Local Resorts Make Condé Nast Traveler’s 2019 List

top resortsThree local resorts have been honored by Condé Nast Traveler readers as part of the magazine’s readers’ choice list of the top 30 resorts in Florida.

The Zota Beach Resort, Ritz-Carlton Sarasota and The Resort at Longboat Key Club all made the magazine’s 2019 list released this week. Condé Nast Traveler readers voted their favorite Florida resorts outside of the Keys and the Orlando area to make the rankings.

The Zota Beach Resort at 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive in Longboat Key snagged the list’s 15th spot. The hotel, formerly known as the the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort, underwent renovations and added a new 84-room tower in 2018.

The name “Zota” was unveiled in 2015, and at the time owner Ocean Properties explained the name change like this:

“Zota is believed to be a native word meaning ‘blue waters.’ The word ‘zara’ may be a Spanish reference to Sahara-like sands, and as the name of the area evolved over time, Longboat Key and the surrounding area became known as ‘Zara Zota,’” or “Sahara by the blue waters.”

“It is an honor to receive this recognition from Condé Nast Traveler readers. Our team is proud of this recognition and hope to continue exceeding expectations every day,” Roy Padgett, general manager of Zota Beach Resort, said in an emailed statement. “We are incredibly thankful for our guests and want to ensure a memorable experience happens with every visit.”

Also on the list is the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota at No. 18. The Ritz, a luxury hotel in downtown Sarasota overlooking the bay, has 266 guest rooms, a private beach on Lido Key, a spa, a golf club, about 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom (the largest in Sarasota) and two restaurants — Jack Dusty and Ridley’s Porch.

The Resort at Longboat Key Club came in at No. 20. The resort, just north of St. Armands Circle at 220 Sands Point Road, has 218 guest rooms and suites, a spa, on-site dining, tennis and golf.

The No. 1 resort on the Condé Nast List is the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa.

Other nearby resorts on the list are:

Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande (No. 3)

the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina in Fort Myers (No. 4)

Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach (No. 8)

The Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach (No. 9)

LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort in Naples (No. 14)

The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club (No. 19)

Sarasota Herald-Tribune October 9, 2019

Lido Sandcastle Resort – Lido Key

Lido Sandcastle

Plans to transform the aging Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach — long known as the Helmsley Sandcastle — into a luxury contemporary resort were rubber-stamped by the Sarasota City Commission this week.

The commission unanimously approved plans and a rezoning request to redevelop the 176-room hotel, built in 1953, into a flashy four- or five-star, 304-room resort spanning two curved towers that will be eight and nine stories tall. The amenities are expected to include valet parking, a 10,000-square-foot ballroom, 5,000-square-foot junior ballroom, 7,000 square feet of meeting space, a spa, private pool with cabanas and a restaurant and bar that will be open to the public.

The planned resort, which will keep the same moniker, will replace its aging and significantly smaller predecessor on the roughly six-acre beachside site on Ben Franklin Drive near Lido’s south end. Built in 1953 and expanded in the ’60s, the resort is one of the oldest beachfront hotels in Southwest Florida.

It was time for a major face lift, project representatives said.

“This is the only remaining obsolete hotel of this magnitude on Lido Beach,” said John Patterson, a lawyer representing the project. “It’s desperately in need of being torn down and starting over again.”

The existing hotel has the unique distinction of having once been owned by a multimillionaire Maltese dog named “Trouble,” who was bequeathed the hotel by his and the resort’s longtime owners, New York billionaires Harry and Leona Helmsley. But after the Helmsleys and eventually “Trouble” died, it briefly appeared the hotel would be sold and turned into luxury condominiums, much to the chagrin of local tourism officials who wanted one of the few remaining beachfront hotels to stay.

That became reality when a Delray Beach hotel group that also owned the Longboat Key Club purchased the property in early 2014 for $27.4 million, according to property records. They then announced the hotel would remain, re-branded as the Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach.

“My vision for the Sandcastle is to be an exciting, unique, fresh and alluring experience, both for guests and residents of the area,” said architect James Wurst of Coral Gables-based Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates.

Before granting approval, several commissions expressed concerns that traffic could back up onto Benjamin Franklin Drive and that parking could be inadequate.

“If this hotel is what it claims to be, parking is going to be a problem,” Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said.

City staff and developers assured the commission its mandatory valet will keep cars moving and the resort will have 601 parking spaces — 19 more than the city requires. Plus, more people use car services such as Uber and Lyft to get around and other hotels in the area typically provide free transportation around town, should guests at other lodging attend an event at the redesigned Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach, project representatives said.

Developers still don’t have an estimated cost for the likely pricey project. They expect the design and permitting process to last up to two years, with construction taking at least 18 months. The resort will be operated by Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties, which owns more than 100 hotels in North America, including Lido Beach Resort.

Sarasota Herald Tribune November 21, 2018

How to Fall in Love with Sarasota

Boats on the beachIt starts—as scientists tell us all life did—with the sea. Standing on dazzling white sand, looking out over the vast Gulf of Mexico, you fall in love with Sarasota. And if you happen to be doing that at sunset, when the mirror-calm water shimmers with every imaginable shade of pink and gold and purple, you fall even harder. It happened to me and my friends and neighbors, and if this is your very first visit, I can pretty much guarantee it will happen to you.

But if, like me and so many thousands of others, you end up following your heart to make your home on these shores, you soon realize that our city offers all sorts of riches beyond our beaches, from world-class arts, sports and outdoor adventures to intriguing shops and a lively dining scene. All that makes Sarasota a great place to live as well as to visit—although I confess you can get so caught up in your everyday life that, as longtime lovers often do, you neglect what drew you together in the first place.

I live just a few blocks from the beach, but too many nights I come home tired and close the door behind me. And it’s easy to fill every weekend day with errands, chores and family and social events. “We need to go to the beach,” my boyfriend and I tell each other—for days, weeks, sometimes even months.

And then, finally, one night after work, we do. Walking over the dune, we feel the air change. It’s softer, fresher, tinged with salt. We take off our shoes and the sand squeaks between our toes. We sit close to the water, holding hands and watching tiny sandpipers scurry along the edges of each splashing wave with uncanny precision. By the time that glowing sun has slipped into the Gulf, we’re lost in wonder, in love all over again with this magical sliver where land meets sea, the enchanted zone that’s the heart and soul of Sarasota.

Start or rekindle your love affair with Sarasota.

Sarasota Magazine, November 30, 2016

More Hotel Rooms Planned for Downtown Sarasota

Developers aren’t losing their interest in building hotels in downtown Sarasota, for a Maryland woman has filed preliminary plans for a 118-room hotel on Fruitville Road.

On Aug. 16, Nancy Vu submitted an application for a meeting with the city’s Development Review Committee regarding a hotel project on a 0.67-acre site between Central and Cocoanut Avenues. Vu, who is listed as the contract purchaser for the properties at 1351 and 1365 Fruitville Road, declined multiple requests for comment.

A LinkedIn profile lists Nancy Vu as the senior director of asset management for Choice Hotels International. The company owns several hotel brands, including Comfort Inn & Suites, Quality Inn and Econo Lodge. The plans do not list a specific hotel flag.

Downtown Sarasota New Construction Choice Hotels

The proposal is the latest in a series of hotels planned for downtown. The site is across the street from where Jebco Ventures intends to build a 163-room Hampton Inn & Suites. Starting with the 138-room Aloft hotel on Ringling Boulevard, nearly 1,300 new hotel rooms have been proposed for the heart of the city.

That’s not to say all of those rooms will come to fruition. Already, plans for a 120-room Kimpton hotel at U.S. 301 and Main Street have fallen through. Other projects, such as the redevelopment of the former Quay site, are awaiting city approval.

Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, said financing for hotel projects is starting to tighten nationally — though that doesn’t necessarily reflect the market conditions in Sarasota.

It’s impossible to know how full those new hotel rooms will be once they’re all built. Right now, Haley said, Sarasota has a 78% occupancy rate through June — an all-time high, putting the county in a position to improve on 2015’s 73% occupancy rate.

Still, the visitors’ bureau is already working to ensure the hotel market doesn’t take a dip once the new rooms come on line.

“We’re really expanding our meeting and group sales efforts,” Haley said. “What we really need to do is focus on that business during the week.”

Sarasota Observer August 26, 2016

Siesta Key Ranked in New Top 10 Beaches List

Siesta Key Ranks No 2 in the 2016 Top Beaches in the US



Dr. Stephen Leatherman– (Dr Beach)–has come out with his 2016 list of America’s Best Beaches, and Siesta Key Beach is No. 2.

“With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over,” Leatherman writes on his site. “Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters ideal for swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent, due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the south. This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”

“We’re really thrilled,” says Lynn Hobeck Bates, communications manager for Visit Sarasota County. “It’s not often that a former No. 1 beach makes it back on the list, so when we saw it this morning we were surprised and excited for the exposure. I think that the new renovations, which have made the beach even better, have to come to Dr. Beach’s attention.”

“I never dreamed we’d be back on the list, so I am just thrilled for the recognition,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism promoting agency.

Leatherman is an internationally known coastal scientist who has published 20 books and hundreds of scientific articles and reports about storm impacts, coastal erosion and ways to improve beach health and safety.

Lately, he’s putting more emphasis on environmental management and beach safety.

This year’s No. 1 beach is Maui’s Kapula Bay Beach, but two other Florida beaches also made their way into the top 10: Grayton Beach State Park in the Panhandle, and Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater.

Dr. Beach’s Top 10 beaches of 2016
1. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve; Oahu, Hawaii
2. Siesta Beach
3. Kapalua Bay Beach; Maui, Hawaii
4. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach; Outer Banks of North Carolina
5. Coast Guard Beach; Cape Cod, Massachusetts
6. Grayton Beach State Park; Florida Panhandle
7. Coronado Beach; San Diego, California
8. Coopers Beach; Southampton, New York
9. Caladesi Island State Park; Clearwater
10. Beachwalker Park; Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Sarasota Magazine, Orlando Sentinel May 26. 2016

Florida Sets Another Tourism Record

Florida TourismThe broader economy might be throwing out some mixed signals, but Florida tourism was showing no signs of waning during the first three months of 2016.

While the nation’s gross domestic product saw a mere 0.5 percent bump in annual growth rate during the first quarter, and as retailers struggled with a customer base that is more prone to save and to spend its money on experience that material goods, the Sunshine State continued to welcome droves of visitors at a record pace.

There were 29.8 million tourists in the first three months of the year — the largest ever first quarter, and a 4.8 percent spike over the same period last year, data released on Monday by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency, showed.

The average number of direct travel-related jobs in the first quarter also reached a record 1.23 million, up 3.8 percent from the same period in 2015.

Some experts expect those increases to continue, even if they are not the double digit hikes that the state has seen in the past. Consumers are still spending on fun, even if they may be tightening their belts elsewhere.

“You see a willingness to spend for those experiences,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, the community’s tourism promotions agency. “We certainly see it with grandparents willing to splurge on a great condo unit knowing that kids are going to come down for the weekend.”

This kind of growth is a prime example of why tourism agencies need to keep promoting their areas even in good economic times, said Elliott Falcione, executive director for Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Visit Florida has pushed into markets that it wasn’t in five years ago. Even if the economy falters domestically or in an international feeder market, the increases in visitors and dollars spent will still come because the state agency is constantly drawing new people to Florida.

“Diversification is a key word when you talk about preparing for darker times,” Falcione said.

Haley expects the growth will continue albeit more slowly.

Sarasota County, for example, saw another record-breaking March for tourist tax collection, but it only came with a 1 percent increase in the number of visitors when compared with 2015. The upcoming presidential election, too, will limit what the agency can do as far as advertising, she said.

Meanwhile, the weak Canadian loonie did mostly stall growth from the Great White North, one of Southwest Florida’s largest international feeder markets. Travel through January from Canada was only up 0.4 percent.

“We haven’t seen a dip,” Haley said. “What you are seeing is continued growth but at a much lower rate. We’re seeing some of the international and national things impact us.”

Still, nearly 30 million visitors already have come to Florida this year, and last year the state exceeded its goal and welcomed 105 million people. The Sunshine State also is expected to topple its record again this year and with 115 million visitors, Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement on Monday.

But it’s not all about putting new heads in hotel beds.

Visit Florida announced in September the agency a plan to bring in $100 billion in annual visitor spending by 2020. That means attracting visitors willing to stay long and spend more on Florida’s luxuries. These consumers with larger pocketbooks can boost the industry without necessarily diluting the quality of an area.

The Bradenton area targets households with an income greater than $125,000, Falcione said.

Consumers in that market are more likely to spend money on travel even in tougher times. They may limit their annual trips, but it is important to attract a market that will come back to Florida even when times are tough.

That old Florida feel in the southwestern part of the state is often an escape from the rat race of everyday life. It’s the kind of place people want to be even when times are tough, he said.

“Every day in life is more challenging in society today,” Falcione said. “People are always on technology and high energy, you never get a chance to break away. It makes our destination quite appealing.”

Herald Tribune 5/16/2016

Florida Breaks Tourism Record for Fifth Consecutive Year

105 million people travel to Sunshine State in 2015, governor says

florida tourismFlorida welcomed 105 million visitors last year, making 2015 the fifth consecutive year where tourism records were broken.

The new record exceeded the previous high of 98.5 million in 2014 by 6.6 percent, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion arm.

The total number of visitors to the Sunshine State last year exceeded the populations of most of the world’s countries. It was about 3 million more people, for example, than inhabit the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the average number of direct travel-related jobs in 2015 also was a record high, with 1,199,200 Floridians employed in the tourism industry, up 4.7 percent compared with the same period last year.

“Tourism plays an important role in supporting our economy, and we will continue to make strategic investments in the tourism industry to keep Florida on track to becoming first for jobs,” said Gov. Rick Scott, who revealed the preliminary tourist count Thursday at Walt Disney World in Orlando. “With five consecutive record years for tourism, it is time to set our goal even higher, and I look forward to welcoming 115 million visitors to the Sunshine State this year.”

Visit Florida estimates that a record 89.8 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida in 2015, reflecting an 8 percent increase from 2014. Estimates also show that 11.2 million overseas visitors and 4 million Canadians came to the Sunshine State last year. The number of people boarding planes at 18 Florida airports during 2015 increased 8.2 percent when compared with the previous year, representing a record 6.1 million more passengers than in 2014.


The state’s success wasn’t a surprise to Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County and a board member for Visit Florida. Once Sarasota County saw that it had reached its own goal of welcoming more than a million visitors in 2015, she suspected the state as a whole would topple its goal.

“It’s nice to know that Sarasota played its part in that goal,” Haley said. “We know that first and foremost for us, a visitor has to be interested in Florida. Then we can make our case that the best place to be is Sarasota.” The state continues to draw more tourists, but Florida promoters and local agencies have shifted their goals for the future, Haley said. Lately, there’s been a greater emphasis on attracting visitors with a higher spending power and bringing in more tourists during the off season. Visit Sarasota County, specifically, has focused on attracting sporting events in the late spring, summer and early fall to boost tourism in the slower seasons.

“We as a state have shifted our focus,” Haley said. “I think it’s a very important shift.”

Locally, the Baltimore Orioles released an economic impact analysis by Sarasota County government this week suggesting that the team’s activities and presence at the Ed Smith Stadium and Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex generated about $81 million in Southwest Florida in the past year. That figure exceeds the $40 million to $50 million estimate reported by the state of Florida in a 2009 analysis of communities that host Major League Baseball Spring Training. The Orioles’ year-round presence, job creation, economic activity, commerce and direct club spending also contributed substantially to the results.

State Collaboration

Five years of record-setting visitation does not happen by accident, said Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe, who credited the success to the agency’s global marketing strategy that focused on maximizing the economic impact of Florida tourism.

The collaboration with destination marketing organizations and the money the state has continued to pump into Visit Florida has made all the difference, said Elliott Falcione, executive director for Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“You’ve got to thank the Legislature and the governor for believing in Visit Florida,” Falcione said. “It’s now proven four years in a row that as the budget increases that visitation increase.”

In pushing to continue the increases, Scott has asked lawmakers to set aside $79.3 million for Visit Florida in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The funding would be an increase of $6 million from the current year. The House and Senate have each budgeted $80 million for Visit Florida. Of that money, the House has proposed that $1.8 million go to a contract with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to craft an in-state tourism campaign. The Senate has pitched $2 million for the marketing contract with the Tallahassee-based hospitality trade association. Tourism and recreation taxable sales for Florida as a whole increased every month year-over-year from January through November 2015, representing an 8.6 percent increase over the same period in 2014.

The state is aiming to bring in $100 billion in total tourism related spending by 2020.


Total 2015 Visitors: 105 million, up 6.6%

Total Floridians employed in tourism: 1,199,200, up 4.7%

Domestic visitors: 89.8 million, up 8%

Overseas visitors: 11.2 million

Canadian visitors: 4 million

Number of people boarding planes at 18 Florida airports: 74.3 million, up 8.2%

Taxable sales increase January to November 2015: 8.6%

Average daily room rate increase: 5.9%

Number of rooms sold increase: 4.5%

Average room occupancy rate: 72 percent, up 3.2 percentage points

Source: Visit Florida

Herald Tribune February 18, 2016

Florida Breaks Tourism Record in 2015

welcome to florida-1The Sunshine State welcomed an estimated 79.1 million visitors during the first nine months of 2015, the most of any such period in Florida’s history.

The nine-month count was a 5.5 percent increase when compared with the same period in 2014.

The third quarter of this year saw an estimated 25.5 million visitors, an increase of 6.8 percent, according to a report from Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotions agency, released on Thursday.

The average number of direct travel-related jobs in the third quarter also was a record high, at 1,195,400, 5.2 percent more than a year ago.

Gov. Rick Scott has set a goal of drawing more than 100 million tourists to Florida this year, and that now seems within fairly easy reach.

Visit Florida estimated that there were 22.1 million domestic travelers to Florida in the third quarter, an 8.2 percent increase. There were another 3.4 million international visitors.

Preliminary figures for the nine-month period show 67.4 million domestic visitors, 8.3 million overseas visitors and 3.4 million Canadians.

Tourism and recreation taxable sales for Florida increased year-over-year for January through August, which was the last month reported, by 8.2 percent, while the average daily room rate rose 5.1 percent. The occupancy rate for Florida hotels increased 3.6 percent and the demand in rooms sold grew 4.8 percent compared with a year ago.

“The continued growth of tourism for the third quarter, including a record number of tourism-related jobs, puts Florida on pace for a fifth consecutive record breaking year. These records also emphasize the power of tourism as an economic leader and job creator for the state,” John Tomlin, Visit Florida’s chairman, said in a statement.

Local data has been equally impressive, with Sarasota County collected more than $19.02 million from its 5 percent tax on overnight accommodations during the recently ended fiscal year. That amounts to a 27 percent increase in those revenues from just two years ago. Meanwhile, that same revenue source in Manatee County was $11.74 million, a 30 percent jump from two years ago.

For the first time, too, Sarasota County broke 1 million visitors in paid lodgings.

In the July-to-September quarter, the number of visitors to Sarasota County was up 2.3 percent and their spending grew by 3.8 percent.

Herald Tribune November 2015


greetings-from-floridaFlorida tourism is on pace to pass the highly anticipated 100-million visitor mark for 2015, with more than 54.1 million visitors coming to the Sunshine State in the first half of 2015.

New quarterly numbers released Wednesday from Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm, show a 5.8 increase from last year and the highest amount of visitors of any six months in the state’s history.

In just the second quarter of 2015 ending June 30, 25.8 million visitors came to Florida, an increase of 5.5 percent from the same point in 2014.

With the fifth record-breaking year, the higher about of tourism is also bringing a record average number of direct travel-related jobs.

In a prepared statement from Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s tourism industry now employs 1,213,500 people – a number up 4.9 percent from the previous year.

Encouraging tourism helps Florida become the “best place in the world for jobs,” Scott said. “We look forward to exceeding our goal of 100 million visitors to Florida this year.”

Visit Florida also estimates more than 2.7 million overseas visitors, 1.2 million Canadians, and 21.9 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida in the second quarter of 2015, a 6.8 percent increase.

Totals for the first half of 2015 show 45.7 million domestic visitors, 5.5 million overseas visitors and 2.9 million Canadians have come to the Sunshine State, an increase of 6.7 percent, 1.7 percent and 1.1 percent respectively. Top U.S. states for Florida tourism are New York (10 percent), Georgia (8 percent), Texas (6 percent) and Illinois (5 percent).

Most international visitors in 2014 came from Canada (4.2 million), followed by the United Kingdom (1.6 million) and Brazil (1.6 million).

Continued growth of tourism, as well as tourism-related jobs, is putting Florida on track for a fifth consecutive record-breaking year, said Visit Florida Board of Directors Chairman John Tomlin. He emphasized the power of tourism as an economic job creator, crediting the vision of Scott, the Legislature and his staff for “world-class strategies and execution.”

As the number of people visiting Florida increases, so does the amount collected in taxes on sales from recreation and related activities. From January through May 2015, the state enjoyed a 9.0 percent increase in tax revenue.

Visit Florida also estimates the average daily room rate (ADR) for the second quarter of 2015 rose 4.7 percent, with occupancy rates for Florida hotels increasing 2.9 percent and the demand for rooms sold grew 4.4 percent compared to the same period last year.

“This continued growth does not happen by accident,” said Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe, who thanked Scott and the Legislature for their “unparalleled support.”

Tampa Tribune August 19, 2015