Florida's mild climate and world-class beaches continue to draw Northern retirees seeking temporary refuge from the winter, but tourism experts say many of these snowbirds are shortening their stays.
Rental rates have risen to keep up with spiraling property insurance rates from recent hurricanes, pricing some retirees out of the market.
"Prices in rentals have gone up because of insurance. We're 98 percent booked for February and March, but booked about 75 percent for January, which is very unusual," Lisa Durgin, a Cocoa Beach-based realtor who rents to snowbirds, told Florida Today.
Durgin said this January is among the slowest she has seen.
Blanka Kovarik, a retiree from Toronto, said many of her friends are planning shorter stays in Florida this winter.
Along with the increased rental costs, gas prices and rising medical expenses are also a factor, she said.
In Brevard County, for example, a study by Schulman, Ronca, Bucuvalas, Inc., found that the number of snowbirds fell nearly 9 percent to 27,600 in 2005 from 30,300 in 2003.
Abraham Pizam, dean of the Rosen School of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, said that snowbirds have been stricken with "Florida fatigue."
"Snowbirds are not returning to Florida as they used to," Pizam said. "We're not getting as many repeat visitors. Other destinations are competing with us as well. Also, remember that snowbirds have a lot of expenses, with insurance and medical costs, and they have less money for trips. So, rather than cutting out the vacation completely, they're staying for a shorter time."
Business are feeling the crunch, said Rob Varley, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism.
"The season is shorter, and the part-time residents are not coming as soon, either," Varley said.