Global Tourism, Trade Drive Region's Riches
When regional train service Virgin Trains USA expands its route from South Florida to Orlando in 2022, it will be poised to elevate the region’s already record-breaking international traffic. Local officials are banking on it.
“Virgin Trains USA, in tandem with Tri-Rail, makes the Palm Beaches more accessible than ever to international travelers,” says Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches, the official tourism marketer for Palm Beach County.
International tourism and trade are surging across the region. With South Florida growing in importance as an import/export and logistics hub, as well as a destination on the global tourism map, area leaders have invested billions in infrastructure improvements.
They’re seeing success across the region. In 2018, 10% of the Palm Beaches’ record-breaking 8.02 million visitors were international. Not resting on its success, the county this year boosted international sales and marketing efforts in Argentina, Colombia, Germany, Canada, and Mexico, Pesquera says.
To the south in Greater Fort Lauderdale, more than a million international travelers stayed more than seven nights on average and spent a combined $2 billion, says Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport last year welcomed 8.6 million passengers from 185 different countries, up 19.8% from the previous year.
“International travelers are, and will continue to be, important to Broward County’s economic outlook,” Ritter says. As these travelers become younger and more affluent, they will continue “stimulating the future of our tourism industry,” she says.
If he’s in his downtown Miami office at 2:20 p.m., Bill Talbert, the president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, can look out his window and see an Airbus A380 flying in from Frankfurt, Germany. Hours later, it’s heading east again. That’s just one of many international routes into the airport.
This year, Moroccan national carrier Royal Air Maroc launched the first-ever Miami-Casablanca route, and LOT Polish Airlines began MIA’s first-ever route to Poland. In 2018, Ethiopian Airlines launched MIA’s first-ever cargo route from Africa. In fact, two of MIA’s highest air service priorities are to establish its first nonstop passenger route to Asia and additional service to Africa.
In 2018, MIA reached 45 million passengers for the first time ever, increasing by 1 million travelers over 2017. It remains the third-busiest U.S. gateway for international passengers, behind only JFK and LAX. Those flights drove a record-breaking 16.5 million overnight visitors in 2018, and $18 billion in economic impact, fueled mostly by international visitors who contributed an estimated 54% of the total economic impact. Greater Miami’s hotel market ranks among the top 10 in the U.S.
Dozens of new or newly refurbished hotels throughout the region are serving that international clientele, says Nitin Motwani, managing principal of Miami Worldcenter Associates, which is developing a $4 billion mixed- use real estate project in downtown Miami.
As with that project, properties serve a built-in population of tourists and others seeking to enjoy Miami’s urban core. Such properties can become “an international destination that offers the convenience, connectivity and community that retail brands and consumers crave,” Motwani says.