Friday, March 11, 2005

Spring Break Prep

Our vacation rental team members at Meyer Real Estate are focused on preparing for the Spring Break customers who begin arriving on Saturday, March 19th. This means we say goodbye to our winter guests, who we affectionately call Snowbirds. A large portion of the winter customers we accommodated this year returned to their northern homes the first day of March. The remaining group have been enjoying 18 more days of fun in the sun, great food, shopping, golf, fishing and visiting unique area sites.

Most of these customers will depart our area of the coast, namely Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores, & Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida by driving thru the state of Alabama on Interstate 65. Ironically our spring guests who arrive on the same day these winter customers leave will access our area mostly via Interstate 65. These customers pass one another on this major highway artery and never know how connected to our beach each of them are on their journey.

This will be my 29th year to observe and participate in the spring break vacation rental business. Over the years I've seen thousands of families migrate to our coast for that first beach experience of the year. Since most families come from the frozen northern states they are usually prematurely dressed for the warm weather. Or perhaps they do feel the warmth of our southern climate more accutely than we do as residents because they are accustomed to such cold weather.

Alabama residents comprise another substantial portion of the spring break group since the entire school system in Alabama has spring break the week of March 19th-27 with the exception of Mobile County. These customers too arrive mostly via Interstate 65.

Even though our coastal area is buzzing with reconstruction and beach renourishment the customers who love our area are returning this spring to familiar territory.

For example, when it comes to shopping the Tanger Outlet Center is open and ready to serve the shopping needs of the most die hard shopper with 120 popular stores. A new upscale, lifestyle shopping venue, Eastern Shore Centre, has opened since last year. It's located in Daphne at the Malbis exit off Interstate 10, which is only about 45 minutes from the beach.

Great seafood served in a comfortable, relaxed setting is the style of our eating establishments. Since the Hurricane came along and challenged our area businesses six months ago, we have seen the return of 64% of our local restaurants. So we fully expect our customers this spring to either find that their favorite spot for food has opened or if not we expect they will find a new favorite.

The Track Family Recreation Center reopened shortly after the hurricane and they have all the fun and games of previous years. There are 2 kiddie go-cart tracks and three more challenging ones for the big kids and adults, plus a great arcade, bumper boats, other kiddie rides, mini-golf and for the ultimate thrill the "Skycoaster." My son, who is a junior in high school, has spent his last three summers working at The Track. He's a huge fan of the Skycoaster but it isn't an experience I ever wish to try.

The amusement portion of Waterville has also reopened this month, giving our visitors another choice for daytime and evening entertainment.

So, next week at work will be one of prepping for spring break. Making sure all the properties are cleaned, inspected and ready to go. On the big arrival day of March 19th there will be a number of properties that will experience what we refer to in the hospitality industry as "turn-arounds", meaning the departing guest is scheduled to leave at 10:00 a.m. and the property must be rent-ready for the arriving guest at 3:00 p.m. Our teams are up to this challenge and actually the process is quite amazing.

The energy of preparing for our spring customers is stimulating. We have worked hard to prepare these guests for what they will experience during this interim time, as our coast undergoes a rebuilding phase that will result in a more impressive resort community. There will be inconveniences that we will all experience but we trust that our returning customers understand that 2005 is an unusual year. However, the many features our loyal visitors love about the coast are still evident and enjoyable.

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