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Front Page » Top Stories » Miami In Travel Overdrive Jump In Visitors Expected

Miami In Travel Overdrive Jump In Visitors Expected

Written by on November 24, 2011

By Scott Blake
Greater Miami’s travel industry went into overdrive this week with the arrival of the Thanksgiving holiday.

South Florida roads and Miami International Airport were expected to see increases in traffic beginning Wednesday for the long holiday weekend.

After that, some area hotels were expecting a boost in business from thousands of visitors pouring into Greater Miami for the Art Basel Miami Beach art show in the first week of December.

Nationwide, Thanksgiving travel is projected to increase 4% this year from 2010, with more than 42.5 million Americans taking a trip of 50 miles or more from home between Wednesday and Sunday, according to a survey by AAA Auto Club South in Tampa.

"This is definitely a positive sign for the travel industry," said AAA Travel Vice President Brent Hubele. "Despite sluggish economic news," Mr. Hubele added, "more people plan to travel this year than last, showing a slow, but steady recovery. Pent-up demand is likely the dominant factor contributing to the increase in the number of holiday travelers."

In Florida, more than 2.2 million people are expected to travel more than 50 miles from home for the holiday. That’s a 3.6% increase over last year, AAA Auto Club South said.

Breaking it down further, 2.03 million Floridians are expected to travel by car, in addition to 156,633 traveling by plane and 26,773 by bus or train.

Thanksgiving travel should result in a net influx of people into Greater Miami, as more travelers could be arriving than leaving for the holiday, said Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Jerry Libbin.

"Miami Beach is Miami Beach," Mr. Libbin said. "Whether it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas, people are always coming here."

Although oil prices recently surpassed $100 a barrel on the futures market, motorists traveling for Thanksgiving should see a little relief at the gasoline pumps — at least for the time being.

As of Tuesday, the average price of regular unleaded gas in Florida was $3.356 a gallon, down about 11 cents a gallon from a mo:nth ago, but up about 48 cents a gallon from a year ago, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

The overall holiday season — late November through December — usually sees a slight drop in business at Greater Miami hotels, compared with most months of the year, as some would-be tourists stay home for the holidays.

Last December, for example, area hotels had a 70.9% occupancy rate. That was up from the previous December, but it was still tied for the second-lowest occupancy rate of the last 12 months, trailed only by September, according to Smith Travel Research data.

Even if all of them aren’t staying at hotels, many visitors are expected to fly into Miami for the holidays.

Thanksgiving week travelers at Miami International Airport are expected to increase 2.5% over the same period last year, in contrast to the Air Transport Association of America’s forecast for a 2% decrease nationwide, said Miami International spokesman Greg Chin.

While Miami International doesn’t see the large fluctuations in traffic from holiday travel like some major airports do, travel into Miami’s airport was expected to peak at about 105,000 passengers on Wednesday — well above the roughly 90,000 passengers the airport sees on a typical day, Mr. Chin said.

However, flying for Thanksgiving won’t be cheap for many travelers.

Fuel costs, combined with steady air travel demand and passenger capacity cuts, have resulted in rising airfares in the past year. Thanksgiving airfares were expected to be 20% higher than last year, according to the AAA Leisure Travel Index.

Looking beyond Thanksgiving, December is an even busier time at Miami International, in large part due to Christmas travelers. In December 2010, for example, Miami International saw 3.24 million passengers, just slightly behind July, its busiest month, with 3.29 million passengers.

Last year, Miami International’s peak winter travel period was Dec. 21 through Jan. 7, when airport traffic totaled 1.99 million passengers, up 5.4% from the same period in 2009, according to Mr. Chin.

"About 50% of our business is international traffic,"al: he said. "But the traffic increase during the holidays mainly comes from a spike in domestic travelers."To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.