Hot winter bookings warming Miami-Dade hoteliers' wallets
By Ashley D. Torres
With visitors booking farther in advance and a rebounding group market, Miami-Dade County's winter season hotel rates and occupancies are climbing, pointing to more confident travelers and financially-improved businesses.
South Florida's winter season kicks off with Art Basel, stretches from December to April and brings big business to area hotels when high season begins around the December holidays.
Miami Beach-based Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa, 6801 Collins Ave., where the winter season commences Dec. 22, has noted an increase in visitors booking in advance, said Jorge Collazo, director of sales and marketing.
On Dec. 1, 2009, Canyon Ranch's occupancy booked ahead for the week of Dec. 22 was about 50%, Mr. Collazo said, with the hotel sold out by the end of the month. However, the occupancy for the holiday week was already at 80% this past Dec. 1.
"Travelers are feeling more confident," Mr. Collazo said, "and are not afraid to make plans in advance."
January and February bookings at Canyon Ranch are also about 10% higher year over year with February bookings alone currently at about 50% more room nights than February 2010.
In addition, Mr. Collazo said, Canyon Ranch, where the starting room rate is currently $525, has noted rate increases due to more visitors buying up. Last year many tourists opted for the less expensive city-view accommodations, he said, and this year more are selecting ocean-front suites.
The Hyatt Regency Miami, 400 SE Second Ave., has also noted an improved winter season grounded by strong feeder markets from such regions as the Northeast and Latin America.
Occupancy at the Hyatt Regency has been steady at about 90%, said John Visconti, director of sales and marketing, and rates, which had declined in past years, are expected to slightly climb in 2011.
Group bookings — those for 10 rooms or more — also took a hit over the past two years as companies cut back on travel expenses and group bookings attendance dropped.
However, groups this year have begun to rebound, Mr. Visconti said, as the Hyatt Regency has received a rise in group business scheduled on shorter notice, which can be attributed to financially-struggling businesses postponing meetings and scrambling to book them as the economy improves.
The higher frequency of group bookings combined with the short lead time, Mr. Visconti said, is a positive sign of companies' economic status.
And the positive winter season rate and occupancy trend is expected to continue into upcoming seasons.
Hotel occupancies are expected to rise 2% to 4% this year, said Wendy Kallergis, the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association's president, via email, and rates are likely to climb 2.5% to 7%.
Year over year, average hotel occupancy and rate rose each month from January to November 2010, according to Smith Travel Research's Miami-Dade Trend Report, signaling a strengthening South Florida tourism market going into 2011.
A "feeling of optimism in the industry is being felt worldwide," said Mr. Collazo. "It's a very good thing after the two years we had."
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