Tourism officials smiling about summer after jobs report
By Sherri C. Ranta
Record numbers of hospitality jobs, high hotel occupancies and room rates and increased restaurant sales are indicators, experts say, that Greater Miami is reaching its longtime goal of year-round tourism.
Jobs in Miami-Dade County's visitor-related industries rose 7% in June from the same month last year. That equates to 7,000 new jobs - from 97,800 last year to 104,800 this year, according to the US Department of Labor.
Visitor-industry jobs plummeted after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Labor statistics show jobs dropped 6.1% in June 2002 in Miami-Dade and began climbing the next year. They grew 1.6% in June 2003, 5.7% in June 2004 and 7.2% in June 2005 year-over-year.
The recent summer numbers demonstrate that South Florida now has year-round tourism, said William Talbert, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. "If ever there was tangible evidence, that job growth tells you it's there," he said. "When did you ever hear of tourism jobs growing in June?"
Local visitor-industry jobs have grown from 81,900 in June 1995, a 23,000 increase.
Figures from Smith Travel Research support the idea that Miami's summer tourism industry has arrived. Hotel occupancy countywide is up 6.8% from 2004.
The hotel popularity is not restricted to traditional areas such as Miami Beach or Coral Gables. Hotel occupancy in June downtown and in North Dade was up 4.3%; in Miami Beach 9.4%; in South Dade, including Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, 7.6%; and in the airport/Civic Center area 3.9% from June 2004.
Mr. Talbert and others credit the opening of four- and five-star hotels such as Mandarin Oriental, JW Marriott, Four Seasons, Conrad, Trump Sonesta in Sunny Isles Beach and Ritz-Carltons in Coconut Grove, South Beach and Key Biscayne in recent years for the jobs growth. Full-service hotels demand more staff, he said, fueling more employment.
Restaurant sales were up 6.8% in June from June 2005, Smith Travel reports.
Bruce Singer, former president of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, said he sees the increased activity. "This town is hopping right now - in the summer. The restaurants are doing great.
"I think you're going to see incredible numbers through the summer," he said.
The growth drives tourist-related tax collections, said Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. "Our occupancy levels and daily room rates have dramatically increased. The end result is a huge growth in our bed-tax collection. Add them all together, and it means increased employment.
"Aggressive branding of the destination," Mr. Blumberg said, and a "love affair" between the traveling public and Greater Miami are responsible for the increases.
Convention bureau officials agree. They cite "aggressive" marketing efforts to foster a year-round visitor business - such the Sunglass Hut Swim Show Miami in July that brought the world's top swimsuit designers to Miami Beach. In the same month, the Meeting Professionals International Conference met in Miami Beach, drawing 3,500 event planners.
Mr. Talbert said TV commercials began airing in June to market summer business in Florida. "It's a reminder that Miami is a hip and cool place to take a vacation in your own backyard," he said.
Frank Nero, president of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development agency, said higher occupancy numbers reflect an increase of 25% or more in business-related travel.
"Growth in the downtown hotels is being driven by business. A lot of folks are staying in the hotels in downtown, Key Biscayne, Coral Gables for business but staying on for pleasure."
Another US terrorism attack, Mr. Singer said, would hit everyone hard. But when the numbers are viewed historically, he said, "the product is the product. It might take a while, but we'll be back."