County hospitality industry registers record employment
By Charlotte Libov
Triggered by a booming visitor industry, the number of persons working in Miami-Dade County's hospitality sector has hit a record 103,000.
Preliminary figures compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed jobs in the county's leisure and hospitality areas rose 1.9% last month from a year earlier, said Jaap Donath, vice president of research and strategic planning for the Beacon Council, the county's economic development partnership.
Although year-end figures aren't in, data from January through November indicate employment levels should easily top those of 2005, when a monthly average of 100,000 persons were working in hospitality here.
That figure was topped in January, with 100,500 employed. Figures for the following nine months have remained above 100,000, with 103,000 persons employed in November 2006 – the most in the county's history – compared with 101,100 for that month in 2005.
As for year-end figures, the average number of people employed in the industry has grown over 2003-2005, from 92,600 to 97,700 to last year's 100,000, after dipping to 90,400 in 2002 from 94,600 in 2001.
"In both occupancy and room rate levels, we are doing very well, and high occupancy rates mean that more people are needed to service the guests in the hotels," Dr. Donath noted.
The growth in the leisure and hospitality industry was another indicator of a rosy job picture in the region, which saw increases ranging from 1.4% in construction to 4.4% in the financial sector. In addition, jobs in the county's hospital industry rose 3.6%, wholesale trade 2.0% and professional services 1.8% between November 2005 and 2006, Dr. Donath noted.
These increases, he said, also feed into the hospitality industry's growth, because more business generates more business travelers, who bolster the need for conference facilities, meeting and hotel rooms.
William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he was delighted with the job figures, which show that hospitality is no longer a seasonal employer. He noted that more people were employed in hospitality jobs in July (101,100), than in January (100,500), historically Miami's high winter season. This, he said, shows strength of the market and the strength of the summer season.
"Travel and tourism is our Number 1 industry. That's why we report the employment figures as much as we can," Mr. Talbert said. "To see the number of jobs in July so clearly demonstrates that this is a 12-month-a-year industry. It wasn't a generation-and-a-half ago, when the hotels of Miami Beach closed down during the summer."
Jeff Lehman, general manager of the National Hotel in Miami Beach, finds the growth of the hospitality industry satisfying but said it can translate into headaches in areas like Miami, where it's difficult to find high-caliber people to service an increasingly demanding clientele.
"There are lots of jobs, but Miami Beach has a shortage of affordable housing, so it makes it tough to fill positions," Mr. Lehman said. However, he added, steady hotel occupancy rates make the task somewhat easier, because staff isn't lost through layoffs during a slow time.
"I'm not saying we don't have a turnover rate," he said. "It's one of our biggest challenges, but we do have less of a turnover rate than other hotels."
Jennifer Vandekreeke, the Biltmore hotel's marketing director, agreed that filling slots with very capable people is challenging.
"When the Biltmore hires, it's not just for specific skills," she said. "We are looking specifically for a level of warmth and hospitality, I'm not going to tell you its easy to hire and easy to train people like this, but it pays off."