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As Biketoberfest looms, hoteliers, merchants, visitors expect big turnout in Daytona Beach

Published in General News

It was quiet on Main Street this past week when Dan and Sue Phillips started their Biketoberfest celebration more than a week early with a few drinks on the deck at Boot Hill Saloon. But they didn’t expect it to stay that way for long.

“Next week this time, it’ll be busy,” said Dan Phillips, 68, a retiree from Daytona Beach who took his Harley-Davidson Road Glide out for an early-bird preview. “They’ll start coming in this weekend.”

That prediction echoes the optimistic forecasts of hoteliers, merchants and tourism officials with high expectations for potentially record-setting attendance at this year’s Biketoberfest, the four-day motorcycle event that officially shifts into gear on Thursday.

A combination of declining numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and continuing pent-up travel demand that has powered a record-setting summer tourism season are coming together to set the scene for a welcome invasion of motorcycles and the people who love them.

“I’m hearing good reports,” said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County. He predicts “a better than average Biketoberfest” powered primarily by visitors from the Sunshine State and other regional spots in Georgia and the Southeast. “I think people will have a good time.

For Dan and Sue Phillips, the early birds at Boot Hill Saloon, the scope of the event’s appeal already stretches further than that.

“We have friends coming in from Cincinnati, Pennsylvania and Virginia,” Dan said. “They didn’t get to come to Bike Week because of COVID, so this will be a big thing. People have been looking forward to this all year.”

Likewise, Phillips and his wife have only recently started emerging from home for trips such as the Boot Hill Saloon excursion, he said.

“With the COVID, we’ve been staying in a lot,” Dan said. “Now, with it down, we feel like we can start getting out.”

No COVID restrictions at Biketoberfest 

That easing of concern is mirrored by the City of Daytona Beach’s approach to the event. For the first time since the pandemic took hold, Daytona Beach will host one of its marquee biker events without any mandated COVID restrictions by the city.

That’s a significant milestone compared with the approach to the event a year ago, when city commissioners concerned about COVID-19 decided not to approve the Biketoberfest 2020 permits that turn typically quiet corridors into party hot spots with outdoor bands and vendors.

Crowd estimates for the event range from 100,000 to 125,000 annually, according to the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Earlier this year, Bike Week 2021 unfolded with 50% capacity limits inside bars and employees encouraging them to use hand sanitizer and wear masks.  

Now, no such guidelines apply to Biketoberfest.

“We’ve been in this pandemic and we sort of know how to govern ourselves as individuals,” said Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry. “You have to respect people’s individual rights.”

For Main Street businesses, busy Biketoberfest is good news

The decision was applauded by Main Street merchants.

“As far as traffic, I think it’s going to be one of the busiest events we’ve had in a long, long time,” said Tom Caffrey, co-owner of The World’s Most Famous Brewery, the Main Street watering hole previously known as Pallet Pub.

“People just want to get out and have fun,” Caffrey said. “I think they have finally come to terms that COVID is here to stay and it’s not going away, but it’s your choice to make and everybody just decides to deal with it in their own way.”

That feeling was echoed by Johnny Sanchez, owner of John’s Rock ‘N’ Ride, the Grateful Dead-infused gift shop that has been a fixture at 817 Main Street for decades.

“No matter how many people are worried about masks or no masks, vaccinated or not vaccinated, life goes on,” Sanchez said. “Biketoberfest is going on and that’s a good thing.”

Across the street at Biker Brothers T-shirt and souvenir shop, owner Danny Yanesh has stocked extra inventory in anticipation of big crowds, he said.

“You can see them already flowing in,” Yanesh said. “I think it will be a record number.”

COVID guidelines still important

Although the event will unfold without restrictions, those attending still should use good judgment in following protocols and COVID guidelines, said Dr. Cindy Prins, epidemiologist and assistant dean of educational affairs at the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions.

The risk of COVID transmission at such a mass gathering depends on a variety of factors including vaccination status, individual health issues and the kind of activities involved, Prins said.

“One thing for folks to focus on is being outside more than doing something indoors,” Prins said. “Transmission occurs much less frequently outdoors than indoors, so I would recommend a focus on that for people whether it’s concerts or even eating at a restaurant. Being outside is a much better option.”

At the same time, Prins is realistic enough to know that there still will be crowded scenes inside bars, restaurants, gift shops and other attractions.

“Keeping in mind the level of crowds, I would recommend that they (visitors) still have a mask with them and if they go indoors that they would wear that mask,” she said. “That’s really a good way to cut down on transmission.”

And she also recommends vaccination as the most effective way to combat the virus.

“I would also emphasize the benefit of being vaccinated, especially for older folks, but for anyone attending these kinds of events, really,” she said. “Get fully vaccinated and if you’re eligible for a booster dose make sure to get that. Even if it’s only a week before you go, it’s not a bad time to get it.”

As COVID numbers decline, rooms are filling up quickly at area hotels.

“We’re expecting a good event,” said Rob Burnetti, general manager of the 212-room Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores. “Occupancy is pretty level with what we were doing pre-COVID and rates are definitely at the highest levels I’ve seen in my time here doing the event. It’s a pretty good picture right now.”

At the same time, guests booking for Biketoberfest also have questions about how the pandemic might be affecting the event, Burnetti said.

“The people coming have a ton of questions,” he said. “What’s open? What’s closed? Stuff like that. We keep telling them we’re open for business. But people are still asking those questions.”

The Daytona Beach Area CVB, which presents the event, offers such information on the event’s official website, biketoberfest.org, said Lori Campbell Baker, the CVB’s executive director. Promotional materials emphasize visiting responsibly when it comes to COVID guidelines, she said.

“You’ll see that messaging throughout, and participating businesses will be working individually to ensure that guests feel safe during their visit,” Baker said. “We’re encouraging folks to get out into the open air and really experience the destination, via our featured fun and scenic rides.”

Bookings at hotels expected to be massive this year

The event also is expected to boost bookings at hotels owned and operated by Ormond Beach-based Premier Resorts & Management, said Domien Takx, the company’s vice president of operations.

“We already have 75%-80% of our rooms booked for the four-day period,” Takx said. “Rates are higher than last year, as we have been able to carry the momentum from the summer forward into the fall. Rates are certainly not as hot as they were in the summer months, but still respectably above last year.”

Premier properties include Hilton Garden Inn; Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites; Best Western Daytona Inn Seabreeze; and Ocean Breeze Club Hotel, all in Daytona Beach; as well as the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Daytona Beach Shores.

The outlook also is optimistic at One Daytona, across from Daytona International Speedway, where the event is driving business at The Daytona Marriott Autograph Collection hotel and the Fairfield Inn & Suites, said Nancy Guran, director of sales for both hotels.

“We are just about sold out and looking forward to a great weekend,” Guran said.

One Daytona also is the site of the event’s official welcome center.

When it comes to COVID, most guests are well acquainted with expectations related to masks, social distancing and other guidelines, she said.

“Having been doing it for months at this point, they have gotten used to wearing masks where those rules and or expectations arise,” she said.

On Beach Street, the phones already have been busy at Indian Motorcycle Daytona Beach with callers asking about inventory available for purchase during the event, said Jim Dickau, sales manager.

“We expect a record turn-out,” Dickau said. “We’re gearing up and we’ll have plenty of product to sell. There seems to be a lot of people coming down who want to get out of towns where they’ve been locked down.”

Motorcycle riders generally aren’t a crowd to let the pandemic stand in the way of travel plans, said Scott Smith, a hospitality professor and director of graduate studies at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

“I predict the event will be bigger than ever,” Smith said. “All the factors are lining up. There’s pent-up (travel) demand and if you had to pick a crowd that thumbs its nose at COVID, the bikers who ride to Biketoberfest are that crowd.”

Location: Florida
Writer: Jim Abbott
Source: news-journalonline
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