Jimmy Buffett concert gives hope to dismal rental season

posted on July 4, 2010

Pre-BP oil spill: Resort occupancy was 95 percent for July 4th at the beach.

Post-BP oil spill: Occupancy drops to 40 to 50.

First signs of life after BP: Jimmy Buffett concert July 11.

Rental agencies are hoping that Buffett fans will bring their margarita fixins’ to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach when the laid-back singer songwriter plays a free concert for 35,000 on the beach at the foot of Ala. 59.

Condominium and beach house rental managers got 12,500 of the tickets from tourism officials to use as incentives in the wake of oil spill from a BP PLC well and fouling local beaches.

“The tickets have definitely helped to promote business,” said Larry Wireman, developer of Caribe Resort and Turquoise Place condominium complexes in Orange Beach. “We’re down $700,000 worth of cancellations. If we do a couple more concerts this summer, we would almost survive.”

The Buffett concert is the first in a series that Gulf Shores officials hope to put together to lure visitors and publicize Alabama’s beaches.

Rental occupancy has plummeted to 20 percent or less in what is typically the peak rental season, managers said. To boost bookings, many condo owners are offering discounts of 40 to 50 percent, and most have eliminated the three-night rental minimum for condo units.

Tropical storm Alex pushed Buffett’s concert from July 1 to July 11, and rental agents scrambled to re-book guests and try to convince disappointed fans not to cancel completely.

So far, the free concert has boosted occupancy to 50 to 55 percent for next weekend, rental agents said last week.

“Book a room and get Buffett tickets” was the mantra. Some agencies offered tickets based on bedrooms — two for a one-bedroom unit and up to eight tickets for a four-bedroom unit.

Most of the rental guests will drive in from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas, agents said, but some diehard Buffett fans in the Midwest booked airfare to the Gulf. Some locals even booked rooms to get concert tickets.

“As many challenges as there have been for all of us in dealing with free concert and free tickets, anything we get out of this is better than what we were getting,” said David Bodenhamer, an owner of Young’s Suncoast Vacation Rentals in Gulf Shores, which handles almost 500 rental units.

Brett Robinson switched 600 rooms from July 1 to July 11. “It was a lot of chaos, but we’ve seen an increase in our occupancy and that was the whole purpose,” of the concert, said Marie Curren of Brett Robinson in Orange Beach, which has 2,061 rental units. “We need heads in the beds.”

Meyer Real Estate has leased 1,000 units for July 4th weekend, according to Sarah Kuzma of Meyer in Gulf Shores, which manages 1,750 rentals. About 10 percent of the agency’s rentals were canceled when Buffett’s concert was pushed back, but the rest stayed or rebooked for July 11, she said.

Kaiser Realty’s Parrot Head special gives guests a 25 percent discount on room bookings, said Emily Gonzalez of Kaiser in Gulf Shores, which has 675 rental properties. Twenty percent of Kaiser’s holiday weekend business was due to the concert, she said, and most of those are moving their rental days to the July 10-11 weekend.

Three percent of Spectrum Resorts bookings for July 4th were lost after the concert was postponed, and the holiday weekend occupancy is about 50 to 60 percent, according to Kathleen Williams, the company’s general manager. “Under the circumstances,” she said, “it’s decent.”

Spectrum manages units in Caribe, Turquoise and the 753-unit Beach Club on Fort Morgan.

People are waiting until the last minute to book rooms, said Bill Bender of Bender Realty in Gulf Shores, who reports rentals are down by 40 percent compared to this time last year.

“People don’t want to book too far out due to the oil,” he said. He predicts bookings will continue to drop as the oil spill continues to hit the beaches. “There’s no end in sight. Quite frankly, the beach is why they come here.”


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