Bright green in the visitor industry merits closer attention
Written by Michael Lewis on May 8, 2018
Miami-Dade’s visitor industry has every reason to smile as it looks ahead. Every visitor figure is a bright green – green as in growing revenues.
Last year overnight visitors spent $26 billion here, up 2.1% from 2016. That’s a lot of green.
It’s easy for those of us not officially in the industry to minimize what those guests mean to us. But once we look at the numbers, suddenly we realize that we’re all in the visitor industry.
Last year, Miami-Dade hotels filled their beds to equal 15.4 million room nights. That’s 55,000 or more individuals every day who are staying, eating, shopping, attending events – yes, and using our roadways, because visitors share most of our resources with us. They’re an economic bonanza, but a bonanza that is not free, because we provide for them to enjoy themselves.
We know we share the resources every time we see an out-of-state plate on our roadways, though many of those plates are on the cars of part-year residents, not visitor industry guests. In fact, about 96% of our overnight guests don’t drive here, they fly in. They’re most likely to be riding in taxis and Ubers.
But before we grumble about sharing, look at what visitors mean in concrete terms. In hotel revenues alone, the number is staggering: according to research firm STR, those revenues topped $2.9 billion in 2017. And the largest single expenditures in any hotel are wages, so hotel salaries fuel a good share of our county’s income.
Those hotel revenues are on the grow, which means more visitor money circulating in Miami-Dade. The $2.9 billion in 2017 was up 4% from 2016. And in March alone, according to STR, the $403.5 million in hotel revenues was up 17.9% from March 2017.
What that revenue is doing is paying 143,100 people who today work in Miami-Dade’s visitor industry. That’s a tad more than 12% of all of our county’s 1.19 million non-farm jobs, according to the most recent US Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
Clearly, we’re not going to maintain a pace of 17.9% revenue growth in hotels year over year. Nothing goes up that fast forever.
But as Bill Talbert, CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, pointed out to us last week, our rapid industry growth last year came despite Hurricane Irma, despite the Zika scare that kept many visitors away, and despite the fact that one of our great visitor magnets, the Miami Beach Convention Center, has been virtually closed for renovation for several years.
As Mr. Talbert counted down to us, the center’s reopening as he spoke was just 144 days off, with immediate bookings as soon as reopening is official.
Imagine how much better the convention center would do if it also had an 800-room or larger hotel attached, enabling many events that cannot now book at the center to come here. That large hotel should be on the agenda for the Miami Beach City Commission, which will have its usual difficult job convincing Beach residents – who live on paying guests – that they should enable the industry’s growth.
It’s not that we don’t have many hotels planned for this county. But of the 19 that STR lists as now under construction, none is as large as even 300 rooms. These hotels will handle satisfied guests but will not by and large handle convention or meeting guests.
If we’re looking to put the maraschino cherry on top of the visitor industry sundae, that hotel is still it. We have 432 hotels with 55,221 rooms in the county today, yet none serves as that convention hub.
Meanwhile, we can rejoice in an increase of almost 5% in international air travelers here, knowing that these travelers spend more on meals, shopping and car rentals daily than do domestic visitors, and that they stay an average of 6.9 days versus 5.2 days for domestic overnight visitors.
Yes, the visitor industry’s growth is across the board. That’s great. But we can’t take continued gains for granted.
When we get an opportunity, as we do in a big way with a convention center hotel in Miami Beach or with other amenities, we need to think of the 143,100 people who earn a direct living from visitors and the others of us who all – every one of us – benefit from them.
There is no free lunch. We enjoyed $26 billion in visitor spending last year. We need to make sure in every way that we serve those visitors well – and better.