County hotels start off new year with a bang
By Claudio Mendonça
Though hotels nationally slumped, Miami-Dade County's celebrated the new year with a 20% spurt in occupancy and 17% hike in room rates.
Hotels here averaged 81% occupancy Jan. 2-15, compared to the national 50% rate, according to Smith Travel Research. Boosted by an influx of visitors for the Orange Bowl college football championship game, county hotels enjoyed a 17% rise in daily rates from the same week a year earlier.
A year ago, hotel occupancy in Miami-Dade was 67%.
"It has been a strong beginning of the year for Miami," said William Talbert III, president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. "This is what a national championship and other mega events do to our community."
The average county room rate was $146, up 17% from $125 one year ago. Miami Beach hotels had rates of $181, up 16%; downtown Miami $137, up 18%; and Coconut Grove/Coral Gables $114, up 14%.
The average nationwide was $87 and in Florida $105.
The weekend following the Orange Bowl, occupancy rose 20% from the same period in 2004, making Miami-Dade a leader in Florida, according to Smith Travel. Occupancy in Fort Lauderdale rose 15%, Orlando 8% and Tampa 7%. Overall, Florida had 70% occupancy.
The constant increase in visitors doesn't surprise Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association.
"Occupancy has been on the rise," he said. "This will be the strongest year we have ever had, and bed-tax collection is far exceeding what I have ever seen."
Media exposure is helping Miami become a magnet for travelers, Mr. Talbert said. Miami, he said, has been featured in the New York Times travel section for five weeks. "It's great publicity. One-quarter of a page color ad in the New York Times costs approximately $15,000.
"All indications from our partners show that this is going to be a strong season," said Mr. Talbert. "These mega-events bring great TV coverage. No place in the US has so many sporting events as Miami."
Jeff Guillory, director of sales for Hotel InterContinental Miami, agreed that positive exposure is prompting the surge.
"Occupancy has been increasing substantially," Mr. Guillory said. "Miami is becoming a hot destination that has been reinventing itself. The city has had a lot of exposure lately with events such as the 'MTV Video Music Awards.'"
New hotels, he said, have lifted the perception of Miami in the national media and rebounding global and national economies are contributing to the bulge in visitors.
"Demand is catching up with the new supply of hotel rooms that came into the Miami market," Mr. Guillory said. In the past year, 775 hotel rooms have been added in Miami-Dade.
European tourists are increasing due to the strength of the euro against the dollar, Mr. Talbert said. "For Europeans, travel is currently on sale," he said. He said the area also is enjoying a boom from Mexico.
As icing on the cake, said Lisa Cole, vice president of the Fontainebleau Hilton, this week's northern blizzards will entice still more snowbirds.