South Florida hotels see record rates for February

Yurie Sugimoto, left, and Rie Moritani, right, both from Japan, enjoy Ultra Music Festival on Sunday, March 29, 2015.
Yurie Sugimoto, left, and Rie Moritani, right, both from Japan, enjoy Ultra Music Festival on Sunday, March 29, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The price of a South Florida vacation has never been higher.

Average hotel room rates in February climbed to new peaks in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties, according to data from travel research firm STR. The higher prices came as the U.S. economy continued to improve, gas prices stayed low and unemployment dipped to pre-recession levels.

Though the numbers aren’t in yet, March — historically the most-packed, highest-priced month of the year in South Florida — is shaping up to be another banner month for the hospitality industry.

During the month that brought Presidents’ Day weekend events and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, hotels were more than 87 percent full in Miami-Dade with average rates topping $259 a night. In the Florida Keys, hotels were 90 percent full at average daily rates of $335.65. And Broward visitors paid just over $180 a night — if they could find a room; hotels were 93 percent full.

“It reminds me of Economics 101,” said Scott Berman, Miami-based industry leader for hospitality and leisure at PwC. “When demand gets very high, the market’s able to raise the pricing.”

The numbers themselves have never been higher, but adjusted for inflation, only room rates in pre-recession February 2007 could compete with last month’s prices in Miami-Dade. When the county hosted Super Bowl XLI, average rates in Miami-Dade were $231.72 — or $262.32 in today’s dollars. In Broward, the February 2007 prices amount to $202.46 in current value, and prices in March of 2008 were a few cents higher than last month’s when adjusted for inflation.

Inflation notwithstanding, destination marketers were counting their 2015 blessings.

“Last month was a record everything for us,” said Nicki Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We had nearly 30 hotels who were absolutely sold out for 28 days in February.”

Grossman and others credit miserable weather elsewhere in the country — including Boston, where February was the snowiest month on record, and Buffalo, where last month was the coldest ever — with driving some of the traffic to sunnier climes.

“Of course, we were blessed and in some people’s minds, they were cursed with weather,” said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

In addition to its marketing programs playing up Miami-Dade neighborhoods and the Miami Beach centennial, the organization launched weather-triggered campaigns in markets — including New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Those included a stunt where bus benches in Chicago showed real-time Miami temperatures.

Broward’s tourism bureau launched similar blitzes, even though one had to be rescheduled in Boston because of snow.

“Mother Nature was the best partner we’ve ever had,” Grossman said.

The Florida Keys also capitalized on the weather and its southernmost location.

“I also think the Keys benefited because they uniquely offer a tropical climate island destination within the continental U.S.,” Monroe County Tourist Development Council research director Jessica Bennett said in an email. “That gave us an edge over the rest of Florida.”

Big events in Miami-Dade boosted hotels there and continue to lift rates this month. Robert Hill, general manager of the InterContinental Miami, said last month set records in overall room revenue and food and beverage sales with guests in town for the Miami International Boat Show and South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

This month has brought the golf championship in Doral, Miami ePrix and Ultra Music Festival downtown and Miami Open in Key Biscayne. Hill said visitors are choosing his downtown hotel even if they are in town for farther flung events.

“There is a leisure demand for downtown that wasn’t there three or four years ago,” he said. “You can still experience the beach from here, you can experience the Everglades. It’s kind of a very central location.”

The location was perfectly central for Vincent Mirarchi, 22, of Pennsylvania, who paid $500 a night for his five-night stay at the InterContinental during the neighboring Ultra Music Festival.

It’s the third year he’s stayed there, and he said the price is pretty much what he expected after the past two years.

“It's not too crazy,” he said. “I understand it’s a big weekend, and they’re going to hike the rates.”

But the beauty of a diverse market such as Miami is that options abound, Berman said.

“In the hotel industry in greater Miami, there is something for every wallet size,” Berman said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be on the water or at a five-star hotel. Consumers are going to have to be thinking about their hotel choices and it will certainly price some out of the market or out of the best hotels, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options.”

Juan Rodriguez, 21, of Ecuador, was staying with four friends at a Best Western Plus near the airport while they visited for Ultra. At $175 a night, he didn’t mind the price and said he'd come back if he could pay something similar.

“It was average,” he said.

Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.