Summer visitor numbers improve but fall will be real test, industry expert says
By Scott E. Pacheco
Improving summer visitor numbers in Greater Miami may not mean much to long-term recovery, industry experts at a governor's conference say, but global factors may presage a future travel bonanza here.
"It's really going to be what you see September, October," said Mark Lomanno, president of Smith Travel Research.
He said summer is "more of a leisure traveler season" and that those travelers "didn't go away as much as business travelers."
Average daily room rate in Greater Miami in July fell off in single digits for the first time since January, according to Smith Travel.
Occupancy fell 8.7% to 64.2% from July 2008; average daily room rate dropped 9% to $116.80; and revenue per available room fell 16.9% to $74.98.
Those numbers are better than the January-through-July figures, which show occupancy down 11.2% to 67.2%; average daily room rate down 13.1% to $150.73; and revenue per available room down 22.8% to $101.30 from the same period of 2008.
Mr. Lomanno; Peter Yesavich, chairman and chief executive officer of Y Partnership, a travel, leisure and entertainment marketing firm; and Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the US Travel Association, sat on a panel Monday at the Fontainebleau resort that discussed recovery of the US and Florida tourism industries during the 42nd annual Governor's Conference on Tourism.
Mr. Lomanno warned that room rates may not start to recover for another year and that too many hotels are sacrificing rates for occupancy.
He said informal talks with travelers indicate many would pay more than they have for rooms and are aware that they'll have to pay more in the future.
"The key thing is there are still a lot of people coming," he said. "Just make sure you are not giving up too much room rate."
Mr. Yesavich said a wise way to offer can't-miss deals is to target people who haven't made up their mind to travel.
"The smart money is in strategic discounting," he said. "It makes no sense to discount a business trip for a business traveler."
Mr. Lomanno agreed, saying the price often just means a shift in which property or location a traveler visits. "People have already decided that they are going to travel."
Looking forward, promising signs abound Miami.
One of them: for the first five months this year, Miami-linked South America was one of two regions of the globe, the other being Eastern Europe, whose visitation to the US grew, up 1.2% from the prior year, according to the International Trade Administration.
Additionally, the administration projects international visitation to grow overall again every year from 2010 to 2013.
Mr. Dow of the US Travel Association said also that Argentina and Brazil are two of four countries that could gain US visa-waiver designation, potentially doubling visitors from those countries.
And a final bit of good news: the US Senate is considering the Travel Promotion Act of 2009, which would create a public-private partnership with a budget of up to $200 million a year to lure international travelers and could drive $4 billion annually in new US spending by those travelers.