Last-minute bookings continue to bolster hotel occupancy rates
By Frank Norton
Hotel occupancy in Miami-Dade County was 7.6% higher the first two weeks in March than in the same period last year, Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research reports.
Local hospitality executives welcomed the news as a sign the war in Iraq has not as feared dampened travel - perhaps bolstered by spring breakers. Three weeks ago, advance March bookings for Miami-Dade hotel rooms were down by as much as 15%, according to the Florida Hotel & Motel Association.
Local experts, however, say that information reflected people booking on shorter notice rather than a diminished propensity to travel, especially domestically. As for the encouraging March figures, they said the Middle East conflict has not seriously impacted strong travel momentum.
"I think those travel plans were already in place and the weather held up tremendously," said William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. He said the Ford Golf Championship at Doral March 3-9 helped boost occupancy during the first two weeks of March while the Nasdaq-100 Open tennis tournament, running through March 30, should help buoy levels during the rest of the month.
"Arguably there is no reason to change travel plans right now," he said.
For the same two-week period in early March, hotel occupancy statewide was down 0.3% while national occupancy was off more than 3%, according to Smith Travel.
Spring breakers typically seek beach destinations such as South Florida, Panama City and Cancun, Mexico, a Smith researcher said.
Local experts said a greater portion sought US destinations this year due to security concerns.
"They're staying in the hotels, eating in the restaurants, going to clubs and doing what all visitors do," Mr. Talbert said of the spring break crowd.
Other local hospitality leaders said this year showed a neater, more sophisticated spring breaker than in years past.
"From the hotels I've spoken to they've been very mature in the way they have visited this destination," said Stuart Blumberg, president and CEO of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association.
"They're an affluent young group now, so it's not like it used to be," he said.
"The streets were jammed with young people. You couldn't even find a seat at the pool deck at the Roney Palace."