Buoyed by American travelers in search of sun, Miami Beach hotels see signs of renewal

Think you’ll be able to find a hotel on Miami Beach for July 4 weekend? Good luck.

In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic that brought travel to a dead stop just a few weeks ago, local hotel officials now say they are seeing plenty of interest in stays for the upcoming holiday — not to mention most other weekends.

“There’s pent-up demand,” said Sharee Awwal, director of sales and marketing for Arlo Hotels, which owns the Nautilus Hotel at 1825 Collins Ave. Arlo, which caters to a millennial demographic, said plenty of customers are still booking for leisure travel and familial celebrations. Most are coming from the Northeast, with a mix of drivers and fliers.

“We had one family pack up in their Bentley truck and drive down from New Jersey,” she said. “There are a lot of deals right now.”

Awwal was part of a panel of about two-dozen local hotel marketing and sales reps — all masked — convened by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Royal Palm Hotel on Collins Avenue. Panelists were members of Miami Beach’s Citywide Hotel Task Force, convened this spring to address the pandemic’s impact on the lodging industry.

A full recovery remains far off. International travel — as well as business, convention and weekday visits — remain severely limited. Less than 24 months after opening to a $620 million renovation, the Miami Beach Convention Center has launched an emergency task force to draw in business from wherever it can. The fruits of that effort have been mostly in salvaging or postponing events for late 2020 or early 2021. That includes the Cruise Ship Interiors Demo, moved to September 2020; and the Florida Supercon comics convention, moved to 2021.

One need only take a sniff inside any local hotel to understand the depth of the measures hoteliers are taking to make returning guests feel safe from the virus. A visitor to one of Miami Beach’s Hyatt hotels may be surprised to smell not disinfectant, but coconut-scented hand sanitizer, upon their arrival to that South Beach destination — a conscious effort to eliminate potential “hospital smell.” Meanwhile, everything from pens to cookies now comes individually shrink-wrapped.

Despite these efforts, new data from Oxford Economics and the American Hotel and Lodging Association show Florida is set to lose $1.3 billion in tax revenues this year as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Workers have already experienced temporary or permanent layoffs numbering at least 10,000.

Yet other data supports tales of surprising renewal. For the week ended June 13, according to travel data group STR, occupancy in Miami-Dade improved from 29.6% to 33.3% from the week prior, while the average daily rate improved to $110.82 from $94.64 during the same period. Revenue per available room climbed to $36.91 from $28.03.

These figures trail the rest of Florida, where occupancy improved to 41.5% from 37.7%, ADR jumped to $112.40 from $103.65 and RevPAR reached $46.70 from $39.12.

Still, Rolando Aedo, COO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said there has been new interest from travelers who might otherwise have booked to a destination in the Caribbean. The public-private tourism development agency has been targeting travelers in secondary markets like Austin and Greenville, S.C., in addition to traditional markets like Chicago. The CVB has also begun highlighting visits to area national parks for visitors who may not yet feel comfortable visiting indoor spaces.

“It’s not a question of demand,” Aedo said. “Miami Beach is still the envy of the world.”

Concurrently, the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority, a seven-member authority appointed by the City of Miami Beach Commission to promote the city, has launched a campaign, “From Miami Beach, With Love” across social media.

“This is a difficult time for all, and we look forward to welcoming back our visitors from around the world as soon as we can. In the meantime, we’ll continue to develop new ways to stay connected and share the magic of our destination,” noted Steve Adkins, MBVCA Chair. “And we thank our Miami Beach businesses who are continuing to operate during this time and to all locals who are making concerted efforts to show our city’s restaurants, boutiques and specialty services love.”