Daytona Truck Meet expected to boost holiday numbers
| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
DAYTONA BEACH — Powered by a combination of families and custom truck fans, Labor Day weekend is expected to be a big draw in Volusia County with those in the tourism business eager for an upbeat finale to a challenging summer affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s going to be a big weekend; a sell-out weekend, no question about it,” said Bob Davis, president and CEO of the Lodging & Hospitality Association of Volusia County.
Numerous hoteliers on Thursday reported weekend bookings for visitors attending the Daytona Truck Meet, a gathering that will attract thousands of oversized, decked-out vehicles for activities Friday-Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Past events have generated thousands of traffic citations as well as complaints from businesses and residents about noise and rowdy behavior, but this year’s meet also has resulted in a welcome boost in reservations at area hotels during a time when such special events have been rare.
“We have many attendees staying here,” said Jim Berkley, general manager of the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, the area’s largest hotel. “Hilton Daytona will be sold out Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
In addition to the truck event, weekend occupancy will be bolstered by the presence of vacationing families and the expectations for hospitable weather. In 2019, Labor Day weekend business was marred by the approach of Hurricane Dorian, which promoted the emergency closure of hotels over the peak holiday weekend.
“Last year’s Labor Day Weekend was all but washed out from bad weather, so I believe most market hotels and our other local merchants will experience much healthier results than last year even amidst the COVID-19 situation,” Berkley said.
Like other destinations statewide, Volusia County’s tourism industry has struggled against the impact of the pandemic. Yet occupancy, revenue and bed tax collections have gradually rebounded this summer from a catastrophic 80% decline in occupancy and bed taxes at the height of the pandemic in April.
Labor Day offers another opportunity to build on that momentum.
At One Daytona, across from Daytona International Speedway, Truck Meet visitors are a big factor in holiday bookings at The Daytona Marriott Autograph Collection hotel and the Fairfield Inn & Suites, said Nancy Guran, director of sales for both hotels.
“Things are looking great,” Guran said. “The occupancy starts to build this evening (Thursday) though the weekend. We are looking forward to selling out for sure on Friday and Saturday, with guests staying over through into Monday at both hotels.“
Rooms are expected to be sold-out through the weekend at the Hard Rock Hotel, said Androse Bell, the hotel’s general manager.
“We’re definitely seeing the truckers; they are in town, for sure,” Bell said. “We also have a lot of families, which is a good mix for us.”
Daytona Truck Meet revelers swarm Atlantic Avenue in Daytona Beach June 2018.
Hundreds of Daytona Truck Meet attendees packed onto Atlantic Avenue in Daytona Beach
Favorable weather forecast
The expectations also are high at hotels owned and operated by Ormond Beach-based Elite Hospitality Inc., said Manoj Bhoola, president and CEO.
Elite’s roster of area hotels includes the Ormond Beach Best Western Castillo Del Sol; the Best Western Plus International Speedway; Hampton Inn by Hilton Daytona Speedway Airport; and the Hilton Garden Inn at Daytona Beach International Airport.
“The Truck Meet and great weather caused a massive spike in reservations in the last three days,” Bhoola said. “This may be the last weekend people that haven’t been able to get out of their homes can do that before some schools reopen, so the customers are looking to safely enjoy this holiday.”
A “strong and long weekend” also is anticipated at hotels owned and operated by Ormond Beach-based Premier Resorts & Management, said Domien Takx, the company’s vice president of operations.
“We should sell out Friday and Saturday and come close on Sunday,” Takx said. “Bookings have really accelerated in the past 48 hours.”
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.
Takx also pointed to the favorable weather forecast as a contrast to the experience of Labor Day 2019.
“Last year, we had a disastrous Labor Day weekend due to the threat of Hurricane Dorian,” he said.
Visitors planning earlier
At the 212-room Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach Shores, guests have been making Labor Day reservations earlier than the last-minute wait-and-see pattern typical for weekend travelers this summer, said Rob Burnetti, the hotel’s general manager.
“Friday’s good right through Sunday; we’ll sell out on Saturday, for sure,” said Burnetti, adding that many guests are staying an extra day to take advantage of the extended weekend.
Truck Meet visitors “are adding to what will be a very strong holiday weekend for us,” Burnetti said.
The outlook also is optimistic at the 91-room Sun Viking Lodge in Daytona Beach Shores, said owner Gary Brown.
“We are doing pretty good,” Brown said. “We’ve had good pick-up over the last several days and we will have some truckers in the mix. We should be sold out or close to it.”