Art Basel expected to fill Miami Beach hotel rooms
By Sherri C. Ranta
Crowds attending Art Basel Miami Beach, the Swiss international contemporary arts festival, are expected to fill Beach hotel rooms this week and boost attendance at other art-related events throughout South Florida.
Repeat performances of the festival-inspired, higher-than-usual hotel occupancy and daily rates experienced last year are expected again this year, said David Whitaker, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau senior vice president for marketing and tourism.
"It's a great way to kick off peak winter season to have an event this early in December that draws so many people," he said.
At Art Basel Miami Beach at Miami Beach Convention Center Dec. 1-4, 195 galleries from the US, Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa will display and sell works from more than 2,000 artists. The galleries were selected from a pool of 620 applicants.
Observers say more than $100 million will be exchanged as a result of the festival as private and institutional collectors from all over the world acquire more works.
Bureau officials expect Miami Beach hotel occupancies during Art Basel to be about 74% compared to 71.2% in 2004. At the same time last year Florida's occupancy rate was about 65% and the national rate was about 55%. "We'll see the impact of a strong kickoff to our holiday season," Mr. Whitaker said.
Average daily rates last year during Art Basel rose to $123.26 in Miami Beach and $105.97 in Miami, he said, while the same timeframe produced Florida's average of $87.50 and the national average of $86.81.
Art Basel Miami Beach, Mr. Whitaker said, is not just another convention. "The kinds of people this event attracts includes art critics, art lovers and dealers - a sophisticated audience, affluent individuals."
It is impossible to count how many rooms Art Basel will fill, said Stuart Blumberg, president of Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. The bottom line is, he said, attendance increases every year.
Nicholas Christopher, president of Turon Travel of New York, official festival travel agency, contracted a block of rooms at 30 hotels on the Beach and in Miami. "We're much busier this year," he said. "We've moved about 1,500 of them. Reservations started much earlier. People started asking in February. Most of the nice rates were gone by June."
Visitors, he said, asked about damage left by Hurricane Wilma but most people "figured it happened weeks ago anyway."
City of Miami art and entertainment liaison Dennis Leyva says in just four years the event has grown to inspire art-related events throughout South Florida - from Palm Beach to Miami Dade. "The fact that there are events outside of the convention center - I think that is a great achievement."
Another benefit to South Florida, he said, is the increased awareness of the arts. "The combination of this being a tri-county event, the fact that it has expanded beyond the point of view of Art Basel, bringing additional galleries and artists - we're getting a far bigger view of the art world."
"It is the biggest art show in the US," he said, "and probably the most prestigious art show in the Western Hemisphere."
As city point person for Art Basel Miami Beach, Mr. Leyva says his job includes making sure festival officials are referred to the right city departments as well as answering questions for other galleries coming to Miami for the festival. This year he's worked with two art galleries whose owners couldn't find space on the Beach but will open shows in the City of Miami's Wynwood Arts District.