Miami records record 12.6 million overnight travelers
By Ashley D. Torres
Miami-Dade's travel and tourism industry boomed in 2010, with details on the industry's local economic impact, types of travelers and visitor perceptions revealed this week by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"The demand for travel to Miami has never been greater," said William D. Talbert III, the bureau's president and CEO, at Tuesday's State of the Travel & Tourism Industry Breakfast.
Miami-Dade overnight visitors hit an all-time high of 12.6 million in 2010, fueled by 30 added American Airlines flights, new international routes, bureau marketing initiatives and strong Latin American feeder markets, which brought in 28 million visitors.
Domestic visitors rose 4.7% year over year to 6.544 million compared to 6.252 million in 2009, and international travelers climbed 6.6% year over year to 6.06 million over 2009's 5.684 million.
In addition, "we show absolutely no sign of 'been there, done that,'" Mr. Talbert said, with 80% of 2010 Miami-Dade visitors being repeat travelers.
The top 20 domestic feeder markets also saw an increase in travelers in 2010, led by 1.667 million New Yorkers, 378,536 Philadelphians and 384,227 Chicagoans, according to Synovate Research. On the international side, only two of Miami-Dade's top 20 travel feeder markets dropped. Canada, Brazil and Argentina were the top three international feeder markets with visitor numbers of 587,168, 555,302, and 381,718, respectively.
The high number of visitors significantly bolstered the local economy, bringing in $18.8 billion in visitor expenditures to restaurants, hotels, retail stores and transportation service companies. In addition, a record $127 million in tourist-related taxes was generated.
Roughly 98% of Miami-Dade overnight visitors travel by air, which the bureau suggested could be a result of competitive airfares and the large number of international travelers who rely on air travel. The remaining 2% travel to Miami-Dade by car.
Miami-Dade's appeal has also changed over the years, with 43.6% of 2010 visitors listing attractions among their most-liked features, Mr. Talbert said, compared to only 9.4% in 2006.
The tropical weather garnered the most praise, with 59.2% of visitors listing it among most-liked features, followed by attractions and South Beach/Ocean Drive, which received votes of 41% of visitors.
The bureau's initiatives have also helped to boost numbers by featuring local offerings at a discount such as this month's Miami Museum Month, where select museums like The Lowe Art Museum and Miami Children's Museum offer buy one admission, get one free.
Despite the significant growth in Miami-Dade's visitor industry, Mr. Talbert noted areas for improvement.
With many meeting and conventions flocking to the beach-side Miami Beach Convention Center annually, Mr. Talbert said, the facility needs improvements that match the first-rate city Miami has become.
"That building needs to be renovated," he said. "It's an embarrassment to this city."
In addition, "the travel and tourism industry needs to stop being the band," he said. "We need to start being the football team" in terms of policies such as securing visa waivers for South American countries like Brazil and Argentina.
Nonetheless, the industry has remained strong in 2011 with hotel occupancy climbing 2.9% in the first quarter to average 80.8%, according to Smith Travel Research's Trend Report, compared to 78.5% in the first quarter of 2009.
The industry's boom has also resulted in 16 consecutive months of year-over-year growth in Miami-Dade hospitality and leisure jobs that reached an all-time high of 110,700 jobs in March, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
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