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Miami tourism glows as international arrivals soar

With a planned increased in seat capacity for international passengers coming to Miami and higher hotel occupancy and daily rate recorded in just the first two weeks of this year, the county’s tourism outlook glows brightly.

For the first two weeks of the 2023 combined, occupancy in county hotels has risen 8.1% over the last year. Similarly, average daily rate rose 4.6%, and visitor volume – defined as demand, or how many people are checking into hotel rooms – is up another 12.1%, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“These first two weeks have been traditionally a shoulder period,” said David Whitaker, bureau president and CEO, referring to the period between peak and off-peak season. “So, to have increases in occupancy, daily average rate and volume is really, really encouraging. The goal is to continue that growth and success.”

Miami-Dade hotels in all of 2022 had an annual occupancy rate of 72.1%, 8% above 2021.
In 2021, which was “a bit of a struggle year, still dealing with the grip of Covid-19,” said Mr. Whitaker, the county had an annual 68.4% occupancy. Still, Miami-Dade ended as second in the nation among the top major destinations with more than 20,000 hotel rooms for occupancy.

“The entire country was dealing with Covid-19,” he said. “Tampa was in the number one spot at 68.4%, so Florida in general did quite well due to opening sooner, warm weather, and outdoor options that the Northeast and cold weather cities weren’t able to enjoy.”

Regarding annual average daily rate in 2022, Miami ended third nationally with $253.11, up 14% over 2021, following only New York and Hawaii.

“We could fill every hotel room in the city if we only charged $50 a night,” said Mr. Whitaker. “So, hotels that do very well find that balance between volume, occupancy and daily rate. Higher revenue per available room (RevPAR) generates more taxes for our destination, for our community and our municipal partners. The more successful a hotel is, the more employees they can hire and the more they can reinvest in the property.”

That’s why it’s important to market the destination to attract high value customers, he said. “Those are the customers that are looking to invest in great events. We’re looking to attract a very high-income, high-experience, high-expectation traveler.”

Another barometer of future success is planned seat capacity, the number of seats on arriving flights. International airlines have negotiated with Miami International Airport a total increase of 21% year-over-year in seats for January through March, said Mr. Whitaker. The biggest growth markets are to be the United Kingdom, up 32%; Canada, up 31%; Brazil, up 20%; and Spain, up 11%.

“The airlines, coming off one of the best years ever (2022), are adding more capacity,” he said.
For the second quarter, which is April through June, planned seat capacity is to increase 18% overall over the last year for international flights, led by Brazil, adding 38% capacity, and the UK adding 11%.

“We knew that Brazil had taken a pause because they were especially hit by Covid-19,” said Mr. Whitaker. “We’re thrilled to be welcoming them back and to see these seats [increased]. We anticipate a real surge in Brazilian visitors in the first six months, which is a big travel time for them.”

In addition, 16 new hotels countywide opened in 2022, which is helping bolster today’s tourism. That new properties added 2,964 rooms in inventory, a 4.7% increase over the prior year. “More rooms opening means more rooms to fill, and more work to continue to entice and welcome more visitors, but when 16 new hotels open in a year, that just shows you the investors’ confidence,” Mr. Whitaker said.

Those hotels include The Elser Hotel Miami, which opened in November; Arlo Wynwood, Wynwood’s first hotel, which opened in September; and Loews Coral Gables in Ponce de Leon, which opened in May.

Ten more properties plan to open this year, adding another 1,676 rooms to the hotel inventory, including The Brooklyn Hotel in Miami Beach, planned for January; Evvo Miami Hotel, planned for June; and citizen Miami South Beach, planned for September.

Also helping to bolster tourism are events and festivals, said Mr. Whitaker. Over 30 major festivals, meetings or conventions are scheduled in just the first six months of 2023, including the South Beach Jazz Festival, from Jan. 5-8; Art Deco Weekend, from Jan. 13-15; Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show, Feb. 15-19 – which last year generated an economic impact of more than $1.5 billion in the boating industry – the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, due Feb. 23-26; Miami Beach Pride, April 1-16; and many more.

In addition, last week, Terra Group and Turnberry, the two titans jointly developing the Grand Hyatt Miami Beach Convention Center Hotel, announced that Dallas-based general contractor and construction company Balfour Beatty will begin construction toward the end of the summer. Preconstruction of the 17-story, 800-room hotel is underway, and competition is expected in 2025.

“I can’t quantify yet” how much the hotel is going to impact meetings and conventions at the Miami Beach Convention Center, which recently underwent a $600 million renovation, said Mr. Whitaker, “but, we’re literally receiving dozens and dozens of new requests for information from meeting planners all over the country. There is an incredible surge of interest.”

The Convention Center headquarters hotel, at 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, will directly connect to the center via an elevated skybridge. It “will serve as the central anchor of the Miami Beach Convention Center District, steps away from the beachfront, hundreds of shops and restaurants along Lincoln Road, the New World Center, the Bass Museum, and the Fillmore Miami Beach,” said a press release by the joint team.

The hotel is to include 12 floors of guest rooms, 52 suites with beach views, four floors of meeting spaces and ballrooms, a resort-style pool deck, a signature restaurant, lobby lounge and bar, and retail space, all designed by architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia and his Miami-based firm Arquitectonica.


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Erdogan unveils Turkey’s first astronaut on election trail

Turkey’s first astronaut will travel to the International Space Station by the end of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday after an illness forced him to cancel several days of appearances.

Air force pilot Alper Gezeravci, 43, was selected to be the first Turkish citizen in space. His backup is Tuva Cihangir Atasever, 30, an aviation systems engineer at Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.

Erdogan made the announcement at the Teknofest aviation and space fair in Istanbul, the president’s first public appearance since falling ill during a TV interview on Tuesday. He appeared alongside Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.

“Our friend, who will go on Turkey’s first manned space mission, will stay on the International Space Station for 14 days,” Erdogan said. “Our astronaut will perform 13 different experiments prepared by our country’s esteemed universities and research institutions during this mission.”

Erdogan described Gezeravci as a “heroic Turkish pilot who has achieved significant success in our Air Force Command.”

The Turkish Space Agency website describes Gezeravci as a 21-year air force veteran and F-16 pilot who attended the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.

Wearing a red flight jacket, Erdogan appeared in robust health as he addressed crowds at the festival. Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 14, and opinion polls show Erdogan in potentially his toughest race since he came to power two decades ago.

Turkey is dealing with a prolonged economic downturn, and the government received criticism after a February earthquake killed more than 50,000 in the country. Experts blamed the high death toll in part on shoddy construction and law enforcement of building codes.

While campaigning for reelection, Erdogan has unveiled a number of prestigious projects, such as Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the delivery of natural gas from Black Sea reserves.


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Israelis rally for 17th week against judicial overhaul plans

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested judicial overhaul proposals Saturday in the 17th weekly rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

The demonstrations have been ongoing since the beginning of the year, and organizers plan to continue, despite Netanyahu delaying the changes last month. The leaders of the mass protests want the proposals scrapped altogether.

“We are just getting started,” read a banner that demonstrators held at the main protest in Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic hub. Smaller demonstrations were reported in several parts of the country.

Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez voiced support to the Israeli antigovernment protesters in a video message aired on a large screen in Tel Aviv.

We as Socialist International have always fought for freedom, equality, justice, and democracy. Yet, as many of you know, these are values that we cannot take for granted,” Sanchez said.

Protesters argue the proposed changes threaten Israel’s democratic values, hurting a system of checks and balances and concentrating authority in the hands of Netanyahu and his extremist allies.

They also say that the prime minister has a conflict of interest in trying to reshape the nation’s legal system at a time when he is on trial.

Such changes would result in weakening the Supreme Court, giving parliament, which is controlled by Netanyahu’s allies, authority to overturn its rulings and limiting its ability to review laws.

The protest gained support from the military’s elite reserve force, businesses, and large sectors of the Israeli community. But on Thursday, tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis who support the legal



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‘Total nightmare:’ As Florida insurance companies go insolvent, homeowners pay the price

Seminole county couple has three-year open claim because of insolvent insurer.

What happens when your property insurer goes out of business?

It is happening quite a bit in Florida and is leading to all policyholders paying more.

The Florida Insurance Guaranty is adding a 1% assessment to policyholders starting in October to cover claims for insolvent companies.

A Seminole County couple has lived without a fully functioning kitchen for three years because their insurer went out of business.

Sandra Braga Alfonso said what started as a leak under her sink has turned into a three-year nightmare.

She said there was already a fight with her insurer to pay out the claim, but then the company went under and it got worse.

Alfonso has a fridge and an oven but is missing lower cabinets, a stove, her normal sink, and a dishwasher.

“It has been a total nightmare,” Alfonso said.

It started in December of 2019 with a leak under her sink, she said.

She eventually discovered water in all her lower cabinets and in the sheetrock behind the cabinets, she said.

“The insurance company gave us approval to rip everything out that was damaged and now they don’t want to pay to put it back in,” Alfonso said.

The insurance company cut a check for $4,800, she said.

Of that $4,300 went to water mitigation to prevent mold. That left about $500, not nearly enough to replace her kitchen, she said.

“We’ve tried to settle, go to mediation, everything,” she said.

Finally, Alfonso and her husband filed a lawsuit against her insurer, but after two years of hearings and motions and waiting for a court date, her insurer went out of business.

She was with Capitol Insurance, but according to the Florida Department of Financial Services, Capitol was merged into Southern Fidelity, which is now one of 14 companies in liquidation.

“I’m over it. I just want my kitchen. I just want to be able to live again. I love to cook, and I can’t,” Alfonso said.

In the last year, Florida lawmakers have had three special legislative sessions to deal with Florida’s property insurance crises.

News 6 asked Alfonso if she thinks anything is being done in Tallahassee to help consumers with their insurance issues.

“No, it’s all for the insurance company,” she said.

One of the biggest moves made in Tallahassee over the last year is the legislature doing away with what is referred to as “one-way attorney’s fees.”

That means if you sued your insurer over a claim and won, the insurance company had to pay your attorney’s fees. Without it, Alfonso said she would never have been able to sue her insurer even though in her case, it didn’t do any good.

No. My husband’s retired. He’s on disability and he’s retired we’re on a fixed income,” Alfonso said.

Alfonso has now turned to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which handles the claims of insolvent property and casualty insurance companies.

They are still negotiating the amount it will take to fix her kitchen — more than three years later.

“I owned my first home when I was 20-something years old,” Alfonso said. “I’ve been paying my insurance premiums since I’m like 25, never filed a claim and look where I am now,” Alfonso said.


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