Occupancy on rise but hotels well short of normal bookings
By Jon Gutierrez
and Jaime Levy
Area hotel occupancy rose last week to 45% from the prior week's 35%, says David Whitaker, vice president of marketing & tourism for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
While the bureau didn't measure occupancy weekly last year, he said, average occupancy in October 2000 was 69%.
"Each week for the last several weeks, we've been seeing improvements," Mr. Whitaker said. "But we're not going to rest until we not only get occupancy rates back to where they were, but growing again. It's going to be a daily, weekly and monthly effort."
The bureau is continuing its marketing thrust, "What makes you happy," which premiered in a full-page ad in USA Today Friday. The ads, which feature people at play, are intended to gently remind readers that it's OK to return to the things they enjoy, Mr. Whitaker said.
The bureau is also continuing its campaign to increase hotel occupancy by offering special hotel and cruise packages featuring discounts on cruises with Carnival Cruise Lines, NCL and Royal Caribbean if visitors stay in a Miami hotel before or after a cruise.
The advertisements, which began Sept. 29, ran in the Atlanta Constitution, Baltimore Sun, Boston Globe, Charlotte Observer, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press and Philadelphia Inquirer. The campaign is to expand this week to include spots in Newsday, Newark Star, Washington Post and Hartford Courant.
While occupancy rates may be recovering, the drop in revenue from tourists following the Sept. 11 attack has devastated many area hotels.
Citing a projected loss of more than $5 million over the next six months, representatives from the Biltmore Hotel requested at Tuesday's Coral Gables City Commission meeting an abatement of part of its rent for the next six months, estimated at $400,000 to $500,000.
Officials from the hotel, which the city owns, said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, bookings for the month dropped from about 70% occupancy to about 20%.
Mayor Don Slesnick said the city commission decided to postpone a vote until its next meeting "to do more investigation and study into what we're being asked to do and whether we can afford to do it."
In an attempt to bring residents to attractions also hit by the drop in tourist dollars, the bureau and Miami members of the Florida Attractions Association are offering two admissions for the price of one with the use of special coupons that are to appear in local papers this weekend.
The attractions include Miami Seaquarium, Parrot Jungle & Gardens, Miami Museum of Science, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Monkey Jungle, Miami Metrozoo, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, Miccosukee Indian Village, Everglades Alligator Farm and Deering Estate.
Mr. Whitaker said the coupons should be appearing in daily and weekly newspapers, including Miami Today.