Miami area hotel revenues down $15 million daily since attacks
By Paola Iuspa
Hotels in the area have been losing about $15 million a day since Sept. 12, said William Talbert, president & CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Last week's terrorist attacks shocked the nation and caused chaos in the air transportation system, in turn causing potential tourists and groups with scheduled business conventions to cancel plans.
"This is the largest industry in town," Mr. Talbert said of the hospitality sector here. "It is not surprising losses are so high."
Of the $15 million the industry is losing daily since last week, he said $3 million is from planned conferences and conventions that couldn't be held.
With 96% of tourists arriving in Miami by plane, he said, hotel occupancy rates should improve as airports resume more flights and travelers regain confidence. But no one knows when things will actually get better, Mr. Talbert said.
"We are used to things that have a beginning and an end," he said, "like a hurricane that comes and goes. But this is just beginning."
An alternative, Mr. Talbert said, could be to promote drive-in tourism across the state but even that "would only increase traffic 4%-16%." He said he plans to meet this week with the bureau's hotel partners.
About a third of Miami-Dade's visitors come from Latin America, Mr. Talbert said, and are expected to return once airports catch up with their schedules. Close to 1 million New Yorkers come annually to Miami for vacation as well, he said.
With occupancy rates dipping as low as 7%, hotel managers are encouraging staff to take vacations and work shorter shifts, said Stuart Blumberg, president & CEO of Greater Miami Hotel & the Beaches Hotel Association. He did not know of any layoffs of full-time employees.
Tourism generates directly and indirectly 365,000 jobs in Miami-Dade, Mr. Blumberg said.
"They want to make sure the staff is kept in place so when business goes up, they have the personnel in place," he said. Mr. Blumberg said September has always been one the industry's weakest months.
Jess Abbaticchio, director of public relations with the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, said the hotel's occupancy rate was between 7% to 12% for the week ending Tuesday while last year during the same period it was 78%.
"We have no plans to layoff employees," he said. "To deal with this, we are encouraging them to take vacation time. We are also offering in September a special rate of $99, down from $169, a night to attract businesses."
Iris Acosta, director of sales at the Sonesta Beach Resort Key Biscayne, said occupancy had been 10% but the hotel was sold out for this weekend because three convention groups have not canceled.
When five other groups canceled after the disaster, she said, the hotel lost $190,000 in revenues and $115,000 in unconsumed food that had been prepared. Phones are not ringing, Ms. Acosta said, and the hotel has stopped soliciting new business.
"We are focusing on our current customers," she said. "We are returning deposits or making arrangements to reschedule conventions."
With the uncertain economy, Mr. Talbert said bureau officials are anxiously monitoring hotel occupancy daily.