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March was a standout for South Florida hotels, new numbers show

April showers might bring May flowers, but March brought gold to South Florida hoteliers.

Thanks to last month’s confluence of big events, holidays and picture-perfect weather, hotels were more full at higher rates than they have been in years — if ever.

“You won’t find anything better,” said Nicki Grossman, Broward’s tourism chief. “This past March has been the most stellar performing March that we have ever had. …We’re grinning real wide right now.”

The strong March follows continued annual growth since 2010, when hotels were starting to recover from the recession.

Reports released Monday by Smith Travel Research show Broward hotels were 88.4 percent full, an increase of 5 percentage points compared to a year ago. Average daily rates increased 8.6 percent to $153.34. Rates haven’t been that high since March of 2008, when they nearly hit $159 a night — but occupancy was much lower at 77.5 percent.

Grossman said she expects continued good news as the year progresses. After attracting more than 12 million visitors in 2012, Broward anticipates 13 million this year. Miami-Dade hosted 13.9 million overnight visitors last year.

The March numbers were sky-high in Miami-Dade as well, with hotels 89.1 percent full. That’s a jump of more than 4 percentage points from 2012. Rates leapt 14.4 percent to $238.12. A search of STR data going back to 2005, well before the recession, shows no other month has come close in Miami-Dade.

Jeff Lehman, general manager of The Betsy in South Beach, called the month “record-breaking,” with the boutique hotel reaching nearly 100 percent occupancy “at unprecedented rates” for the last 16 days of the month.

“It was a perfect storm of both events and factors,” he said.

In addition to Easter and Passover both falling in March, he said spring break and major events including Winter Music Conference and two weekends of Ultra Music Festival contributed to the strong showing.

The temperature — both here and elsewhere — also didn’t hurt.

“The rest of the country was suffering through horrible weather and South Florida’s weather was just perfect,” Lehman said.

Rates typically soar in the Florida Keys during high season, but this March they reached a peak unmatched in recent memory: nearly $300 a night on average.

Hotels were 91 percent full, a slight increase of 2.2 percentage points, but the average price leapt 9.4 percent to $298.26.