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What Recession? Miami-Dade Tourism Soars

MIAMI (CBS4) - In a down economy, tourism in Miami-Dade County bucked the odds in 2010 setting records in every area, according to figures released by the Greater Miami Convention and visitors Bureau.

The numbers are impressive:

  • Greater Miami and the Beaches hosted a record 12.6 million overnight visitors
  • Tourists spent a record $18.8 Billion on lodging, food, shopping, transportation and entertainment
  • Visitors generated a record $127 million in tourist-related taxes
  • 29% of state sales taxes collected in the county were paid by tourists

The big year pumped renewed life into the area's life blood.

"Ultimately, that meant we added jobs, and in this economy, in this community with tourism being the number one industry, job creation is one of our top priorities," said Rolando Aedo, executive vice-president of the visitors bureau.

Aedo credited the "most comprehensive marketing effort ever" for the record tourism year. The marketing was aided by the BP oil spill. BP gave Miami-Dade $1.25 million to help advertise its pristine beaches.

Aedo said new airline service to Miami International Airport - including new flights from Russia, Amsterdam and Brazil - also boosted the tourist numbers.

"Every time a new air route opens up to Miami, it's like a new road being built to the city," Aedo said.

Officials said Brazil became the area's first ever "billion dollar" market, with more than 500,000 Brazilian visitors spending $1.1 billion here.

Ironically, the lousy economy helped boost the tourist economy.

"It's so beautiful here," said Femka Groot, a visitor from Holland on South Beach Thursday. "And it's cheap."

The weak U.S. dollar makes South Florida a cheap destination for international visitors.

"I bought a shirt here for 90 euros," Groot said. "In Holland, they are 200 euros."

Tourism was boosted, too, by increasingly popular events like the Art Deco Weekend, South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Miami Fashion Week, and the Art Basel exhibition.

"Luckily, we are in South Beach, and there is always going to be something to bring us people," said Augusto Marenco, manager of the Sea Cafe on Ocean Drive.

Marenco said the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, which attracts thousands of hip-hop fans, will provide a big bump at a time when business tends to flatten out after the busier winter season.

Miami has also benefited from the success of the Miami Heat basketball team.

"It has added to the allure of the city," said Ginny Gutierrez, a media relations specialist with the visitors bureau.

If 2010 was a good year, 2011 promises to be even better, according to the bureau. Figures for the first quarter show hotel occupancy up more than 11 percent over the same period last year.

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