Brazilians may be best bet for South American tourism business
By Catherine Lackner
Despite problems with the South American economy, the outlook for summer tourism to Miami from the region may not be as bleak as some have predicted, tourism officials said.
"Latin America represents a third of our overall tourism business and it's had its ups and downs," said Bill Talbert, president & CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. "I don't know that we've ever been as challenged as we are now, with so many countries" suffering economic uncertainty at once.
The bureau expects a "flat year" of trips originating in Argentina and Venezuela, but "Brazil is coming back slowly," he said.
To speed the process and hold market share, a $900,000 United LATAM TV Campaign has been launched with $250,000 from the bureau, $200,000 from United and a match by the state. It is part of a $2.6 million campaign to revive tourism, Mr. Talbert said, "and it's been very successful."
Other initiatives are under way, he said. Bureau representatives will travel on promotional trips to Brazil and Mexico in June. The Brazil trip will target that country's gay and lesbian market and in Mexico, representatives will showcase Miami's restaurants and the activities that are part of a summer campaign called Tropicool Miami festival.
"Actually, in Latin America, Central America and South America, Mexico has been very strong, both in business and leisure travel," Mr. Talbert said. "Mexico is one of our strongest markets."
And, having just returned from South America, J. Jason Mosquera, director of international sales for Loews Miami Beach Hotel, said "Brazil is ready to travel."
Mr. Mosquera said he visited Argentina, Brazil and Chile to participate in two trade and tourism shows, described as Visit USA and Destinos USA.
"These are set up by the US embassies in the respective countries," he said, and are attended by officials of the Greater Miami Conventions & Visitors Bureau and other local tourism agencies.
"We go as a group. It's like a mini-trade show or workshop. We work with the clients - wholesalers of tours and travel agents - who are going to be talking directly with the traveler and selling them on destinations. It's very useful."
Recovering from two years of currency devaluation, Brazilians have made the psychological adjustment and want to be out and about, he said.
"For two years they've pretty much stayed in the country or in South America," Mr. Mosquera said. "It's not going to be like previous years, when we had thousands of kids. But we're going to get some families and more adults with children."
Argentina, he predicted, "it's going to be more hit-or-miss. There's a certain percentage of people who have money. They will continue to travel to top destinations such as Miami and Orlando. They will stay in the better hotels. Of course, the volume will not be as great," but this group of wealthy travelers will not be much affected by the current unrest, he said.
"Chile has a very stable economy to start traveling as well," he said. "United Airlines is having great specials, as is American Airlines and LanChile," which will draw more middle class travelers, he said.
"The outlook is not going to be as bad as we thought," he predicted. "The interest is there and they want to travel. Brazil now has had two years of devaluation. They're getting used to it. In Argentina, it's going to take a little while longer."
"What we're finding is that there is a consistent building of tourism from South America," said Michael Aller, tourism & convention director and chief of protocol for the City of Miami Beach. "Reservations are looking good. Hopefully they will increase during the summer because we have the Tropicool Festival season starting and there are many, many wonderful activities and special events."
Tropicool is a campaign that groups attractions and festivals to bring more visitors to Miami Beach during the "off" season. Its promotion began last summer.
"Sept. 11 hasn't helped,: Mr. Aller said. "Certainly the financial situation in South America affects everyone. But hopefully people still want to take a vacation - it's their winter."
Mr. Aller said summer tourism on Miami Beach is a relatively new idea. "At one time, there was no tourism at all after Easter and before Thanksgiving."