As the extra-long Fourth of July weekend approaches, South Florida is preparing for its other busy tourist season.
Sure, the snowbirds have flocked back north to more temperate climes and the moneyed Art Basel crowds won’t return for months. But despite economic or political instability in their home countries, visitors from Southern Europe and South America flock to Miami-Dade and Broward counties in the summer to shop and hit the beach.
Thursday’s holiday, of course, is an all-American celebration — and hotels in South Florida are expecting the promise of waterfront fireworks and all-day barbecues to make for a busy long weekend.
Even though some resorts locally say they expect to be fully booked, a national and state forecast from AAA calls for slightly fewer travelers over the holiday period from Wednesday to Sunday.
Nationwide, the group expects some 40.8 million Americans to travel 50 miles or more from home, down less than 1 percent from 41.1 million last year. In Florida, the prediction is for just over 2 million travelers, a drop of less than 10,000 from 2012.
According to AAA, that drop is likely due to a shorter holiday period, since the Fourth falls on a Thursday rather than a Wednesday. Those who do travel should expect slightly higher gas prices than last year, as well as more expensive plane tickets, hotel rooms and car rental fare over the holiday weekend.
Jessica Brady, a spokeswoman for AAA — The Auto Club Group, said the anticipated small dip in Independence Day travel isn’t representative of the larger summer picture, with surveys showing more Floridians planning trips this summer than last.
“I think what it really is is that people are taking their vacations at the non-peak times,” Brady said. “People are still looking to save money.”
Despite the national and state trends, Miami-Dade hotels surveyed by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau expect about 75 percent occupancy for the holiday, compared to 70 percent last year.
Turnberry Isle Miami in Aventura, which has a full weekend of family activities and fireworks over the golf courses Thursday night, is sold out Thursday and Friday night, said sales and marketing director Kevin Rosa.
“Families are making it a four-day weekend,” he said.
In Broward, beachfront hotels are expecting in-state travel.
“I think what they’re doing is taking their weekend ahead of the weekend so they can be at the beach,” said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “That’s just the kind of business we can use.”
Grossman said the summer is shaping up to be strong thanks to business from drive markets, sports events and large family reunions.
“As long as we can keep summer gas prices below $4, I think we’re going to have an exciting summer,” she said. International traffic makes up about 20 percent of visitors in Broward, and Grossman said many of those will be Brazilians, Venezuelans and Colombians hitting Sawgrass Mills for back-to-school and holiday shopping.
“We would love for them to see the beach,” she said. “They may never get to do it.”
For five of the last six years, July has been the fourth busiest month of the year for hotels in Miami Beach, according to data from Smith Travel Research. (It came in No. 3 in 2011.) County-wide, summer visitor crowds increased 15 percent between 2009 and 2012.