.

From diving to fishing, there is plenty to do outdoors. The secluded resort’s amenities include five pools and an ocean-fed saltwater lagoon with bottle-nose dolphins.

“Now we are seeing numbers exceed the numbers of 2019,” said Sheldon Suga about the tourists who are flocking to the resort.

Suga is the resort’s vice president regional managing director. He said the increase started in January. This week the property was at more than 80% occupancy.

Hawks Cay Resort guests said the protection of the COVID-19 vaccine was a great motivator to travel. Carolyn Peters, of Ohio, said she and her husband are celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary.

“This is our first trip since the pandemic,” Peters said.

Suga said he is having trouble finding workers.

“That is throughout the state,” Suga said about the staffing shortage in the hospitality industry. “A lot of people left the industry to find employment when we went down in March.”

Runners race on the Seven Miles Bridge in Monroe County. The event was canceled last year due to the pandemic. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

There are signs that Monroe County is recovering gradually. Authorities are allowing the 40th annual Seven Mile Bridge run to happen at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday. The Marathon Runners Club’s annual race raises funds for youth activities.

The pandemic prompted the cancelation of the event last year. Registration is usually limited to about 1,500 entrants. This year there will be fewer participants to allow for social distancing, and runners are required to wear a face mask.

“Once they hit the start, they can drop their mask,” said Ginger Sayer, the director of the event.

The traditional post-race party was canceled to avoid a crowd that could spread the coronavirus. Sayer said they cannot encourage race participants to congregate.

“We are not going to have guitar playing. We are not going to give away beer. Hopefully, things will get better and back to normal for next year,” Sayer said.

Monroe County leaders credit the compliance with the use of face masks for keeping COVID-19 cases low. Also, about 40% of the residents have received the COVID-19 vaccine, officials said.


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About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."