ST. PETE BEACH — Peak tourism season is heating up again at Tampa Bay's beaches.
Mercifully, so is the weather.
That's a good thing for the area's much-beleaguered hospitality industry, which has been battered by a sour economy and persistent concerns about oil-covered beaches.
"A week like we just had makes a big, big difference," said Gregg Nicklaus, co-owner of the Sirata Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach. "We're praying that Mother Nature will be good to us this year."
It looks like it will be — at least for the next few days.
The rest of the week is supposed to be a lot like Presidents Day: warm and sunny, with temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. It's perfect Florida weather in a season that has been unseasonably cold and wet.
"It's gotten warmer every day that I've been here," said Dan Campbell, 51, of Toledo, Ohio, who was sitting on Pass-a-Grille Beach on Monday.
It's going to be hard to pry him away from the white sands and perfect blue-green waters for the bleak, dreary Midwest. There was more than a foot of snow when he left more than a week ago. It was cold. It was dark. It was nasty. He didn't want to go back.
"Hopefully, there is a delay," Campbell said.
Hotel owners said this kind of weather can get them back on track from last season's triple threat: the economy, the oil and the frigid winter.
"I think the bad, nasty weather hurt us more than we think," said Jack Guy, vice president of sales and marketing for Sheraton Sand Key Resort on Clearwater Beach.
He said he is optimistic for the fall and summer. He said his February and March booking numbers are better than last year.
Tony Satterfield, vice president of operations at Alden Beach Resort and Suites on St. Pete Beach, said his occupancy numbers are better, but deep discounting is taking its toll.
"From a revenue standpoint it could be flat or even a little down from last year," he said.
He said the economy is still the major player in deterring people from traveling.
"People will travel because of how bad the winter has been in the Midwest and East, but they want value," Satterfield said.
At the Sirata Beach Resort, net income dropped about $1.5 million in 2010 from previous years, Nicklaus said.
He said occupancy rates still are lower than he would like, but he is hopeful for this season.
"We're an optimistic group," he said. "Our industry typically looks at the cup half full."