By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami-Dade’s tourism economy has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By one measure, it is only half of what it was a year ago and one expert believes it is likely going to stay that way for the foreseeable future, even with vaccine inoculations ramping up.

“The 50 percent, I think it is going to continue,” said Wendy Kallergis, President and CEO at Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. “I don’t see it getting worse.”

The county’s bed tax is an indicator of how many people stayed in local hotels. In the most recent report, September 2020, hotels and motels paid the county $898-thousand in bed taxes. In October, they paid a little more than a million dollars, roughly half of what they paid during the same period in 2019. In November, $1.1 million in taxes were paid, almost half of the nearly $2.6 six million generated in November of 2019.

Those numbers coupled with the passenger flow into Miami International Airport tell the story. More than 90 percent of all Miami bound tourists arrive at MIA. Airport officials say their traffic is about 50 percent compared to last year.

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The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau has been running their “Miamiland” campaign, which stresses South Florida’s outdoors as an attraction. While there has been a monthly increase in hotel occupancy, weekends tend to see more hotel customers and the nightlife on Ocean Drive continues to thrive.

But that is not enough.

“We need the meetings, business, that’s a tough nut to crack, the conferences and the meetings,” said Kallergis.

Most conventions have been derailed by coronavirus concerns, people don’t want to fly or gather in large rooms. These days, meetings and virtual conventions can be done on Zoom or similar services. That’s a big concern for hotel operators.

“Everybody is concerned, especially the ownership side. We want to bring all of our employees back to work,” said Kallergis.

The hope is that the vaccine slows the spread of coronavirus, tourist confidence builds and federal assistance will come to shore up the bottom line.

“We are hoping for federal assistance, it’s looking good,” said Kallergis.

Currently, about five thousand hotel rooms out of about 60-thousand in the area have been shut down due to hotels scaling back or closing altogether.