South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Strange year for snowbirdin­g

Travel restrictio­ns, fatigue from health crisis affecting those who winter south

- By Sarah Firshein

Travel spending in the United States is downby hundreds of billions of dollars, Europe is locking downagain and flying remains a fraction of what itwas last year.

Yet one corner of the world is aflutterwi­th activity: snowbird groups on Facebook. Property owners boast about homes on the“EDGE OF PARADISE !!” Sun seekers probe for pet-friendly rentals. Members discuss condo amenities, taxes, too-goodto-be-true deals.

“The whole country has pandemic fatigue,” saidLisa Carter-Knight, 53, who splits her time between Kensington, New Hampshire, and Lakeland, Florida. “And nowthat the virus is everywhere, we’re hearing people say, ‘Well, I might aswell be somewherew­arm.’”

Yet travel restrictio­ns and other factors ensure the tradition of snowbirdin­g— the pastime of flocking to Florida and other sunny shores for the winter, usually by retirees— will look different this year.

Normallyit’s onlyretire­es: Although Carter

Knight’s Floridahom­e is in a 55-and-older community — common throughout the state— by lawpeople under

55 are allowed to occupy up

to20% of the units. “There have been increasing­ly more inquiries fromyoung families looking to rent,” said CarterKnig­ht, the owner of a digital marketing agency with a division dedicated to real estate marketing. “There are loads of families migrating South to find better value on home prices, more space, better climate and no state income tax.”

Sibarth, a real estate company that rents out luxury villas on St. Barts, will alsowelcom­e a different mix: “Much less retirees than before, and more working profession­als between 40 and 60 traveling with their children,” said AshleyL acour, the company’s president. “Somehave even enrolled their kids in the local public schools.”

Earlier this month, Melanie Granuzzo and her husband, Brandon Fried, locked up their homein Darien, Connecticu­t, and hit the road for the winter with their toddler daughter, Amelia, andYorkshi­re terrier, Winston.

“Typicallyw­e avoid traveling through the holidays, but this year is different,” saidGranuz­zo. “COVID has basically changed the entire landscape— even client meetings are remote. Sowhy not skip the winter here?”

Their first destinatio­n was toNaples, Florida, to see Fried’s parents. Around Thanksgivi­ng, they had planned to head to theAtlanta area to visit Granuzzo’s parents and sister. They’ll boomerang back toNaples for the month of January before eventually making their way toMontage Palmetto Bluff, the South Carolina luxury resort where they gotmarried four years ago. They’ll forge the rest of the plan fromthere.

“As parents of a young child, we don’twant to be stuck in the cold,” Granuzzo said. “Sowemight consider a short-term rental in Florida or Charleston— somewhere wherewewou­ld normally not be traveling that time of year.”

‘ Canada’s canceled’: The United States-Canada land border has been closed to all nonessenti­al travel sinceMarch; the closure is slated to last through Dec. 21, though itmay be extended. Although people can still fly fromCanada to theUnited States, a reliable bloc of snowbirds is, for now, marooned: More

than70% of the more than

110,000 members of the Canadian Snowbird Associatio­n usually reach their winter destinatio­n by car. And they’re not all eager to jump on a plane in the middle of a pandemic.

Air travel booked through travel agencies fromCanada to Greater Miami is downby about

90% throughMar­ch compared with last year, according to data fromthe Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

MargieNels­on, a

66-year-old retiree, was hoping toweather the winter not in her house in Port Colborne, Ontario, but in her double-wide modular home in Largo, Florida. Flying isn’t an option: She and her husband have two cats and a 20-year-old poodle mix.

Nelson willwait for the land-border restrictio­ns to lift. Others, meanwhile, are trying to find creative workaround­s.

“People have said, ‘Can you help us?’ ” saidAmy Russo Coleman, who ownsRoadie­s Car Delivery Service, a company that transports cars and personal belongings for snowbirds. “I’m like, ‘Listen, I can’t get in. I don’t knowabout y’all getting out, but I’m not Superman.

I can’t lie to get across the border— you know, there are rules now.’ ”

‘Bookings come from domestic travelers’: Early lastmonth, SusanneHeg­er,

57, traveled fromGerman­y to the Dominican Republic for 17 days: just enough time to outlast the Schengen Area travel ban, which barsmost visitorswh­ohave been inEurope in the last

14 days fromenteri­ng the United States.

Fromthere, she continuedo­nto Florida, where she and her husband ownthree homes. Aweek anda half after she landed in Miami, Germany announced a partial shutdown.

“My husband and I are so glad thatwe’re not there anymore,” saidHeger. “It’smucheasie­r in Florida— you can have social distance, you stay outside, you breathe fresh air.”

Heger and her husband, whose primary residence is inWildesha­usen, Germany, will spend six months in Florida, rotating between their homes. TheirNaple­s condo will be occupied by the sameNewJer­sey residentwh­ohas been coming every fall since

2015. But for the first time, their 2,700-square-foot house in Bonita Springs willwelcom­e not a single European.

“All of a suddenwe got people fromMiami— even the other side of Florida,” Heger said. “That’s just somethingw­e never had before.”

Canaley, of Sextant Stays, is also seeing domestic guests tip the scales.

“In a normal year you might have family members fromLatin America or Europe coming over for the holidays for a few weeks, whereas nowwe’re seeing those bookings come fromdomest­ic travelers— a good portion from theNorthea­st,” she said.

Rentalsbei­ng filled laterthanu­sual: CarterWrig­ht said she has seen rental properties fill later than usual aswould-be snowbirds, warily eyeing infection rates and travel restrictio­ns, finally cement their plans.

In South Padre Island, Texas, Marco Island, Florida, and St. Augustine, Florida, rentals are booking up about a month closer to arrival compared with last year, according toKeyData Dashboard, a data company that analyzes the vacation rental market.

As for the fear of getting sick, especially among older adults, Coleman, the self-described “car girl,” is feeling the effects on her transport business.

“Oh, they’re going. They’re just driving themselves— they’re afraid to fly,” she said.

 ?? KENDALLSHO­RT/THENEWYORK­TIMES ?? Melanie Granuzzo and Brandon Fried with daughterAm­elia outside their vacationho­mein Florida. They’re spending part of winter in South Carolina.
KENDALLSHO­RT/THENEWYORK­TIMES Melanie Granuzzo and Brandon Fried with daughterAm­elia outside their vacationho­mein Florida. They’re spending part of winter in South Carolina.

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