Miami Beach's 'think-tank on steroids' to try to head off further visitor decline
By Scott E. Pacheco
Area hotels, under fierce economic pressures, are about to get aid from a broad-based Miami Beach initiative unveiled this week.
The Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority and Mayor Matti Herrera Bower have created a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Tourism, similar to an effort after 9/11 to keep people coming to Greater Miami.
It takes life as Greater Miami's hotels saw dips in bed tax collections, occupancy, average daily room rate and revenue per available room in November.
And the news short-term doesn't appear to be getting much better.
"For the next few months, the occupancy doesn't look good at this moment," said Tara Holloway, public relations coordinator for the Setai, in an e-mail.
And in another sign of the flagging economy, travelers are booking increasingly at the last minute.
"The booking window is quite a bit shorter," said Richard P. Millard, chairman & CEO, Tecton Hospitality and Desires Hotels, which operates eight area boutique hotels.
But Miami Beach tourism and hospitality officials aren't going to sit back and just watch things get worse.
"More people have stopped moving around and this is a town that lives on business and tourism," Mayor Bower said. "We need to be ahead of the curve all the time."
Chairing the task force will be Stuart Blumberg, president and CEO The Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association, who also chaired the previous effort.
"I'm calling this a tourism think-tank on steroids," he said. "We're not moaning and bemoaning like other destinations are. We are going to do something about it
"Why sit back and wait for the next bad month? We don't know what next summer is going to bring, but we want to be prepared."
Mr. Blumberg said the authority called a meeting of tourism industry officials after the economy worsened in the fall. After dialogue, it was determined that a task force, of which they had a successful precedent, was the way to go.
He said the previous task forces had many successes, including flushing out the relationship of Miami Beach with gay and lesbian groups, as well as emphasizing boutique hotels.
The task force's diverse group of local volunteer industry professionals will form committees to review special events and culture, the airport and seaport, the Miami Beach Convention Center, marketing, film and fashion, and key targets. Visitor and Convention Authority members will also serve on the task force.
Each committee — comprised of a chair, co-chair and three members — is to list both short- and long-term initiatives and ideas that pertain to the economic situation.
The task force is to report its finding to the Mayor and Commissionon March 18.
Unlike the period after the Sept. 11 attacks, people now aren't afraid to get on planes. Also unlike then, Mr. Blumberg said, the Beach is busy.
"You are dealing with people who are traveling but economically may not be able to travel," he said. "Here we are in an economic situation, but you can't walk on Lincoln Road — it's packed.
Mayor Bower said she doesn't know "if it's inevitable" that Miami Beach will get slammed by the recession, and she doesn't want to find out.
"We want to head it off," she said. "What is it that can be done, what is that should be done? The more you discuss it the more you find ways to slow it down."
Said Grisette Marcos, executive director of the authority: "We feel it's time to look at the destination again and how to maintain our position in the industry and basically how to move it forward."