Miami Beach hires firm to assess best use of its tourism & marketing dollars
By Susan Stabley
Does the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau deliver the best bang for Miami Beach's buck?
The Miami Beach City Commission agreed in November to hire California-based consultants Economics Research Associates to research that question. The city and ERA are fine-tuning the contract for that study this week, said Assistant City Manager Christina Cuervo.
Though Miami Beach recently renewed its contract to be part of the countywide Greater Miami bureau for the next two years, it was only after much debate whether the private, not-for-profit sales and marketing organization is the wisest method for the tourism-driven city to use.
So while Miami Beach approved a deal for the city to remain a player for now, it also agreed to hire a firm that could review and assess the bureau's governance, structure, processes and overall operations. The intent is to find out if the bureau or some other entity might be better for the sales, marketing and public relations efforts for the city.
"We want to see what best serves our target market," said Ms. Cuervo.
Miami Beach officials - Commissioner Luis Garcia, who also sits on the bureau's board, and Mayor David Dermer - say they are also still awaiting word from the bureau about two properties the bureau was considering for its relocation when it moves from its Brickell Avenue address in the next year.
Prior to the Miami Beach controversy, the bureau was a major component of the proposed Regional Aviation & Visitors Center on Miami's Watson Island. A decision by the bureau on the Watson Island site is also still pending.
Most of the countywide bureau's income comes from Miami Beach; revenues from that city comprise $5.7 million of the bureau's $17.8 million annual budget. In the past, Mayor Dermer has said that the city's share could be used to hire a firm to focus only on Miami Beach's attributes, rather than having the city sold as a destination with rest of Miami-Dade County.
"The role of the consultants is to provide the City of Miami Beach with the best objective advice in the interests of the Miami Beach community," according to a November memo from City Manager Jorge Gonzalez to Mayor Dermer and the City Commission.
ERA is a 44-year-old company that formulates public strategies to develop local economies through convention and tourism promotion. One reason ERA was chosen was for its execution of a similar study in the mid-1980s for the city of Los Angeles regarding the Greater Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau, according to city documents. The man in charge of that study - Steve Spickard - will lead the assignment for Miami Beach.
Specifics of the deal could be agreed to as early as this week, but it should cost the city $100,000 with a cap of 15% on expenses, according to Ms. Cuervo.
Miami Beach's study is separate from a similar joint performance audit of the bureau also under way by Miami-Dade County, the cities of Miami and Bal Harbour.
ERA plans to pore through the bureau's annual work plan, budget information, organization chart and other data from the past five years. Under scrutiny will be partnerships with outside firms in advertising and marketing and hotel inventory for the Miami Beach and Miami area, according to city documents.
Interviews will be held with key staff of the bureau as well as hoteliers, staff of other cities, convention center management, and some city commissioners and bureau board members. The performance of the bureau is to be measured against its own stated goals as well as industry standards, and ERA is to highlight its strengths and weaknesses, even analyzing the bureau's own methodology of research.
The firm is to seek out other metro areas with a significant convention and tourism draw to benchmark its findings against and any adverse or positive impact of the bureau's efforts to market Greater Miami versus Miami Beach only.
Ultimately, the study is being commissioned to help Miami Beach officials to determine whether the city should continue to be sold through the bureau as part of the Greater Miami area.
Once studies are complete, ERA is to give the city a written report.