Key West Pulls the Crowds

Key West Pulls the Crowds

Booming visitor numbers show that a Key West vacation features on more and more wish lists all the time. In 2023, Florida Keys visitors stayed an average of 5.3 days, and from an estimated 4,451,967 overnight visitors to the Keys, Key West pulled in 46.47%. Not bad for a tiny island!

Small Island, Big Attraction

Local Floridians love the Florida Keys, as demonstrated by the 49.43% share of overnight visits they accounted for in 2023, with the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area being the source of 23.73% of home state visitors to the Keys. But as anyone familiar with Key West knows, our small city draws people from around the world, all coming for a taste of the culturally eclectic, slightly eccentric slice of tropical paradise that is uniquely Key West.

The numbers don’t lie, and they describe the perennial popularity of our small island, with January 2024 setting a new record for combined arrival/departure counts at Key West International Airport. To handle demand, in the first quarter of 2024, airlines serving the island increased their capacity by 20.8% compared to the same quarter of 2023.

United, Delta, American and other airlines added some new island flights and also increased seat capacity by using larger aircraft on existing Key West routes. Several companies extended formerly seasonal flight schedules through the summer months. American Airlines leads in capacity growth, adding second daily flights out of Dallas/Fort Worth and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C. American is also scheduling a fifth daily flight to Charlotte North Carolina. Silver Airways is adding additional flights out of Orlando and Tampa to serve home state visitors and connecting passengers.

In a recent update delivered to the Monroe County Board of Commissioners, Airport Director Richard Strickland gave a favorable report on the airlines’ capacity increase strategies: “The airlines are doing what we’d like them to do, which is increasing the size of the aircraft. It brings in more passengers and increases demand but does not increase the number of flights.” Increasing the size of aircraft servicing the island rather than the number of daily flights, currently averaging around 33 per day, is the more environmentally sustainable move, and helps preserve our quality of life here in the Southernmost City.

Airport Upgrades Coming Online

The air service ramp-up comes at a good time, because 2024 looks to be on pace to set new records at the Key West Airport, with passenger numbers likely to exceed the 1.3 million airport users logged in 2023. Already January 2024 has established a 16% lead over the same month last year, with combined arrival/departure numbers hitting 147,175. That’s 20,217 more passengers than January 2023.

To help handle the traffic, the airport is undertaking a $114 million expansion and improvement project that kicked off in October 2022 and is planned for completion in 2026. The Concourse A Terminal Expansion Program features an entire new concourse with an extended post-security passenger bridge connecting it to the existing main terminal. The expansion brings increased capacity with eight additional boarding jet bridges, expanded baggage handling space and capability, and an larger four-lane security checkpoint with more of the cutting-edge TSA Computed Tomography scanning technology that was recently installed at the airport.

The increased daily passenger capacity and faster, more convenient departure and arrival processing will combine with a completely new set of airport amenities and concessions to make for a great airport user experience. Plans call for a new Conch Flyer restaurant along with a Chili’s, plus a sports bar, pizza parlor, and Cuban coffee café.

Key West is becoming the place to be, with summer visitor numbers now rivaling the traditional winter snowbird crowds. Our upgraded international airport puts America’s Caribbean paradise within easy reach of more island dreamers than ever while also offering locals easy connections to US mainland destinations and beyond.

A Taxing Time

Holidays and other special days of the year are always fun to look forward to. But there are other days that get marked on our calendars for all the wrong reasons. Monday April 15 is probably not the most eagerly anticipated “holiday” of the year, but Key West homeowners should be careful not to get so distracted by the due date for Federal and State taxes that they forget some important local deadlines.

Homeowners who pay their 2023 property tax bill by February 29 get a 1% discount. If you mail in payment, be sure to get it postmarked by the deadline. Try paying online via E-Check—it’s easy and gives you instant date confirmation. Be sure to choose E-Check direct withdrawal from you bank account to avoid credit card convenience fees.

A related matter to be aware of is the Florida Homestead Exemption. The Homestead Exemption offers significant property tax savings, and is a critical piece of business for new Key West homeowners to check off. The online application process is easy, but you can also drop in to the Monroe County Property Appraiser Office at 500 Whitehead Street in Key West if you would like some in-person help.

Be sure to apply in your first year of ownership. This is important because any time there is a change in property ownership, all values (Market, Assessed, & Taxable) are reset to the market values for that year. The reset also happens when a Homestead Exemption is filed, so if you were to wait a couple years, the values are likely to reset higher, resulting in increased tax liability. Not good!

Long Live the Republic!

All this talk of taxes naturally stirs the old rebellious spirit of 1776, and there is no better place to set your inner revolutionary free than Key West during the 42nd birthday of the Southernmost nation. Remember to mark your calendar for the 42nd annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration planned for April 19–28. There will be plenty of friendly frolics and lots of the great off-beat vibes that this island is known for, with more than 20 events and fun for all ages on the schedule.

Be on hand at Mallory Square Friday April 19 at 5 pm as conch shells trumpet proudly for the official raising of the colors and opening ceremony. Then partake of some revolutionary spirits at the kick-off party and conch shell blowing contest hosted by Schooner Wharf Bar.

The island’s unique Independence Celebration would also be a great occasion for shopping our Key West real estate market. It is holding nice and steady, with Key West and Lower Keys MLS January Closings sitting at 63 listings closed from Jan 01—Jan 31. Take advantage of one of the new, convenient Key West flights and come on down for a visit with your local Key West real estate experts at Bascom Grooms Real Estate.

Bascom Grooms Real Estate—1110 Truman Avenue, Key West Florida—(305) 295-7511—