Consultant: Miami Beach should stick with visitors bureau
By Susan Stabley
All of Miami-Dade County should continue to be marketed under the brand name of Miami, according to an independent study commissioned by Miami Beach officials.
The study's results, still in draft form, come as the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau's contract with Miami Beach is due for renewal. Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez is negotiating with the bureau, said Mayor David Dermer, who declined to comment Tuesday on the study by Economics Research Associates.
"My position is clearly known," Mayor Dermer said. "Frankly, I've got to see where the commission is at. ... I'm going to listen to what they have to say."
Mayor Dermer has argued that his city is the destination for most visitors to South Florida and the bureau should be based in Miami Beach. The mayor also has contended that his city could hire a firm to sell Miami Beach's attributes exclusively rather than paying for the bureau to sell it along with the rest of the county.
William Talbert, president and CEO of the bureau, said he was pleased with the report. He wouldn't divulge details on contract negotiations with Miami Beach other than to say that the bureau wants the city to sign a longer-term deal of five to 10 years or more.
The Beach pays $5 million annually to the bureau under the current contract. Miami Beach - along with the county, the City of Miami and Bal Harbour - helps finance the bureau and is in the final year of a two-year contract.
Miami Beach renewed its contract with the bureau in 2002 on the condition that there would be a review of the agency to determine whether it is the best structure to promote the city.
The city signed a contract with Economics Research Associates in November 2002 to review and assess the bureau, make recommendations on what model works best for the Beach's tourism and convention industries and compare the Greater Miami bureau with counterparts nationwide.
Members of a city steering committee working with the California consulting firm said that a finished report should lay to rest the debate on whether the Greater Miami bureau - a private, not-for-profit sales and marketing organization - is the best vehicle for promoting Miami Beach.
"The bureau is the best model," said Stuart Blumberg, president and CEO of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association and a member of the city's steering committee. "Let's support it, and let's move on."
Michael Milberg, another committee member and chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, agreed. "I think the consultants' report clearly validates the bureau model," he said.
David Kelsey, president of the South Beach Hotel & Restaurant Association, disagreed. "The report is of very little if any value to Miami Beach," he said.
Mr. Kelsey said payments to the bureau should be cut as much as $2 million, with the money being used by the Beach to build summer tourism, rekindle the film and fashion industries' interest in the city and bring back gay travelers lost to Fort Lauderdale.
"Part of the problem with this report," he said, "is that it never identifies what our needs are."
The relationship between the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and the City of Miami Beach isn't just poor, it's deteriorating, according to a draft report from an independent consultant.
That's one of the lead findings from California firm Economics Research Associates, hired by the city in November 2002 for about $100,000 to determine if the bureau delivers the biggest bang for the Beach's marketing bucks.
The review of the agency's operations was tied to a two-year contract renewal with the Beach in January 2002 and while there was discussion about whether the bureau should set up shop in the city.
The bureau decided last month that it would keep its offices on Brickell Avenue after flirting with a move to Miami Beach and, earlier, planning to build an $11.7 million headquarters on Watson Island, a deal that fell apart in September.
The consultant's findings said Miami Beach should stick with the bureau and continue to be marketed under the umbrella brand name of Miami with the rest of Miami-Dade County.
Miami Beach should use a share of bed-tax revenues to lure tourists once they land in the area, according to the report. "Taxes collected from visitors provide over $20 million per year within Miami Beach alone to fund this mix of regional and local activities," according to the draft.
The consultant's suggestion shouldn't prevent Miami Beach from selling itself as a sub-brand, said Elsie Howard, chairwoman of the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority and a member of the city's steering committee working with the consultants. She cited the allure of South Beach, Bal Harbour and Lincoln Road to visitors.
"The bureau has a way to go. I think the city has a way to go," said Ms. Howard. "There is a marriage here. There is a relationship. It doesn't do any good to fight."
Ms. Howard said she isn't satisfied with the report, which is still in draft form. City officials and members of the steering committee said changes are still being made to the review, now in its fourth version. Ms. Howard criticized the report for what she said were some unclear conclusions. She also said the research firm strayed from the original scope of the study.
Economics Research Associates is a 64-year-old international consulting firm. It performed a similar study of the Greater Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau for the City of Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, according to Miami Beach documents.
Economics Research compared the Miami bureau with others in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Orlando, San Diego and San Francisco.
Beach and bureau leaders are waiting on the results of a study of the bureau by Miami-Dade County, Bal Harbour and the City of Miami. That study, which did not involve Miami Beach, is nearly complete.
William Talbert, president and CEO of the bureau, said his agency will take the results of both reviews and a proposed strategic plan as recommendations for possible changes at the bureau.
Miami Beach will need to decide by August whether to renew its contract with the bureau.
Some city officials have known the results of the consulting firm's study since September.
Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer has promoted a break from the visitors bureau. He declined to comment in detail Monday on the consultant's report and said he would wait to see how the City Commission decides to proceed.
"The bottom line is this, and it may seem as a revelation to some, but we are dealing with the people's money," said Mayor Dermer.
Michael Milberg, chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and a member of the steering committee, said a city-created marketing arm would be a poor use of money because it would lack the leverage of the combined pot of public and private dollars used by the bureau.
Mr. Milberg said the main point in the report is that the city needs to adopt a strategic plan and send it to the bureau for execution
"The strategic plan needs to be adopted by the City of Miami Beach and turned over to the bureau for execution," said Mr. Milberg.
Another hurdle for the city and the bureau, he said, is to figure out how to "get people into the game."