Area enjoyed healthy winter tourism season, report says
By Marilyn Bowden
Winter tourism is bouncing out of recession in Greater Miami with a strong domestic showing and signs that the Latin American market is reviving, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"For the first time since 9/11, it went very well," said William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the bureau. "We have record tourist-tax collections and are close to leading the nation in hotel occupancies, daily room rates and availability."
Tax revenue generated by Miami-Dade County hotels from October through February totaled nearly $18 million, he said - an increase of 8.2% from pre-9/11 figures in 2000-01.
First-quarter statistics from Smith Travel Research show a 10.6-percentage-point surge in hotel occupancies in Miami-Dade from the same period last year. Hotel rooms were 81% filled in the quarter, the report says. South Miami-Dade, including Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, led the county with an 83.3% occupancy rate, an increase of 15.1 points.
Nationwide, a 62.5% average occupancy rate represented a 5.8-point climb.
More importantly, Mr. Talbert said, Miami hotels command some of the highest room rates in the country. Smith Travel said the average rate in the county was $132.32 in March, up 5.2% from March 2003.
Rates nationwide jumped 4.1% to $87.43, Smith Travel said.
Miami Beach and Bal Harbour hotels had the highest average room rates in the county - $166.96, a 6.4% jump from last year. Downtown Miami showed the highest increase, 9.1% to $118.18.
Mr. Talbert said domestic tourism accounted for much of the season's traffic but foreign business is showing promise.
"We're starting to see the return of Europeans because of the weak dollar," he said, "and Latin American tourism is strengthening."
Fueled by the first strong winter tourism season in three years, local hospitality industry officials are aggressively marketing the current festival season, which spans crowd attractions such as ArtBasel, Homestead's NASCAR events and the recent Coconut Grove Festival of the Arts, NASDAQ 100 tennis tournament and auto and boat shows.
"Right now, we have teams in Texas, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and all over Florida," said Mr. Talbert. "We're putting everybody on the road all over the US."
Bureau staff recently co-hosted the annual Florida Live trade show in Chicago with Visit Florida, the state's tourism-marketing agency.
Visit Florida has cut back on its Latin American campaigns due to a funding shortfall, spokesman Tom Flanigan said.
"We have been severely restricted during the past year-and-a-half," he said, "because our public revenues are declining."
The agency, established in 1976, depends on a $2-per-diem tourism tax on rental-car fees, Mr. Flanigan said, but the rental-car business has taken a hit in recent years due to softness in business travel and a dip in international tourism.
According to Latin American Travel Demand: Trends and Insights, a recent report from the Travel Industry Association of America, last year's dip in tourism from Latin American countries was an aberration in a decade-long upward trend.
"Latin America's outbound travel market has grown 33% in the past decade," the report said. "With a 43% market share, the US is by far the most-popular long-haul destination for travelers from Latin America. Although Latin American travel to the US declined again in 2003, it is forecast to grow by 3% in 2004."
For the visitors bureau, Mr. Talbert said, Latin America will always be an important target market.
"A third of our business comes from Latin America," he said. "We have in-market representatives in several countries. We're especially strong in Brazil because that is a huge market."
Mr. Talbert said the bureau's Latin American effort this year includes a partnership with Brazil's TAM Airlines to bring a group of 18 travel and destination planners active in corporate meetings and incentive-travel business to Miami.
Brazilian travel was low last year, the report said, but by much less than anticipated.
"The Brazilian currency, the real, grew robustly throughout the year," the report said, "fueling a year-end surge of Brazilian visitors to the US. Brazilian inbound tourism increased by double digits each month in the fourth quarter, ending the year with five consecutive months of growth."