Gulf Shores: Gulf Shores : Beaches expect a busy summer

9:24 PM

Gulf Shores : Beaches expect a busy summer

Until Hurricane Ivan struck in September, the summer of 2004 was the busiest ever on Baldwin's beaches.

Occupancy rates for condominiums along the beach peaked at 90 percent that July; 92 percent of hotel rooms were rented that same month; and more than $329 million in retail sales were registered June through August in Foley, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, according to Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau data.

Now, heading into Memorial Day weekend and the start of the tourist season, rental companies are reporting reservation rates that exceed those they had prior to the start of that watershed summer two years ago.

"It's looking like it's going to be great," said Convention and Visitors Bureau President Herb Malone. "With what we've been through the last two years, we're ready for a great weekend and a great summer."

Hurricane Ivan put a quick end to the beach season in 2004 and caused enough damage to carry over into the summer of 2005. That season was further dampened, and reconstruction efforts slowed, by a succession of four evacuation-forcing named storms.

More than 13,000 condominium units and hotel rooms are ready for rent on the beach this season and, weather permitting, those in the tourism business are predicting that most will be filled throughout the summer.

Marie Curren, director of marketing and reservations for Brett/Robinson, said each of her firm's 1,841 condos is spoken for this weekend and, as of late Wednesday, the real estate conglomerate's two Gulf-front hotels had about 20 unreserved rooms between them.

Most of the 200 or so condos that Bender Realty rents have been claimed through June, which is a good indicator of how the rest of the summer will go, owner Bill Bender said.

"I would say that by the end of June, we'll see 80 percent occupancies," Bender said. "In July, we should exceed 90 percent."

The high occupancy rate extends beyond the beach into Foley, where at least two new hotels are planned or under construction and the eight there now are booked for most of the summer, said James Wood, manager of the Holiday Inn Express on Alabama 59.

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