MIAMI (CBS4) – Florida has had to keep a wary eye on some hurricanes and tropical storms this summer, but the word from tourists has been “Bring on the tropical drinks!”
Tourism is on track to set a summer record, with July figures showing sharp increases over last year.
In Miami-Dade, hotel bookings in July were up eleven percent over the same period a year ago. In Broward the rise was nearly eight percent. In the Florida Keys, visitors jumped by more than seven percent.
“This is one of the top destinations in the entire world today and these numbers support that,” said William Talbert, President of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We are a year-round vacation destination.”
Talbert credits an aggressive international marketing campaign, attractive promotions and more flights to South Florida from more countries which brought more foreign visitors. He said the tourist industry has conducted a ten year campaign to sell the greater Miami area as a 12 month a year vacation spot, not just a place for snowbirds to come in the winter.
The New York Times ran a two page spread last week, gushing over Miami’s summer tourism successes.
And, unlike recent years, the hospitality industry has attracted business this summer without offering a fire sale of cheap prices. Average room rates and room revenues are up dramatically from Key West to West Palm.
James Keane, his wife, and three children climbed out of a taxi on South Beach on Wednesday, visiting from London despite a down economy.
“Cost be damned,” Keane told CBS4′s Gary Nelson. “I wanted to take the family on holiday and have some fun amongst the gloom.”
That was the attitude of Jonathon Rothman, who was visiting from New Jersey.
“You only get one life and you have to live it up,” Rothman said. “So, you have some money, why not spend it?”
A relatively weak dollar has helped make South Florida a less expensive destination for foreign visitors.
“That’s why we chose Miami,” said Martin Meyer, who was visiting from Germany. “Purchasing items here is a lot cheaper than in Germany right now.”
The increased tourism numbers have made for desperately needed new jobs. In Miami alone, tourism officials said more than a thousand new jobs have been added to the industry in the last six months.
At the Pershing Café, hostess Shanee Wiley greeted customers. She is among those who have benefited from the summer boom.
“This is my way of surviving. This is where I work, every day, nine to five,” Wiley said, adding that the job is providing her a good living.
Down the block at the News Cafe, manager Robert Dessommes said the restaurant typically lays off a few people during the slower summer months, but not this year.
“It’s a lot busier than other years. It’s becoming more and more like a year-round thing, Miami,” said Dessommes.