With Labor Day travel expected to jump nationwide, hoteliers in South Florida are hoping the holiday will provide a strong start to a typically slow month — and some are making extra sure of it with pool parties, concerts, and special deals.
According to a AAA forecast, 34.1 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home, a 4.2 percent increase from last year. That’s the highest number since 2008, when 45 million people ventured out for the holiday.
Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA, The Auto Club Group, said lower gas prices and more favorable economic conditions are likely contributing to the anticipated increase.
“People are feeling more financially comfortable at this point in time to enjoy the holiday,” she said. “We saw a very slow start and really a slow summer because Memorial Day and Independence Day travel was relatively the same as last year.”
In South Florida, the summer has seen solid growth in room rates, if not spectacular hotel occupancy gains. September typically brings the lowest numbers for hotel occupancy and among the lowest for rates.
In Miami-Dade, surveys conducted by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau show hotels expect to be 72-73 percent full, just about on par with last year’s weekend average of 73 percent. Chief marketing officer Rolando Aedo said that while July was flat occupancy-wise, rates shot up and both metrics increased in the first three weeks of August.
“Leading into September, we’re anticipating a very, very strong third quarter,” he said.
At the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, a music series called BleauLive that got its start two years ago is leading to a sold-out weekend. The concert this Sunday features Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke of Blurred Lines fame.
“We put it on weekends that we wanted to create an incredible amount of demand,” said Scott Flexman, vice president of sales and marketing for the resort.
Guests must book a package — starting at $369 a night this weekend — in order to take part in the concert and other events. Sales have picked up in the last week, Flexman said, and the 1,500-room hotel expects to be booked solid.
Several South Beach hotels are hosting pool parties throughout the weekend, including the SLS, which expects to sell out and draw locals who just want to hang out for the day at the Hyde Beach pool and lounge area.
“This year is just unbelievable, the response we’ve gotten from local outreach,” said Thomas Meding, Miami-area managing director for operator sbe.
Hotels in the Florida Keys also expect strong summer business to continue into the holiday weekend, with several reporting that they expect to sell out.
In an email, Broward tourism chief Nicki Grossman said she is confident that momentum will continue after a record-breaking summer so far. She said all indications point to a busy Labor Day weekend, followed a few days later by family visits from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year that starts the evening of Sept. 4 and lasts through the night of Sept. 6. The holiday typically falls later in the month or in October; students in both Miami-Dade and Broward have no school on Sept. 5.
“With our busiest ever June and July behind us, we now look forward to a best-ever September,” Grossman wrote.