For visitors longing for the laid-back Florida Keys ambiance, much of the charm is in small, eclectic lodgings with such alluring names as Rainbow Bend, Pines & Palms, Deer Run, Kona Kai and Lime Tree Bay.“A lot of people come to the Keys for a certain Keys vacation in mind: to stay at a mom-and-pop,” said Jodi Weinhofer, executive director of the Lodging Association of the Florida Keys. “They are places that don’t exist in other locations and are a huge part of what makes the Keys special.”

They also are places that have proven resilient through the past two years of global recession, a lingering cold spell during the 2010 high tourist season, the BP oil spill that kept visitors away in droves last summer and even ongoing sewer work along U.S. 1.“We’re here, but it has been a struggle,” said Linda Adams, who with her husband Dave, are entering their 22nd year as owners of the Rock Reef Resort with 21 units in Key Largo.

Small property owners did what they had to do to keep the lights on. Joe and Ronnie Harris, owners for the past 20 years of the South seas-style Kona Kai Resort, Gallery and Botanical Garden in Key Largo, didn’t take salaries for part of 2009. Jay Marzella, owner of the Parmers Resort on tranquil Little Torch Key for the past 12 years, was forced to cut staff from 25 to 15 people.

With advance reservations disappearing, most lodging places slashed rates to keep occupancy from plummeting. In 2007, occupancy rates for Keys motels, hotels and B&B’s outside of Key West were 61.9 percent with an average rate of $197.19 per room — for the approximately 60 percent of the lodging facilities that reported data, according to Smith Travel Research.In 2010, occupancy rates were exactly the same but the average room rate dropped nearly $40 a night to $158.35.

Jackie Harder, executive director of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, said she knows of no Key Largo lodging properties that have been unable to pay their mortgages and bills.“These small properties don’t have the same distribution channels as the flagship chains, but they have customers coming to their properties for 20 years who won’t stay anywhere else,” Weinhofer said. “That helps.

Source: Miami Herald