Miami Beach’s tourism industry was already feeling whiplash from Hurricane Irma Wednesday as tourists cleared out of the hospitality town before the Category 5 hurricane arrived.
As of Wednesday evening, most hotels on Miami reported they were about 30 percent full or less, said Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. Kallergis said she expected most hotels in Miami Beach, which are largely in Zone B evacuation zones, to be empty by the end of the week.
“We are all anxious. It’s a big storm,” Kallergis said.
Hotels in Zone A and B evacuation zones will have to evacuate in the case of a mandatory evacuation order. That is expected to start on Thursday following a mandatory evacuation order issued Wednesday night for Zone A and the barrier islands of Zone B.
Earlier this week, Gimenez and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine encouraged tourists to leave town ahead of Irma.
“I'm also requesting that all of our visitors that are here in Miami-Dade County on their vacations should consider cutting their vacations short.” Gimenez said in a press briefing Tuesday.
I'm also requesting that all of our visitors that are here in Miami-Dade County on their vacations should consider cutting their vacations short.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez
In tourist-heavy South Beach, travelers were heeding Gimenez’s warning. The scene was quiet Wednesday, with most restaurants along Ocean Drive nearly empty at lunchtime.
Norma Capuano of London, who was traveling with her extended family of six, is flying out Thursday evening. The family’s two-week Florida trip, which ended in the Keys, was interrupted by an evacuation there. Their hotel on Duck Key announced it was evacuating guests on Wednesday and Capuano’s family figured they’d get a head start on traffic and head out Tuesday.
They ended up at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, where they will stay before heading home Thursday.
“It's all gone to pot really, but this is a beautiful hotel,” Capuano said. “Maybe it all worked out.”
In downtown Miami, most hotels are sold out, said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, in part due to the evacuation order in the Florida Keys.
All hotels have an evacuation plan for their guests and employees, Kallergis said. And hotels’ sister properties will likely open their doors for displaced travelers, added Aedo.
“We are confident they are going to pull out all the stops and work very closely to re-accommodate our guest with their sister properties across the community,” he said.
We are confident [hotels] are going to pull out all the stops and work very closely to re-accommodate our guest with their sister properties across the community.
Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer at the Greater Miami
Jonathan Plutzik, chairman of The Betsy, said the Ocean Drive hotel has a comprehensive hurricane plan.
“Obviously we are planning to facilitate any arrangements necessary for our guests,” Plutzik said. “We do the best we can to accommodate them, hold their hand, help them with transportation services and ensure their safety most of all.”
He added that he expects most guests to be gone by the time Irma hits, but for those who stay, the Betsy will have a crew on property throughout the storm.
“The goal is to close the hotel in anticipation of the storm, but we deal with the realities of human circumstance and we try to accommodate as best we can,” Plutzik said.
The goal is to close the hotel in anticipation of the storm, but we deal with the realities of human circumstance and we try to accommodate as best we can.
Jonathan Plutzik, chairman of The Betsy Hotel
The bureau’s hotel availability tool keeps a running list of the number of rooms and average rates available at hotels across the county. During Hurricane Harvey in Texas last month, some hotel chains such as Hilton and Wyndham lowered rates to welcome displaced hurricane evacuees. While no announcements have been made in South Florida yet, Kallergis said, some hotels are already offering lower rates.
Kallergis said she expects hotels in areas affected by evacuation orders to close their doors in the coming days. And if Irma hits South Florida, hotels will assess the damage after the storm and look to open again for locals who may be without power or lodging.
“As quickly as we can reopen if hotels are in fact closed, which looks like that may happen, [we will]. “[Hotels] will be ready to get back and accommodate people as soon as possible,” she said.
If we have to evacuate [from the Loews Miami Beach], we'll drive back sooner than planned. Today, we hit the beach.
Annabelle Baker, Miami Beach tourist
For now tourists seem to be taking the changes to their plans in stride.
Annabelle Baker, who arrived Wednesday from Atlanta and was celebrating a long-planned girl’s weekend with her best friends, said they talked about canceling on Tuesday but decided to chance it.
“If we have to evacuate [from the Loews Miami Beach], we’ll drive back sooner than planned,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “Today, we hit the beach.”