Tourism Gurus Carry Mostly Good News

Officials expect more folks to flock to South Florida this winter

The economic engine that powers South Florida is about to rev up. The fall weather is right around the corner. It is cooling off up North and the hip crowd is making plans to relocate to South Beach in time to be in on all the hype around the Miami Heat. 

The empty condos are beginning to fill up with renters. The BP oil never came. The gloom is lifting ever so slightly off the future prospects of the South Florida economy . This time of year is a time of renewal, of hope, optimism, that this will be a "good tourist season."

"I am going to predict a record season, January, February, March," proclaimed Greater Miami and the Beaches Convention Authority CEO Bill Talbert. Never one to be shy about boosting his product, even in the ugliest of times, Talbert said "the 2011 tourist season is going to be very strong, not the best ever, but in today's economy very strong is very good."

Nicki Grossman, who runs the Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitor's Bureau, flat out says it is going to be a good year based on this month's numbers.

"October occupancy is going to be 7% higher than October of last year," she said. Now last year was not so great but then Grossman will tell you that "in November the sister ship to the Oasis of the Seas which is generating 5,400 passengers per sailing will be here making Port Everglades the largest cruise port in the world."

Grossman is talking about the number of passengers that will pass through the port, not the number of ships. That honor goes to the Port of Miami, but still the people numbers have real impact.

"We are hoping for strong numbers. We are not certain but we are cautiously optimistic," said Andy Newman, the long-time spokesperson for the Florida Keys Tourism Development Council. Newman worries about spill over from the BP Oil spill. Oil never got to the Keys beaches but constant news reports created confusion about where in Florida the oil fouled the sands.

Newman is sure that Florida residents who have continued to travel to the Keys are well aware that oil was never an issue, but getting that info to potential tourists from the Midwest and the north is the concern. "Do they understand that like the people in Florida, that the Keys did not get impacted by oil?, Newman worries.

Grossman said she has moved beyond oil, she is looking to the future. Newman is looking for more money from BP to mitigate what he considers the perception that oil is an issue in the Keys. Talbert dons his shades and recounts how foreign tourists make up a healthy 48% of Miami-Dade tourists and they have not stopped coming to South Florida.

Caution mixed with optimism with caution creeping into every conversation is the set of the tourism jib this fall. A good tourism season translates into jobs, or at least job stability in Miami-Dade where unemployment hovers near 13% and Broward almost 11%. Grossman said there is a pent-up demand for travel.

"People were saving last year, this year the are ready to spend on the vacation they deserve," she said.

"Hey, we have the sun, what's not to like?" said Talbert. 

That's worked before, let's hope it works this year.

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