Tourist-tax revenue, hotel occupancy rise in first-half '06
By Charlotte Libov
Tourist-tax revenue and hotel occupancy in Miami-Dade County have risen, according to figures that show visitors are spending more money while here.
This lends credence to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau's belief that its strategy of going after more well-heeled tourists is paying off.
New figures show that for the first six months of this year, the county welcomed 6.1 million visitors, a 3% increase from a year earlier, when 5.9 million visited. But tourist-tax revenues jumped 10%, bolstering the county's strategy of marketing to wealthier visitors, said David Whitaker, senior vice president of marketing for the visitors bureau.
"Even though there are more people coming here, the real dramatic news is that the average daily room rate has increased significantly, and that's been the trend for the past three to five years. So not only are we having more people coming, but they are paying more," he said.
International travel here grew 2% to 2.7 million visitors from 2.4 million in 2005. But domestic travel grew 5% to 3.42 million from 3.25 million.
A total 11.3 million visitors came here all of last year, a 3.1% gain from 2004, indicating that the county has overcome the slump that occurred after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Whitaker said.
"We've been marketing to a more high-end visitor," Mr. Whitaker said. "Look at the hotels that have come online. We have three Ritz-Carltons, the Four Seasons and the new boutique hotels. The quality of our product has increased dramatically, so we are attracting higher-income visitors. The customer going to the Mandarin Hotel, the Four Seasons and the Delano is different than the customer who went to the Holiday Inn in South Beach," which is to be demolished to make way for the five-star W Hotel South Beach hotel and condo.
"A lot of our focus is on the high-end customer, and we are talking to them in language that they understand," Mr. Whitaker said. "We're in publications like Food & Wine, Elle and GQ. Our events are also marketing to that group - we have the Food and Wine Festival; Art Basel; the nation's top film festivals including the Gay and Lesbian Film festival, the top black film festival and the Miami International Film Festival, which has a bit of a Latin flavor. So we've got a target program to get the high-value customers, and we've got the events that they are talking about."
Another top draw is Miami Spice, a two-month restaurant promotion that is part of the "summer festival period we've strategically created," Mr. Whitaker said. With such promotions, Mr. Whitaker said, he is hopeful the numbers will stay higher through the rest of the year, especially as the traditional tourism season begins in the fall.
"There is a shift we've benefited from. A decade ago, there was significant drop-off in the summer, so it's been our passion to add to the summer season, and we're excited about what we're seeing in these revenue figures," he said.
Mr. Whitaker said the county had a 10.4% increase in tax revenue in May and 8.4% in June from the same months last year.
The county would need to have considerable repeat business next year to keep its numbers high, Mr. Whitaker said. "Our biggest challenge is making sure that people not only come here but they have a satisfactory experience."