If you had to delay a vacation to the Florida Keys because of Hurricane Irma, you’ll soon be able to follow through on your plan to visit Ernest Hemingway’s polydactyl cats: The Keys will officially reopen to tourists this weekend — which isn’t just good for visitors, but for the local economy as well.
Although officials originally targeted Oct. 20 as the date the Keys would welcome visitor back, that date has been moved up by a few weeks to Oct. 1 because the Keys have completed most of the infrastructure repairs that needed to be done after Hurricane Irma swept through on Sept. 10.
Almost all power and water have been restored in the area, officials say. Cellular service is working well, although restoration of Comcast cable television and internet is lagging behind other utilities.
Tourism is a really big deal in the Keys, so getting this kind of infrastructure fixed was vital to welcoming visitors again.
“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” Monroe County Mayor George Neugent acknowledged in a statement. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”
In the meantime, many hotels and attractions have returned to business as usual. Key West International Airport is open to commercial flights once again, while Florida Keys Marathon International Airport is processing general aviation and charter flights again. And on Monday, the Port of Key West welcomed its first cruise ship since the storm.
“Being a tourist-based economy, we need our visitors to come to town, and that is our primary economy,” said Key West Mayor Craig Cate. “The people need to go back to work, and this is a huge part of our recovery.”