1st Convention Since COVID Shutdown Marks New Beginning for South Florida Tourism Industry

NBC Universal, Inc.

The first convention at the Miami Beach Convention Center since the COVID-19 shutdown marked a milestone in South Florida's economic comeback.

The convention center Tuesday was loaded with jewelry worth millions for the Jewelers International Showcase. The participants at the show are part of the influx of visitors helping tourism workers get their jobs back.

Ivanna Gonzalez is once again running the front desk at the Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel on Miami Beach.  

“It’s something that I poured my heart and soul into — started from an entry-level position and worked my way up,” Gonzalez said.

She saw it all disappear in 2020 when the pandemic shut everything down. She lost her job.

“It was definitely sad," Gonzalez said. "I was wondering if this was the beginning of the end of my career in hotels.” 

Mohan Koka is the Surfcomber’s general manager.

“We, unfortunately, had to layoff the significant majority of them,” said Koka, who got his start in the hotel business after graduating from Florida International University.

During part of 2020, his property was a ghost town.

“Those are definitely tough times because there was so much uncertainty into how the tourism industry would rebound," Gonzalez said.

What it looks like now in late March is the difference between night and day. At the Surfcomber’s pool and garden, the day races by for waiters, housekeepers, and those providing guest services.  

“I got a call from Mohan and I definitely did not think it was for the call back to work,” Gonzalez said. “So, I was extremely happy when he told me, 'are you ready to come to work?'”

“The thing that gives me the most joy is to see our employees — our team members — come back and get busy taking care of our guests," Koka said.

Across Miami Beach, visitors are heading over from MIA, where passenger traffic is back to about 80% of its peak before COVID-19. The South Florida hotel industry says that overall, its occupancy rate is about 80%. It also says that’s roughly what it was at this time of year prior to the pandemic. 

“Yes, we are very excited with what we have seen," Koka said. "It’s great to be on South Beach during this recovery.”

”I think what we’ve seen is COVID pent-up demand for travel," said Bill Talbert, the President of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Talbert said jewelers willing to be the first back at the Miami Beach Convention Center is a sign.

“The Jewelers International Showcase has been here for 41 years. They are moving in and starting their first day ... I am here to tell you they just reported their registration has exceeded record levels in the past," he said.

When it comes to hotel rates from what NBC 6 found, there isn’t any general slashing of rates just to get people here — the cold and the COVID-19 restrictions over much of the country just have people ready to get out in the sun. When it comes to the next convention for Miami Beach, plastic surgeons are up next and the doctors will be there soon.

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