County tourism industry has enjoyed hot summers
By Claudio Mendonça
Miami-Dade County is transforming itself into a hot destination - including in the sweltering summer - as visitor numbers soar and average hotel room rates hit $107, the highest June level ever.
While a decade ago summer was low season, the tourism sector has worked hard to make Miami a year-round destination and results are becoming evident.
Overnight visitors in summer - June, July and August - grew to 2.6 million last year, up from 2.3 million in 2001, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. In the same three months last year 1.2 million international visitors flocked to Miami, up 1.5% from 2001 in a pre-9/11 world where security restrictions were much less rigid.
"We've been able to attract international tourists despite factors such as unstable economies, crisis in the airline industry and more stringent visa requirements," said David Whitaker, the bureau's senior vice president of marketing & tourism. "We are branding Miami to be more than just a warm weather destination. Even though we've had two straight weeks of rain in June, visitors can visit museums and theaters. In the past, Miami did not have as much to do."
But Mr. Whitaker said the real success story has been the growing inflow of domestic visitors. The numbers spiked 14% from 1.2 million in summer 2001 to 1.4 million in summer 2004.
This year, Miami had hotel room occupancy of 65.6% from May 30-June 25, up 6.6% from the same period in 2004. In June 2001, occupancy was 61%, according to Smith Travel Research, but at that time the county had 5,000 fewer hotel rooms than today. Meanwhile, in the same weeks the average daily rate was $107 compared to $95 last year, up 13%. The national average for the period is $90.
"Hoteliers in Miami are saying that occupancy and room rates are "higher than they have ever been," said Grisette Marcos, executive director of the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority. "Every year it has been getting consistently better."
Miami has been diversifying its leisure options, she said, and becoming much more than just a beach destination.
This summer, Miami will again host the MTV awards, Meeting Planners International World Conference and Sunglass Hut Swimwear Show and will return with another year of Miami Spice Restaurant Month, offering restaurant discounts.
At the Hotel InterContinental downtown, director of sales Jeff Guillory projects 2005 to be the strongest summer since 2001 in both occupancy and rates. In July, for example, he said he expects a 25% increase in occupancy from July 2004 because of events such as Meeting Planners International and the XI Round of negotiations of the US-Andean Free Trade Agreement.
The convention bureau is expecting a record attendance of 3,500 participants in this year's meeting planners event.
"Summer is definitely better than years past," said Jeff Lehman, general manager of the National Hotel, who said he's energized by such blockbuster events in August as the video music awards and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Mr. Lehman said in June 2000 occupancy averaged 80% with room rates averaging $160. In contrast, this June occupancy was 93% and room rates $190.
"We are finding strong domestic customers and Europeans," Mr. Lehman said. "In Paris people are paying $250 for a two-star hotel room."