Business

Miami breaks visitor records despite ‘the Z-word,’ Zika

William D. Talbert, III, president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, discusses the local tourism industry’s record breaking numbers in the 2015/2016 fiscal year at the bureau’s annual meeting Tuesday held at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.
William D. Talbert, III, president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, discusses the local tourism industry’s record breaking numbers in the 2015/2016 fiscal year at the bureau’s annual meeting Tuesday held at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. cherrera@miamiherald.com

The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau spared no effort in sending a clear message that Miami tourism is doing well at its annual meeting Tuesday. It plastered the message across the north-side seats of the newly renovated and renamed Hard Rock Stadium: #TourismRocks.

Get it?

The meeting oozed all things Miami. President William D. Talbert III came on stage in a cloud of smoke, arm-in-arm with two Dolphins cheerleaders as Will Smith’s 2011 song “Miami” blared from the sound system. Pitbull songs played during intermissions and Cuban American singer Jon Secada, who went to Hialeah High School, sang the national anthem.

The meeting gave the bureau the platform to highlight some of the record-breaking milestones of the last fiscal year. Among them:

▪ Overnight visitor arrivals between Oct.1, 2015 and Sept. 30 hit an all-time high at 15.8 million travelers, up 5.3 percent over the previous fiscal year. Arrivals at Miami International Airport were 4.8 percent higher than the previous year, at 22.8 million.

▪ Passenger arrivals at PortMiami hit nearly 5 million travelers, an increase of 1.3 percent and a world record.

▪ At hotels, the number of room nights sold rose by 3 percent over last year at 14.8 million.

▪ Overall, travelers who came to Miami-Dade County spent a combined $25.6 billion, an increase of 2 percent over the last fiscal year.

▪ The leisure and hospitality industry employed 2.3 percent more workers over the same time period. The industry now employes 136,400 people, a number that has been increasing monthly for nearly seven years.

The growth has been despite a particularly challenging year for Miami’s tourism industry, featuring a less-than-ideal economic climate thanks to a struggling Latin American economy, strong U.S. dollar, a half-completed Miami Beach Convention Center, a swell in the number of hotel rooms — and the “Z” word.

Miami-Dade County has “had to overcome” Zika’s impact locally said Mayor Carlos Gimenez at the meeting Tuesday.

“We managed to keep Zika’s impact on tourism from spiraling out of control,” Gimenez said. “There certainly have been some distractions on business, particularly in Wynwood, but we are back in full swing.”

Wynwood, where the first locally-transmitted cases of Zika were found in the United States, was cleared of its Zika designation in mid-September. Still in the zone is Miami Beach from Eight Street to 63rd Street, and a new, one-square-mile area in Little River.

“If we can make one neighborhood Zika-free, we can do it in another,” said Talbert to the crowd of more than 500 businesspeople and politicians.

“Your bureau has an action plan in place,” Talbert assured the audience. “We have meetings with our hotels, with our meeting planners to give out what the facts. We are on top of it.”

Talbert said the bureau has hired global crisis and communications firm Weber Shandwick to tackle the issue and has convened a think tank comprised of airlines and cruise lines to discuss best practices for managing the virus’ impact on tourism.

He also took the opportunity to highlight some positive changes coming to Miami. The venue itself set the stage for talk of economic possibilities for the stadium, from concerts and festivals to the 2020 Super Bowl.

“What we have planned for Hard Rock Stadium goes far beyond Dolphins games, University of Miami Hurricanes football games,” said Tom Garfinkel, Miami Dolphins president and CEO. In addition to other events at the stadium, Garfinkel said he’s looking to add pedestrian bridges and tunnels for easier access.

Combined with other tourism-focused changes in the county — the Metrorail Orange Line connection to downtown Miami, the upcoming Brightline service to Orlando, the completion of the Miami Beach Convention Center — Gimenez said Miami is on its way to becoming a global city.

“As far as I’m concerned, the future is now and we have to continue to work hard to shape it in our favor,” he said.

  Comments