Holly V. Kapherr
Holly V. Kapherr

Orlando tourism officials revaled on May 9 that the city is once again the most popular destination in the U.S., as 2018 brought a record-smashing 75 million visitors to town.

Just a few days prior, Greater Miami and Beaches also boasted record-breaking news, as 16.5 million overnight visitors in 2018 represented a 3.5% jump from the previous year.

There are several common threads in these statistics. The most striking is the effect of international tourists, specifically from Latin American countries. Orlando saw a 5.4% increase in international visitors, with just under 6.5 million, and Miami saw a 4.1% increase in international overnight visitors, a total of 5.8 million.

At an event announcing the numbers at the Hilton Orlando, Visit Orlando president and CEO George Aguel said, "We saw strong gains from all of our core countries, particularly from Latin America. This success is a testament to the special appeal of our destination that continues to grow and evolve." He mentioned Brazil and Mexico as leaders in Orlando's Latin American tourism market.

Miami also saw major growth from its key Latin American tourism markets, including Brazil, Colombia and Argentina. Together, the three countries accounted for more than 20% of all international overnight visitors to the city. As a region, Latin America made up more than 45% of Miami's overnight tourism.

Miami's international visitors accounted for 35% of the total overnight tourism market and were responsible for more than half of the total economic impact. Greater Miami and Beaches attributes this impact to the longer stays by visitors who have had to travel long distances.

Bruce Orosz, Greater Miami CVB board chair, also attributed the record numbers to the destination's "neighborhood marketing" strategy, which breaks up the behemoth urban sprawl into neighborhood destinations like Little Havana, Wynwood and Coconut Grove. By marketing these neighborhoods individually, visitors are more likely to recognize activities and attractions outside of the beachfront, extending their stay to explore other areas of the city.

Both destinations also saw a record increase in domestic tourism. Orlando experienced a 4.1% increase in U.S.-based visitors, and Miami saw 6.2 million domestic visitors (not including those from the state of Florida). Miami's top domestic market: New York City, with 1.2 million visitors.

The 2018 results are markedly similar for both destinations, and each destination attributes the tourism growth to the same main factor: growth in accommodations.

Orlando is seeing a hotel boom like it hasn't in 20 years. The metro Orlando area has more than 120,000 hotel rooms; only Las Vegas has more in the U.S. The opening of two new Endless Summer megahotels at the Universal Orlando Resort, Surfside Inn & Suites and Dockside Inn & Suites, will add thousands more when they open this June and in May of 2020, respectively. At the same time, Orlando's theme parks have been expanding and reimagining their offerings at incredible speeds.

Since the debut of Pandora at Disney's Animal Kingdom, renovation of Disney Springs, opening of Sesame Street at SeaWorld Orlando, the Harry Potter attractions at Universal Orlando, and more, the openings haven't stopped. Aguel said he believes the growth will carry over to 2020, as "a lot of these things tend to kick in the following year."

Greater Miami is also seeing a revolution in hotel expansion, which links to its 2018 "hotel's first" initiative, which positioned hotels front and center in their marketing plans. There are now more than 52,000 hotel rooms in the Greater Miami area, and hotel inventory increased 4.2% in Miami over last year. More than 15.6 million hotel room nights were sold in 2018, representing a 1.5% increase over 2017.

Miami reported that its average daily rate had the highest rate of growth among the top 25 U.S. hotel markets, a 6.1% increase for an average of $199.35. The occupancy rate also rose, albeit marginally, by three-tenths of a point over 2017, to 76.7%.

Orosz said Miami's authenticity is part of the reason tourism has increased, and making visitors aware of the artistic, culinary and cultural experiences they can have in Miami is key to further development and growth.  "[It] is our strongest tourism driver and attracts visitors from all over the world," he said. Orosz looks to the opening of the new Miami Beach Convention Center and sees the meetings industry as a main growth market for Miami's future.

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