Downtown hotel business solid, authority members toldBy Catherine Lackner
Driven by a healthy economy and a unified marketing campaign, occupancy at downtown hotels is at a 10-year high, officials told Miami's Downtown Development Authority.
Not even the emergence of the JW Marriott and Mandarin Oriental hotels just outside the central business district is expected to dim the core's outlook, they said.
Miami Commissioner and authority chairman Willy Gort credits an initiative launched four years ago that brought together the efforts of the visitors bureau and downtown hotels.
"You're seeing a different clientele. A lot of these things are happening because of the plan we put in place. We got the hotels together with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and began to strategize how to bring conventions here."
"We had meetings with the general managers of all the downtown hotels," said Patty Allen, the authority's executive director. "Then we issued a master fax to all of the major corporations, letting them know what's going on downtown."
The marketing campaign and efforts of individual hotels, she said, have continued and have come to fruition.
"We're experiencing amazing demand," said board member Rodrigo Trujillo, who is director of sales & marketing at the Hyatt Regency Miami. "We're sending business to the Beach now. There's been a change in destination awareness. There's a big niche for us."
Bookings are solid through 2003 and '04, Mr. Trujillo said. "We've come a long way."
Despite the fact downtown doesn't have a large convention center hotel, it's ideally suited for smaller conventions of 3,000 to 4,000 people, Mr. Gort said.
"The drawback is that we don't have enough meeting space," said Alvin West, authority board member and senior vice president of finance and administration of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"Miami Beach can support larger conventions. We're looking at trade shows now." A plethora of exhibition space in downtown hotels, he said, is expected to make up for the dearth of meeting space.
Miami could be in the running for an upcoming Microsoft convention, Mr. West said, "which will support our place as a technical hub and gateway to Latin America."
"The Mandarin's going to bring new business in," Mr. Trujillo said, referring to the upcoming opening of the Mandarin Oriental just off Brickell Avenue.
"If anything, the pie is going to swell," Mr. West said.
If downtown hotels are to continue to ride the crest of popularity and enjoy healthy occupancy rates, there must be links between the city's core and the Brickell area, Mr. Gort said.
That link could be a shuttle bus project the downtown authority has backed for several years but has never seen come to fruition.
"Brickell is going to be an entertainment center and, let's face it, public transportation is not the best," Mr. Gort said. "The shuttle is more important than ever."
Board members agreed that the authority should continue to emphasize the shuttle project, along with transportation issues such as openings of the Brickell Avenue bridge and traffic flow along the busy artery.
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