Miami’s tourism industry more than bounced back in 2022: travel and tourism contributed $11.1 billion to Miami-Dade’s economy, surpassing pre-pandemic levels and making it the fourth-largest tourism market in the United States. That’s according to a study and report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, a global travel trade organization, and Oxford Economics.
The report called Miami’s performance in the tourism sector a “heroic comeback.” Miami-Dade’s travel and tourism revenue makes up nearly 6% of the county’s total gross domestic product, estimated to be $186.3 billion last year.
Orlando was the U.S. city with the most revenue from tourism — the theme park capital contributed $31.1 billion to the local economy in 2022. Las Vegas was second, followed by New York City. Miami’s tourism dollars slightly exceeded Los Angeles, the fifth-largest tourism market, with $11 billion.
The global travel and tourism council and Oxford Economics collected data from the U.S. bureau of economic analysis and Miami-Dade County to zero in on economic impact specifically from tourism. They used the data on average spending per traveler, number of arrivals and hotel occupancy and average rates.
Miami’s tourism sector outperformed pre-pandemic levels in most ways. In 2019, the industry generated $10.5 billion towards the county’s total GDP. The coronavirus pandemic slashed that number by more than half, with only $4.6 billion generated from tourism and travel in 2020, before bouncing back to $10.7 billion in 2021.
While tourism businesses in South Florida such as hotels and restaurants are riding a wave of strong demand in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, the sky-high revenues don’t always represent increased profits for businesses on the ground when the increasing cost of labor, supplies and inflation are factored.
“It was probably the best year on record, but there’s no mention about labor costs and costs of supplies. Bottom line profits are not as strong, even though revenues are at an all-time high; if they weren’t, it’d be all doom and gloom,” said Peter Ricci, director of Florida Atlantic University’s hospitality management program. “Everyone is saying it’s all sunshine and roses in the tourism industry but no one is talking about the bottom line.”
Charles Ryan Minton would know. He’s Florida regional manager for TPG Hotels and Resorts, a hospitality management firm that looks after five hotels in South Florida, including the Westin Fort Lauderdale, the Renaissance in Boca Raton and three resorts in the Florida Keys.
“I’m happy to see that wages are higher because it’s what workers deserve, but it does affect the bottom line. Overall we’re very happy that business is back, it’s exciting, but we are adapting to doing a lot more with a lot less, specifically staffing wise,” Minton said, explaining that his hotels still haven’t returned to offering room service.
He also cited persistent issues with getting basic hotel supplies like linens and towels and the increased cost of food, especially eggs.
“Hotels serve a lot of eggs. The main meal where guests utilize the hotel restaurant is breakfast,” Minton said. The study found that the Miami-Dade tourism industry was still down nearly 22,000 jobs — in 2019, the travel and tourism sector here provided 145,800 jobs in the county, roughly 12% of the county’s total jobs, which dropped to 123,930 jobs last year, 9.9% of the county’s workforce. “Almost no hospitality businesses are back to their pre-pandemic staffing numbers,” Ricci said, adding that many companies cut corners and try to replace workers with technology and artificial intelligence. “The increased cost of labor means that most people can’t afford to rehire to their pre-pandemic numbers. And we lost a huge number of people in hospitality because they’re burnt out.”
The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Miami-Dade County’s destination marketing agency, said that its calculations for the hospitality workforce put the county nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, with 141,400 jobs. The agency said it’s putting together its own economic impact study for 2022. Rolando Aedo, the bureau’s chief operating officer, said the agency also has different figures for visitor spending last year than the report, and that agency officials reached out to discuss certain specifics in the study with the travel and tourism council.
Miami tourism businesses hoping to keep up the momentum from last year’s boom may find opportunities in international travelers. While spending from domestic visitors to Miami was up 30% in 2022 compared to 2019, international spending is still 10% lower than it was in 2019, according to the global study.
The majority of COVID-19 U.S. travel restrictions were lifted in November 2021, but many foreign travelers are still experiencing long wait times for U.S. visas due to backlogged U.S. embassies and consulates in some of Miami’s target international markets, like Brazil and Mexico.
“Domestic travel boomed during the pandemic, but it will wane,” Ricci said. “International travel is still way down and those visitors stay longer and spend more, so that’s where the [Miami tourism] industry still has room to grow.”