South Florida residents will find a bright side this summer to turmoil in Latin America and Europe: more staycation deals than ever before.
Staycaytioning — taking a vacation close to home — isn’t new. But this year, a confluence of geopolitical, social and economic factors have South Florida hoteliers on watch.
In Latin America, the economy continues on a downward spiral, Zika remains a menace for travelers, and the Summer Olympics in Brazil threaten to draw a sizable portion of vacationers. In May, the U.S. issued an alert for Europe warning U.S. travelers to heightened risks of terrorism.
Domestically, a strong U.S. dollar bodes well for domestic travelers but signifies less traffic from countries such as Canada, one of Miami’s top international markets, where the exchange rate is 79 cents (Canadian) to $1 (U.S.) And while travelers face long TSA lines at many of the country’s major airports, gas prices remain relatively low, with an average diesel price of $2.39 per gallon nationwide.
“When you add up all those variables, the trend that we are seeing is a lot more deals than ever —especially to the regional market,” said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Nearly every hotel in South Florida is offering some kind of staycation offer during the summer. Many include discounted room rates, valet parking and breakfast. Attractions are also slicing prices, such as Fort Lauderdale’s two-for-one deals across multiple venues. Add in long-popular theme-month specials in Miami-Dade and Broward counties on spas and restaurant meals, and local businesses hope would-be travelers will find enough reason to spend at least some of their vacation dollars in South Florida.
When it comes to Miami Spa Month, “We love it,” said Christina Kesaris, owner of Emena Spa in the Design District. “It brings in tons of new clients and it keeps us busy all summer long.” (The promotions last two months, July 1-Aug. 31.)
“We do get a lot of tourists,” she said. “But we do get a lot of locals, and the reason we love that is because they become long-term regular clients.”
South Florida hoteliers and restaurants are hoping visitors from elsewhere in Florida also will come to the tri-county area.
They have reasons for optimism. According to a recent survey by AAA, 69 percent of Americans plan to take a road trip in the next year, thanks in part to the lower gas prices. AAA estimates that American drivers this summer should pay the lowest gas prices in 12 years.
And where are they going? South Florida is near the top of that list.
A WalletHub report found that Miami is No. 21 in the country for staycations this summer, scoring high for food and entertainment options. Fort Lauderdale earned the No. 2 spot, and No.1 for its recreation activities.
Hotels in both destinations have taken the pulse of that staycation interest.
“People are looking for more flexible options, and I think they feel that not only the proximity is there, but now different hotels offer very attractive offers specifically for Florida residents,” said Philippe Parodi, vice president of marketing and sales for the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, which is offering complimentary daily breakfast buffet and valet parking to Florida residents.
Parodi said the hotel has experienced a growing number of Florida visitors, which now comprise 15 to 20 percent of its clientele. And although the Biltmore always has summer Florida resident deals, he said, this year marks a more focused effort to market those offers and capture a larger portion of staycationers with TV spots and radio ads.
At Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort, the hotel is hoping to draw guests by creating more “all-inclusive” packages with activities for the summer, said general manager Cate Farmer. Its “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” family package includes $50 in resort credits that can be used at amenities such as the Flowrider Double, a surfing simulator.
The Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach is also making a larger push for the domestic market in 2016, said Marketing Director Jim Monastra. The hotel is giving Florida residents 10 percent off rates, a room upgrade, daily valet parking and 20 percent off food and beverage costs.
Still, Monastra said that doesn’t mean forgetting about the Latin American customer.
Latin America continues to be a strong partner for South Florida’s hospitality industry, despite disturbances in the region. In 2015, Brazil remained the top international market traveling to greater Miami, albeit with less robust year-over-year growth at 3.4 percent, according to data from the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. Colombia and Argentina were also in the top five last year. Domestically, the number of U.S. travelers to Miami grew by 9.4 percent.
Peggy Benua, general manager of the Dream South Beach hotel, said the hotel is monitoring all the disruptions in the international market, but they haven’t made a measurable impact as far as bookings, which are on par with last summer. About 50 percent of the hotel’s guests are international travelers, she said.
But Dream South Beach is still expanding its Florida resident package into a more regional “Road Trip” offer targeted at all domestic travelers.
“We are expanding that because the southern states, people can just jump in the car and come down,” Benua said. “We definitely want to broaden our reach.”
She knew there was domestic interest, she said, because guests used to book the Florida resident package but turn up with a Georgia driver’s license.
And this year more than ever, domestic destinations are competing with international destinations for U.S. travelers.
“The U.S. traveler who may have gone to Latin America or other regions will choose other destinations, and Miami has a strong Latin American flavor so if that domestic traveler wants to experience a very cosmopolitan city and that removed some countries off their list, that gives us more opportunity to attract that,” said Aedo of the tourism bureau.
In other ways, Miami’s Latin American flavor may also pose challenges this summer.
Fear of the Zika virus has been diverting travelers from their intended destinations since last year, and Miami is not immune. Tourism expert Max Comess said local hotel owners are experiencing a “growing concern” over the impact Zika may also have locally this summer.
This week, Dr. Jason James, chairman of Baptist Health South Florida’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, said Miami is “ground zero” for a possible Zika outbreak because of the weather. Miami-Dade County has the largest number of cases in Florida with 51 as of Wednesday.
“We are already seeing anecdotes about trips getting canceled, expectant mothers not wanting to travel to Miami,” Comess said.
Lodgings are also contending with an ever-multiplying number of hotels and the growth of home-sharing businesses such as Airbnb, which makes cutting attractive deals for the most likely candidates — domestic guests — crucial.
By the end of 2016, about 1,600 rooms will be added to the Miami hotel market, after 2,600 rooms were added in 2015. After years of substantial growth, hotel development in Miami is slowing down, Comess said, and hotels have been forced to lower their rates to compete, as well as improve their deals. According to data and analytics specialist Smith Travel Report, rates in Miami were down between 1 and 2 percent during the first half of the year.
“Hotels will need to be more creative and more aggressive, and you’re seeing that in some of the deals that are being offered,” said Aedo of the tourism bureau. “There are a lot of references to Florida residents because it is really easy for Florida residents to make it here. When you think of it from a marketing perspective, they are going to go where more fish are biting.”
Local tourism boards promote specials available in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Those include:
▪ Miami Spa Month: July 1-Aug. 31. Participating spas and details, www.miamiandbeaches.com
▪ Miami Spice: Aug. 1-Sept. 30. Fixed-priced lunch ($23) and dinner ($39) at participating restaurants, www.miamiandbeaches.com
▪ Lauderdale Spa Chic: Aug. 15-Sept. 30. Participating spas and details, www.sunny.org
▪ Dine Out Lauderdale: Aug. 15-Sept. 30. Fixed-price dinner ($35) at participating restaurants, www.sunny.org/dineout/