For South Floridians, travel deals are close to home
YOUR TRAVEL BUDGET IS SQUEEZED? NO PROBLEM. SUMMER VACATION DEALS CLOSE TO HOME ARE LURING MORE SOUTH FLORIDIANS.
With the economy wobbling and gasoline prices swamping household budgets, many South Floridians are opting for ”staycations” — getaways that mean crossing a causeway instead of the country.
That was the case for Kathy Mottle of Aventura, who traded her annual ski trip for two local weekends away, one at the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles Beach. ”As soon as you’re over the Intracoastal bridge, you feel like you’re in a tropical island,” she said.
Miamian Carolina Packer, too, trimmed a week off her family’s annual Bahamas vacation with her four children and substituted a weekend at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne to celebrate her anniversary with her husband.
“We wanted to spend some time alone together, and we didn’t want to go too far away and not to spend too much money with the times how they are now.”
Not that close-to-home escapes are anything new for South Floridians. Favorable summer rates — often 40 percent cheaper than in winter — have long drawn locals to the beaches of Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale, the Keys and Palm Beach. But this year, the numbers will likely be up, local hoteliers say — and the bargains juicier.
At Hotwire.com, a discount online booking site, 20 percent more South Floridians are booking local vacations than last year, said Clem Bason, the site’s vice president of merchandising. Throughout Florida, the site — which discloses the name of the travel supplier after you’ve purchased — is offering rarely seen deals at exclusive 4.5-star hotels. ”A once in a three- or five-year opportunity,” Bason said.
Expect more of the same.
”When I’ve met with hotels, generally speaking, they’ve said that revenue of 2007 will not be collected in 2008, so we should expect better deals for locals and visitors,” said Rolando Aedo, senior vice president at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Key Biscayne’s Ritz-Carlton is expecting about 10 percent more locals this summer than last, when about 65 percent of the guests were South Floridians, the hotel said. It’s promoting its luxury services and discounted summer rates — about one-third of the winter tariff — to South Floridians through local ads.
The Westin Diplomat also is predicting an increase in summer traffic, said spokeswoman Michelle Shulman. It’s luring locals with family star-gazing and outdoor movies, 25 percent Florida-resident discounts (up from 5 to 15 percent in previous years) and gas rebates of $100 on a three-day stay, more on longer visits.
Other enticements available to away-at-home travelers: late Sunday checkout for weekend visitors to the Dove Creek Lodge in Key Largo; pay for two nights and get the third night free at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach; certificates for in-hotel dining at Shula’s Hotel & Golf Club in Miami Lakes; and lower rates the longer you stay at the Aqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles.
SPAS AND DINING
Overnight and day visitors will also find deals at spas and restaurants. For the first time, both Miami-Dade County’s and Fort Lauderdale’s tourism boosters have organized $99 treatments at local spas — July for Miami-Dade and September for Fort Lauderdale — and are repeating popular dining programs with three-course meals at fixed prices.
The promise of local visitors is so strong that the Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau created a ”Pack Your Bags: We’re Staying Home” promotional campaign that includes hotel discounts and two-for-one offers on movies, museum entry, sightseeing cruises, golf, snorkeling and fishing excursions — even kayaking trips.
Miami-Dade tourism promoters have launched a website, Miamiexpressions.com, designed to showcase summer offers. The Florida Keys have kicked off a KeysKash discount area on their website, and Palm Beach has added Florida-resident two-for-one offers to its website.
Such close-to-home forays may provide an antidote to the more than 30 million Americans who left an average of three of their hard-earned vacation days on the table last year, according to the annual Vacation Deprivation Survey conducted for Expedia, an online travel agency.
Said local vacationer Mottle, “There’s only so much you can do now with your money, and you have to pick and choose and get a little bit of what you want.”
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