Visitors bureau to step up Latin American effort next year
By Claudio Mendonça
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is taking long strides - literally - to maintain its biggest single client base, the Latin American market.
With 63% of its foreign visitors coming from Latin nations, the bureau plans a trip to Bogota to visit Anato, Colombia's biggest travel show, Feb. 20-24. Bureau representatives were recently in Argentina and Brazil for those countries' top tourism events.
"We will be participating in 12 major trade shows in the region this year," said David Whitaker, marketing vice president for the bureau. "We like to exhibit and interact with tour operators and monitor some of the changes. It is all about who we meet and showing who we are. It is all about being visible"
According to the bureau, of Miami-Dade County's 11 million annual overnight visitors, 5.2 million come from abroad, 3.3 million from Latin American countries.
Four of Miami's six largest international markets and nine of the top 16 are in Latin America. Brazil is Latin America's largest provider of visitors here with 400,000 a year, said Bill Talbert, bureau CEO, second only to Canada and ahead of Germany. Argentina is No. 4, Colombia No. 5 and Venezuela No. 6.
Mr. Whitaker stressed the importance of Latin American markets, noting that in January, 2,759 flights arrived from Latin America.
For upcoming months, Andre Nunes, owner of DuMonde Travel in downtown Miami, forecasts a 50% increase in Brazilian travelers from a year ago because Brazil's currency has stabilized. Years ago, inflationary periods in Brazil made it difficult for residents to make long-range plans, including travel arrangements.
For the coming months, flights from Brazil to Miami are expected to arrive full. "Because of that country's economic stability, travelers now can parcel their purchases in 10 installments," Mr. Nunes said. "They'll pay a little more, but in the long run, they feel it is worth it."
Six months ago, he noted, 70% of DuMonde's sales on flights between Miami and Brazilian cities were made in the US. Now these numbers have reversed, Mr. Nunes said, with 70% of sales being made in Brazil.
The influx of Venezuelans and Chileans is also on the rise, Mr. Nunes said, with more flights coming from Santiago.
Gaston Rodriguez, sales manager for Varig Brazilian Airlines, said many tourists will be coming from South America during carnival time in February. Ironically, many people who do not enjoy Carnival take a week off from work and head to the US to take refuge from samba drums.
For Mr. Whitaker, the tough task ahead for the bureau is to maintain a faithful clientele in Latin America. Despite stiff competition from other US cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark and New York and European destinations, he said, Miami retains advantages such as historic cultural ties with Latin America.
The bureau will be working extra hard this year to lure South American travelers, Mr. Whitaker said. Historically, in years when Olympics and the soccer world cup are played there is a visitor downturn. This summer, for example, many from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires are heading to Germany for the soccer World Cup in June.
"It would be naive on my part to think that tourists only come to Miami," said Mr. Whitaker, who noted that tens of thousands of fanatics will fly to Germany to root for their countries' teams.