Summer is getting off to a sizzling start in South Florida — and that’s not just a reference to the high-80s forecast.
From Key West to Fort Lauderdale, hotels are packed, airports are busy and roadways are forecast to be jammed as holiday revelers celebrate the end of another harsh winter.
Memorial Day weekend, which kicks off the summer travel season, is expected to see the most travelers nationwide since 2005, according to a AAA forecast.
Projections call for 37.2 million Americans to travel 50 or more miles from home between Thursday and Monday, a 4.7 percent increase compared to last year and the highest travel volume for the holiday weekend in 10 years.
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In Florida, that figure is expected to jump more than 5 percent to over 1.9 million travelers, AAA said.
And in South Florida, airports say they are expecting big bumps in traffic over the next several days.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport anticipates a roughly 10 percent increase in passengers compared to last year, with an average of 68,000 people a day flying in and out. At Miami International Airport, more than 615,000 travelers are expected between Friday and Tuesday — or about 123,000 a day — a 5 percent jump compared to 2014.
“This has been the second year in a row that the winter in most parts of the country has been absolutely brutal and people were just looking to get away,” said Brian Ek, travel editor for priceline.com. “I think people were just kind of waiting for Memorial Day for that first opportunity to get out of the house and do something warm and wet.”
In Miami-Dade, hotels are expected to be about 83 percent full countywide, up slightly from last year. Miami Beach, which has about 4 percent more hotel rooms than it did last year, still anticipates an increase in occupancy to about 82 percent.
“The nature of any of these big holiday weekends is this does tend to be a rather last-minute group,” said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re expecting that these numbers will track even higher.”
Broward is getting reports of sold-out hotels along the shore. And the Florida Keys expects to follow the trend of recent years and be “very, very close to 100 percent occupancy,” said Andy Newman, spokesman for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.
Tourism promoters expect the pace to stay busy into the summer, especially with gas prices still significantly cheaper than a year ago. Trade group Airlines for America said recently that air travel between June 1 and Aug. 31 is expected to reach 222 million passengers, the highest level ever.
“We’re really looking forward to greeting a larger number of visitors than we’ve had before and locals treating themselves to a staycation,” said Nicki Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
After a winter of record hotel prices, South Florida’s destinations are preaching the value of the area’s relative bargain season.
The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau will launch a new national campaign this summer to promote its annual Miami Spa and Miami Spice programs to markets in the Northeast.
“While they have been incorporated in the past, they are now the centerpiece, which will further emphasize the value proposition,” Aedo said in an email.
New hotels that opened in high winter season with top rates are also offering summer deals.
The 426-room 1 Hotel South Beach, which opened with starting rates of $699 a night in March, has rooms for closer to $499 this summer — with promotions for either 20 percent off with free valet or a fourth night free.
“We are cranking over here; to say we’re busy would be an understatement,” said Zachary Felter, director of sales and marketing. “It’s nice being the hot new hotel on the beach. For the most part, people are flocking.”
Another new hotel in the city, the 380-room Thompson Miami Beach, has a Florida resident-specific offer: 20 percent off the best available rate (which starts around $229 a night) with a pair of free welcome cocktails and free valet parking.
With all the new hotels now open in Miami Beach, “the landscape of competition this summer is going to be fierce,” said general manager Brett Orlando.
He added: “We’d love the local community to come and hang out.”
Broward: Vacation Like a VIP at 10 properties from May 1-Oct. 12, which includes a room upgrade, $100 resort credit, $25 gift card, free parking and Summer Savings 2-for-1 card, plus other perks. See sunny.org for details.
Miami-Dade: “Stay and Save” from May 1-Sept. 30 at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, where Florida residents get free parking, free breakfast for two and rates starting at $238 a night. Promotional code is ZZ1.
Florida Keys: “Escape to Islamorada” package from June 1-Aug. 31 includes reduced rates at Islamorada Resort Company’s four hotels, a $50 gas card, two free cocktails and discounted tickets to Theater of the Sea. For Florida residents only.
Top Memorial Day destinations
1. Las Vegas
2. San Diego
4. New York City
6. Orange County, Calif.
7. Washington, D.C.
9. San Francisco
10. Los Angeles