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Sarasota hotel business returns to normal in 2024

by Staff

When Shannon May returned to Sarasota in 2020 as the general manager for a local hotel in the Rosemary District, the hospitality industry was in rough shape.

Early in the pandemic, tourism disappeared about as quickly as toilet paper at the super market. Downtown areas across the country became ghost towns almost overnight after COVID-19 infected the first people in the U.S. in early 2020.

For the Sarasota hotel industry, it was a short slowdown, as conditions flipped by 2021 with Florida’s tourism-based economy revving up. Pent-up demand for leisure and hospitality saw boom times in Sarasota’s hotel business for the next two years, May said.

“We did gangbusters,” May said of voco Sarasota, which was rebranded from Hotel Indigo in late 2023.

Business was so strong in 2021 and 2022, May said it felt like Sarasota did not have a slow season. She had previously worked in hotel management in Sarasota from 2014 to 2016.

Historically, Sarasota has a slow and a busy season, often identified by the sudden appearance of license plates from northern locations like Michigan, Illinois and Canada.

Snowbirds typically flock to Sarasota starting in late fall and can stay into spring.

But there wasn’t a slow season in 2021 or 2022. May said she noticed the return to normal activity in the second half of 2023 about the same time the property she manages at 1223 Boulevard of the Arts decided to rebrand from Hotel Indigo to voco Sarasota.

Hotel Indigo becomes voco Sarasota

Since 2006 when Hotel Indigo first opened in Sarasota’s Rosemary District, the IHG Hotel and Resorts-operated property has been popular with visitors, she said.

So when the decision was made to switch the name to IHG’s new voco hotel brand, May prepared to embrace the change and lead the hotel staff in the transition.

“Knowledge is power,” she said. “My approach was to dive head first into the brand and get excited about it.”

Voco hotels were first rolled out in European cities by the hotel operator in 2018. They’ve started to bring that brand over to the United States as it has been well received in the markets where it was introduced.

Playing up the connection to the European origins, each room has an expresso machine.

“Voco is all about being reliably different,” May said.

The brand focuses on sustainability by limiting the amount of plastic in use on the property. Guests have glass water bottles in their rooms and the shampoos and soaps are plant based.

In addition to the name change, the hotel’s ground-floor restaurant — Offshore Tapas and Wine Bar — has changed its dinner menu to focus more on shareables and small plates. The breakfast remains focused on American staples. The wine bar also boasts of hotel specific wines and flights.

Rick and Kim Small had been vacationing at Hotel Indigo for the past four years. The two retirees come twice a year to sunny Sarasota from Lexington, Kentucky.

The couple even got stuck in the hotel during Hurricane Idalia when they visited last year, leading to “one of the best parties we’ve ever been to.”

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Rick Small said the rebranding effort didn’t have a big impact on their choice in lodging, although his wife Kim didn’t care for some of the color schemes.

The brand name of the hotel isn’t why they booked their stay this year at voco Sarasota, he said. He’s on a first name basis with a large number of the hotel’s employees.

“What keeps us coming back is the staff,” he said.

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