Record number of local visitors, record spending achieved in 2007
By Lou Ortiz
An unprecedented 12 million people visited Miami-Dade County in 2007, spending $17.1 billion, according to a yearend report by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors bureau.
"We had a record year," Bill Talbert, bureau president and CEO, told Miami-Dade County commissioners March 18.
The number of tourists and visitors has been climbing since 2001, when the bureau recorded that more than 10.5 million people came here and spent $13.9 billion, the report, called 2007 Visitor Profile and Economic Impact Study, says.
Domestic visitors made up 54.1% of those who flocked to the area and foreigners 45.9%.
They included more than 3.5 million persons from Latin America, nearly 1.3 million from Europe and 556,000 from Canada, the report says.
"Visitors from Europe and Canada grew 5.7% and 5.5%, respectively" over 2006, the report said. "This is most likely due to the declining value of the US dollar."
"Miami has the greatest percentage of foreign visitors," Mr. Talbert told commissioners. "The highest in the United States. We're bucking the state [Florida] trend."
Visit Florida, the Sunshine state's tourism promotion agency, reported in February that that the number of Canadian, overseas and domestic non-residential tourists visiting Florida during 2007 totaled 82.4 million, based on preliminary estimates.
In 2006, 83.9 million travelers visited the Florida. Canadian travel to Florida rose sharply by 10.2% during 2007; in-state visitation rose 7.3%, with Floridians taking more than 13.9 million pleasure trips last year alone; and domestic visitors arriving by air rose 2% during 2007.
Visitors were not deterred from Miami even during the muggy summer months of July, August and September, Mr. Talbert added.
Of the visitors, 55% came for vacation, 14% for business or convention purposes, 20% to see relatives and 6% for other reasons, the report shows.
Of those visiting, 40.9% chose hotels in Miami Beach, 16.6% in downtown Miami, 13.2% in North Dade and Sunny Isle, 12.5% in the Grove/Gables/Biscayne area, 10.5% in the airport area and 6.3% in South Miami-Dade.
The top five reasons tourists came: the weather, 47.8%; the beaches, 35.8%; the international ambiance, 25.4%; the night life, 24.3%; and the shopping, 17.1%.
Other reasons included the area's attractions, such as the South Beach/Ocean Drive area, restaurants, cleanliness and the friendly people, the report shows.
Favorite places mentioned by tourists ranged from the Art Deco District to the Beaches and Coconut Grove.
"It's good news that we're having more European tourists, more people enjoying our community," Commissioner Katy Sorenson told Mr. Talbert.
Others on the commission agreed. Jose "Pepe" Diaz said: "Tourism is our No. 1 economic engine."
But Javier D. Souto sounded a word of caution.
"Our economy is very weak in this county because everything is concentrated in tourism," he said. "It is a very fragile industry. Everything that relates to tourism is beyond our control."
"What do you see in the future?" Mr. Souto asked Mr. Talbert.
"Don't give us a rosy picture," Mr. Souto said. "Give me the facts."
"This is a different town than 40 years ago," Mr. Talbert said. "We have four- and five-star hotels all over our community that cater to the high-end visitors. It's a more affluent market.
"As the economy softens," he said, "it will hit us later than the rest of the state."
An area of concern for tourists is the entry process into the country.
"Tighter visa control that has since emerged after 9/11 may be negatively affecting international travel to the US," the report said. "The negative images of the US in recent years may be detracting international visitors as well."
Said Mr. Talbert: "The entry process in the United States is the worst in the world. It's 20 times worse than Canada and seven times worse than Europe."
But Commissioner Souto cautioned that new security measures must not be weakened. "We cannot let go of security because we'd have a problem here," he said. "The problems at airports and getting into this country are international problems."
Nonetheless, Mr. Talbert said that 83% of the county's tourists in 2007 were repeat visitors.
"That's an incredible figure," Mr. Talbert said. "If you have a business, that's what you want — that repeat visitor."
The report was complied from data and interviews of visitors who arrived through Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood international airports.