What are the main factors attracting visitors to Miami-Dade County, and how can it build on its strengths to attract more people?
Miami-Dade and Downtown in particular have come a long way since I moved back to Miami to become GM of the InterContinental Miami in 2009. I remember when the streets around the hotel were empty once the clock struck 5 pm, but now there is activity at all hours of the day. The residential growth of the past decade has had a positive effect on our neighborhood, because tourists are naturally drawn to areas where locals spend their time. Today, downtown is a destination for business and lifestyle, and it’s up to us to manage that growth. We’re making strides through investments in our new science and art museums, improvements along Flagler Street and innovative projects like Biscayne Green, but challenges still exist as we look for new ways to improve access and mobility. Traffic is problematic, major events cause road closures, and we need to upgrade our public transit systems, which is something that visitors from around the world expect when they arrive in a world-class city.
How well has the hospitality industry weathered the recent problems of Zika and falling currencies in traditional overseas markets?
Last year, we experienced only a nominal impact from Zika at the InterContinental Miami. Two corporate events were postponed by risk-averse groups, but our leisure travel business remained intact throughout the summer and 2016 was another strong year for us. Since then, we’ve been working year-round with the authorities and our hotel peers to create and implement a 10-point plan that will make sure we’re ready to mitigate any mosquito-borne threat that South Florida faces in the future. We’ve also managed to sustain our strong occupancy amidst a strong dollar. We credit this to our hotel’s popularity among business travelers and groups hosting large meetings and events.
To what extent does the current growth of hospitality and home-sharing apps such as Airbnb create competition for the traditional hospitality sector? Is there enough regulation to keep the playing field even?
Miami is reportedly one of Airbnb’s top-five markets in the country, and that’s no surprise given our rise as a global destination. Some have sought to ban these services outright, but that’s unrealistic. The reality is that we’re already co-existing with home-sharing services. The difference is that a property like InterContinental Miami appeals to business and leisure travelers seeking the comforts of a luxury hotel – from daily housekeeping and a top-notch restaurant and bar downstairs, to a pool deck overlooking Biscayne Bay and a luxurious spa. Short-term rentals may cater to a specific niche in the market, but there’s no substitute for the exceptional hospitality that a full-service hotel can deliver. That being said, we need to protect our visitors and residents by ensuring short-term rental properties are safe and regulated appropriately. Also, we must preserve the tourist tax revenues that conventional hotels have been collecting for years and which support critical services.
How much of an impact would the reducing of Visit Florida’s budget have on the tourism and the meetings and convention industry in Miami?
The budget was in jeopardy, but the elected officials in Tallahassee saw the value of marketing Florida’s brand around the world. We are deeply thankful for Gov. Scott’s support, as well as the support of Florida’s legislature for fully funding Visit Florida in 2018. The state legislature’s decision to fund Visit Florida means that Florida, and Miami in particular, will continue to attract millions of tourists every year, strengthening this city’s already thriving hospitality industry and growing its local economy, including new jobs.
With a growing amount of hotel rooms in the Downtown area, how can the InterContinental differentiate itself from the competition? What are the midterm goals, plans and outlook for the InterContinental in Miami?
There have been new hotels opening their doors around downtown Miami over the past few years, so we’re always looking for new ways to keep our competitive edge. Earlier this year, we remodeled and relaunched Toro Toro, complete with a new menu, an expanded lounge, and a new private dining room, “El Matador Room”. We’re also introducing new technologies. One of my favorites is an app called Zingle that allows guests to request any service – from the morning paper to milk and cookies – from their smartphone. We even host a local competition each year to choose new skyline dancers for our digital canvas (we take nothing for granted!). The InterContinental Miami has been operating for almost 35 years and many of our team members have been with us for more than half that time. I like to think that longevity and consistency define who we are and set us apart in an increasingly competitive field. Looking ahead, we’re going to keep our focus on providing exceptional hospitality to our business and leisure travelers, while ensuring the services and amenities we offer stay creative and innovative.
What can be done to further promote the meetings and conventions industry in Miami?
Miami knows how to host a large event, be it the Super Bowl, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Art Basel, Ultra Music Festival, and more. We’re also making sizable investments in our local infrastructure through the renovation of Miami Beach Convention Center, improvements at Miami International Airport and the launch of the Brightline rail system, both of which will make getting to Miami easier. Now we’re working with our partners at the GMCVB to spread the word out and send a message that Miami is a great destination for business and vacation.
For more information on InterContinental Miami, please visit icmiamihotel.com