Brickell hoteliers: There's plenty of room for all of us
By Samantha Joseph
Despite two new major luxury brands and twice as much competition in the Brickell area, hoteliers say there's plenty of room for everyone in the financial district's growing tourism sector.
At Mandarin Oriental Miami, the first of Brickell's four luxury hotels, business grew 15% in July from July 2003.
Mandarin Oriental marketers say they welcome the new properties many feared would saturate the hospitality business in the strip known more for commerce than leisure.
"This raises the profile of the city," said Robert Touzel, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. "We're pleased that other luxury hotels have the confidence to invest in Miami."
When it opened four years ago, Mandarin Oriental was somewhat of an oddball among Brickell's high-rise offices and bank towers. Its pricey rooms - a night there can cost up to $2,499, according to its Web site - would be unrivalled for about two years, until Marriott introduced its own luxury brand to Brickell. JW Marriott brought 300 rooms to the area, adding to Mandarin Oriental's 350.
The strip's hospitality industry soared in the nine months between October and July as two competing properties, Four Seasons Hotel Miami and Conrad Miami, opened next door to each other.
The two companies built about 530 rooms and hotel residences - an immediate 80% increase in the area's inventory.
"I think its good for the city," Mr. Touzel said. "It means that there are other people promoting Miami as a corporate and leisure destination. It's no longer just us."
The heavy marketing that preceded the two major hotel openings coincided with an unrelated upswing in the tourism industry.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau reported visitor arrival grew 13% between January and May. During that time, 3.2 million visitors came to Miami-Dade County - compared to about 2.8 million in the corresponding period last year.
Aviation leaders said last week that the market had seen a marked improvement over the depression that followed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They said they expected a full recovery by 2007.
"Miami is doing extremely well," said Four Seasons spokeswoman Eveliny Bastos-Klein. "Despite the high number of hotels, occupancy has been extremely strong. It seems that there is business for all of us. From where I stand, having options for visitors is always a wonderful thing."
The new hotels bring variety to Brickell, she said, and offer the types of service that complement development in the financial district.
"We have some overlap, but we are not looking for exactly the same business," she said. "We are all very different hotels, so we appeal to very different guests for the most part. We knew, even before coming, that our guests were already coming to Miami and that they would stay with us if we were here."
She and other Brickell hoteliers say the new businesses offer the opportunity to change the area into an urban center with a mix of leisure and commerce.
"Between ourselves and the Four Seasons, Mandarin and JW Marriott, we will make a destination out of this part of the world," said Conrad's general manager, Robert Thrailkill.
"South Beach, Coral Gables (and) Coconut Grove all have a certain identity. Brickell doesn't have that," he said. "It has a reputation for banks and for business ... but I see a great opportunity for us and for Brickell in the next two or three years."
The strip's brisk development of residential, commercial and entertainment ventures creates a ready market for tourism, he said.
"All those things are going to be wonderful little attractions for this destination," said Mr. Thrailkill. "I think the potential and future of all these projects are very bright."
At Mandarin Oriental, "business has increased significantly this year over last," said Mr. Touzel, but not without some effort. To separate itself from the other tourism fare on Brickell, the five-diamond hotel took steps to not only build on its share of business travelers but also to tap into Miami's leisure market.
Last year, it created a private beach in a bid to stand out amongst its competitors on the inland Brickell strip and offer itself as a luxury alternative to South Beach hotels.
"As the new hotels have come online, we've taken it as an opportunity to keep ourselves as the best," Mr. Touzel said. "We felt we could attract not only the corporate traveler but the leisure guest as well."