Tourism & Cruises

Miami-Dade tourism chief urges action on convention center, Uber

Last year, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau put a major emphasis on promoting heritage neighborhoods. This ad highlights Little Haiti.
Last year, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau put a major emphasis on promoting heritage neighborhoods. This ad highlights Little Haiti.

At a gathering focused on the state of the travel and tourism industry in Miami-Dade, the county’s top promoter offered a cheery verdict — and some suggestions for the future.

“The state of the travel and tourism industry here is outstanding,” said William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, during the event held at the Fillmore Miami Beach. “Absolutely outstanding.”

Last year brought 14.5 million visitors who spent about $23.8 billion, both record numbers.

Talbert highlighted some of the bureau’s efforts that drove traffic last year, including campaigns to encourage tourists to visit less-famous neighborhoods within the county; higher numbers of sales representatives around the world and more air service from locales domestic and international.

In the first quarter of 2015, overnight visitors increased 6 percent year-over-year, with hotel occupancy up just half a percent as the pool of hotel rooms grows. Nearly 8,500 new rooms are scheduled to come online between this year and 2019.

Looking to the future, Talbert said the failure of county commissioners to legalize app-based car services such as Uber and Lyft continues to be a drawback. They are operating illegally in Miami-Dade, and a discussion on the topic that was scheduled for next week has been canceled, Talbert said.

He said business leaders should “dial up the heat” and urge elected officials to address the issue.

“They have Uber motorcycles in Paris,” Talbert said. “This is what the world is used to. Why can’t we have it?”

On an upbeat note, Talbert predicted the long-awaited renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center will bring more large groups and boost visitor numbers.

“Until there’s a shovel in the ground, the industry is waiting,” he said. “Because we’ve had some stops and starts, stops and starts, stops and starts.”

With work scheduled to start in December, Talbert said the organization is developing a “very aggressive marketing program” to pitch the center to groups.

Also Thursday, the bureau released more details about last year’s tourism picture after giving preliminary information earlier in the year.

Of note: Colombia became the third largest international market in terms of the number of visitors with a 15 percent increase. Last year, more than 523,000 people visited from Colombia; in 2014, the country was the fourth largest market. It switched places with Argentina, which declined by 12 percent to more than 427,000 visitors.

Brazil remained the top feeder market with nearly 734,000 visitors, though the number of visitors from that country dropped 3 percent year over year. Canada was No. 2 with almost 690,000 people visiting.

More people also visited from Germany, England, France, Italy and other European countries.

“Europe is back,” Talbert said. “That is important for our community.”