In 1999 Fran Peters realized a dream of hers when she founded Island Vacations of Sanibel and Captiva. Over the next few decades, Fran and her team grew Island Vacations into one of the premiere vacation rental companies on Sanibel. The company drew plaudits, won awards, and set new standards in customer satisfaction.
Early in 2022 My wife and I were introduced to Fran by a mutual friend because Fran wanted to sell the business due to her impending retirement. Having already built Gulf Coast Property Management Jess and I saw the Island Vacations as the perfect opportunity to extend our management presence into Lee County, specifically Sanibel and Captiva islands.
As part of the acquisition, we inherited the fantastic Island Vacations team, and between us all we set about building on Fran’s efforts with the goal of becoming the Island’s leading property management company.
From June through September, everyone on the team worked hard, combining the best practices of both Island Vacations and Gulf Coast Property Management, learning new processes, and introducing new software. The future was bright.
Unfortunately, on September 28th, 2022, Southwest Florida was turned upside down when Hurricane Ian made landfall on Cayo Costa, FL. Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach suffered the most devastation, with a combination of the wind and a 15’ storm surge ripping through the area tearing down properties and making the whole area inhabitable. The causeway between the mainland and Sanibel Island was washed by the storm surge rendering Sanibel and Captiva Islands inaccessible by vehicle.
From a selfish perspective, Jess and I were devastated. The purchase of Island Vacations was a huge financial investment on our part, and we quickly came to the realization that our investment had essentially been washed away.
Over the next few days, as the full impact of the damage became evident our personal situation paled into insignificance. The immense scale of the devastation was becoming evident for everyone associated with the island to see. The majority of our client’s properties were damaged in the storm, some had even been washed away or destroyed beyond economic repair.
Perhaps more importantly, our team were firsthand victims of the storm. The team all live and work in the area and their homes were not immune from the impact of Hurricane Ian. With flood and wind-damaged homes, and without power or water it was a desperate situation. Jess and I managed to rehouse some of the team in properties located in Manatee and Sarasota counties, however, some made the decision to tough it out and protect what was left of their homes. They were desperate times.
A few days after the storm, we hired a boat captain and a few of the team visited the Island to begin inspecting the properties belonging to our clients. The damage was unfathomable. A war zone is the only way I could describe what I experienced on that day.
Darkest Days Are Behind Us
Hurricane Ian, Island Vacations, and Sanibel have been a constant in my thoughts for the last 6 months. Quite honestly, I didn’t know if we would ever recover or what the future would bring. As I write this in March 2023, my outlook is far more optimistic.
The bridge from the mainland was rebuilt within a timeframe that no one anticipated. In fact, the speed of the rebuild may have set some false expectations for how quickly the island would recover fully. Critical infrastructure is being continually re-established.
During the initial recovery period, we certainly made mistakes. We were perhaps not as communicative as we could have been. We caused confusion and upset when deciding how we went about refunding the hundreds of guests with existing reservations. With that said, I am overall very proud of what we have accomplished in very trying circumstances.
We managed to retain the heartbeat of the Island Vacation rental team that you have come to know and love; Beth Rizzo, Susan Heath, Paige Lowman, and Samori Paulin. All four were severely impacted by the storm, however even through displacement off the island, flooded homes torn down to the studs, and working through arduous insurance claims, these four have never stopped working on behalf of our clients and the guests that we serve.
Immediately after the storm, we hosted a series of educational seminars. We implemented a bi-weekly inspection program, providing insight for our clients on the status of their property and rebuild progress.
Led by Beth, we have refunded over 1000 reservations, totaling more than $4M.
We have completed our software migration and have almost completed remodeling our office, so that when guests do begin to return to the island, we have a great facility to greet them in.
We expect to see guests returning in a limited capacity over the next few weeks.
For many of our clients, we understand they remain at the very beginning of their recovery journey. Wind and flood insurers squabbling over responsibility, delays in insurance payments, condo associations waiting on FEMA determinations, permitting and the overall lack of contractors are all contributing to the frustration. Please know, we recognize these frustrations and are here ready and able to help all past, existing, and future clients in rebuilding their little piece of paradise on Sanibel.