Miami Beach, visitors bureau reach marketing agreement
By Tom Harlan
Miami Beach appears likely to continue to be marketed under the Greater Miami brand.
An informal five-year deal was reached last week between the city and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Miami Beach and bureau officials hope to review financial terms of the deal and have a final contract by Dec. 8.
Under the previous contract, which expired Sept. 30, Miami Beach paid $5 million a year toward the bureau's budget of about $20 million.
Miami Beach officials highlighted parameters of the proposed deal at Tuesday's meeting of the Finance and Citywide Projects Commission.
According to city documents, the is to include base funding of $5 million a year adjusted for inflation, performance measures and a new governance plan that would begin in September 2005.
In meetings in September, bureau officials outlined financial requirements for a new strategic plan to market the city to convention planners and tourists for the next five years.
At a Nov. 18 meeting, Miami Beach offered financing that met the bureau's needs, said City Manager Jorge M. Gonzalez.
The bureau markets Miami-Dade County's visitor and convention industry and includes more than 1,000 private business members and agreements with four local governments - the county, the City of Miami, Village of Bal Harbour and Miami Beach.
In 2002, Miami Beach renewed its contract with the bureau but hired Economics Research Associates, a California firm, to study the bureau's work and give recommendations on whether the city's tourism and convention industries should continue to be marketed under its model.
The firm reviewed the bureau's marketing efforts and concluded that the city should stick with the bureau and continue to be marketed as a visitor and convention destination with the rest of Miami-Dade County.
But some industry officials disagree with the findings.
David Kelsey, president of the South Beach Hotel and Restaurant Association, said Miami Beach should have its own marketing agency so it can focus on attracting groups that would visit the city for its beaches, nightlife and trendy restaurants.
Competing cities such as Fort Lauderdale and Key West have had success launching aggressive campaigns targeted to specific groups such as gay tourists, he said.
"Bureaus are the old-fashioned way of doing business," he said. "We can't be one of 25 municipalities someone is looking after."
If the Beach had its own agency, it could create a tailored marketing approach to attract crowds in the summer, when business at beach hotels and restaurants fall 30% to 40%, he said.
"As it gets to be more expensive to do business here, that drop has become more of a concern to us," he said. "We believe a very tailored marketing approach marketing us as a summer tourist destination could improve those numbers significantly."
The bureau has received criticism for having a poor Web site, he said, adding that more than 60% of travelers make plans over the Internet.
"We need to be innovative and creative," he said, adding that a Beach bureau could create a site that promotes the city's unique offerings. "A regional campaign to promote Miami-Dade County just doesn't cut it."
For example, he said, Orlando may promote Walt Disney World as part of a campaign to market Greater Orlando but Disney still has a marketing campaign to target its customers.
He said the city should devote $1 million to the bureau for a regional campaign and $1 million to attract convention business and retain $3 million to promote South Beach.
Mr. Gonzalez declined to comment on terms of the new deal but said the two parties have a handshake agreement to put terms in writing and review it in coming weeks.
An aide for bureau CEO William Talbert said talks are progressing and the bureau expects to make an announcement soon.
Miami Beach offered to continue paying $5 million a year to the bureau for five years but did not want to give incentive payments of $800,000 to $900,000 a year, Mr. Kelsey said.
Under the proposed deal, the bureau would not receive incentives but could contract for additional services approved by Miami Beach.
"The numbers are still being finalized," Mr. Gonzalez said, adding that the deal accommodates the needs of the bureau within the funding parameters the city commission provided. "The devil is in the details, but there is nothing left on the table to discuss. We both got what we wanted."