Decline in flights prolongs area's tourism problems
Miami-Dade County hotel occupancy remains 4.4% below the levels of a year ago and room rates are off 4.8%, Smith Travel Survey reports.
What is more alarming for the local visitor industry is the declining number of flights arriving at Miami International Airport, down 13.5% from a year earlier, said David Whitaker, senior vice president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, at Tuesday's final meeting of the community's economic recovery task force.
Smith's figures - all from the week of April 13 - illustrate the continued plight of a visitor industry battered by the after-effects of the Sept. 11 attacks. Smith Travel Research is a Tennessee-based firm that monitors the lodging industry.
"We've seen the steady improvement, particularly at a crucial time" in the tourist season, Mr. Whitaker said, noting that the declines in occupancy and room rates result from comparisons with the near-record numbers of the past. He said the slow return to flight capacity bodes ill for Greater Miami, citing "our dependence, or perhaps over-dependence, on air travel to the destination."
He noted, however, the difficulty of reaching Miami other than by air, because more than half of the county's visitors come from Latin America and Europe. The bureau frequently states that 96% of Miami-Dade County's overnight visitors arrive by air.
While he presented figures from early March showing the county's hotel occupancy and room rates above those of the rest of the state - which itself is far ahead of the nation as a whole - he forecasted difficulty for the industry in the future.
"We are not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination," he said.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau has gathered $5.4 million to advertise the area as a destination from June through September, a period Mr. Whitaker called "a crucial time." He questioned the lingering effects of 9-11, asking rhetorically, "How has this changed the traveling public?"
One good sign emerged Tuesday in a survey of dream destinations for US tourists, with 40% choosing Florida - tops on the list. The Florida Keys, at 59%, were the 4th-rated individual destination.
Other leaders in the Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown/Yankelovich Partners 2002 National Travel Monitor include California (38%), Colorado (19%), Hawaii (19%) and Arizona (18%) on the list of states, and the out islands of Hawaii (71%), national parks (66%), Honolulu (65%) and mountain resorts of Colorado (55%) on the individual destination list. Europe (71%), Australia (25%) and the Caribbean (18%) top the list of international destinations.
The survey found that 36% of leisure travelers plan more trips in the next year. This would translate into a 6% increase in leisure trips by Americans. Only 25% said they would take fewer leisure trips.
The intentions of business travelers were even more optimistic. More than 40% plan more business trips in the coming year, while 22% expect to take fewer. The results suggest an 8% increase in business trips.
But the effects of 9-11 linger, as 18% of business travelers surveyed report flying less because of the associated inconvenience at security-enhanced airports.
Business travel clearly is an issue in Miami-Dade County. Mr. Whitaker was asked at the economic recovery task force meeting how the bureau can address business travelers, which make up 25% of this market's visitors.
He said the bureau focuses its business travel efforts on meetings and conventions, where he cited "recent improvement," and rarely tries to target individual business travelers. He said that meetings are being downsized, as fewer than expected persons register.
But he noted that room rates can be an advantage in wooing business travelers. Local hotels have never had to negotiate business room rates, he said, because of the attractiveness of this destination, but now rates have become an issue for all visitors.