By: Kelli Kennedy & Cody Jackson
Cooped-up tourists eager for a taste of Florida’s sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and warmer climates are visiting the Sunshine State in droves, topping pre-pandemic levels in recent months.
Miami is one of the top search destinations on travel websites and statewide, Florida had 32.5 million travelers from July to September of this year, exceeding the number of visitors during that period in pre-pandemic 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis said recently.
This video of a fire dancer was taken at the luxurious Setai Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida. The upscale and trendy hotel is owned by the Nakash family. The Setai Hotel is the “go to” place for celebrities, sports figure, International business people and other prominent personalities. At this time of year, a great many people going to the annual Art Basil event in Miami stay at this magnificent hotel.
The state was boosted by the Republican governor’s pro-business, anti-lockdown and anti-mask restrictions all year, allowing one of Florida’s main economic engines to flourish, even as tourism dipped in other parts of the country.
Now, as snowbirds have returned and others are making holidays travel plans, hotels and tourism experts report a noticeable bump. Miami — and Florida — have grown even more popular since borders were opened earlier this month to international travels, though plans and logistics could be upset by the emergence of the new COVID-19 omicron variant.
In the Wynwood section of Miami Beach there is no one more famous than “Zak the Baker.” Everyone who truly appreciated the finest and tastiest baked goods visits Zak the Baker for bread, cakes, donuts, cupcakes, pastries and much more. Now that Chanukah is here, people line up to purchase Zak the Baker’s famous ‘Sufganyot’ (jelly donuts, cream donuts, fruit donuts and more). Zak the Baker carries only kosher products and everything he sells is freshly baked. As a matter of fact, Zak the Baker’s reputation is so well known that his whole wheat bread is sold to health food stores around the country. So, the next time you are in Miami, rush over to Zak the Baker in Wynwood for the very best in baked goods.
“The moment the borders and the flights were reopened in November, we started to see bookings from Europe and South America,” said Milton Sgarbi, a vice president at 1 Hotel South Beach, one of Miami’s most luxe oceanfront resorts.
“We had bachelorette parties, we had reunions, we had weddings, not as big as we used to have in the past, but small weddings almost every weekend. Last weekend, we had three weddings.”
Despite the pandemic, the high-end hotel flourished in 2021 with leisure travelers. Normally, they see an even mix of business and leisure, but he expects the business market will pick up in 2022, along with the international tourists
At Eden Gallery in sunny Miami Beach, the excitement surrounding the upcoming Art Basel event increases as art lovers enjoy the exhibits at the internationally renowned art gallery. Leading up to Art Basel and all throughout the week, Eden Gallery owner Cathia Klimovsky has told the Jewish Voice that each day different artists and their works will be featured. On Tuesday, artist Métis Atash will be spotlighted. On Wednesday, artist Alex Monopoly will be featured. On Thursday artist Galy (Gal Yosef) will be featured and on Friday artist Eduardo Kobra will be featured. Based in Israel, Eden Gallery has locations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In this video, one can see rapper Flavor Fav in the gallery as he talks with a friend.
Karen Aguilar came to Miami in November — just weeks after the borders reopened — to enjoy the sun from Bucaramanga, Colombia.
“You have to come and enjoy the views, the beaches, the people. It’s very friendly and yeah, I’ll be back,” she said.
Miami and Florida typically have an even mix of domestic and international tourism, but with the borders closed because of COVID-19 in 2021, cities launched massive marketing campaigns courting U.S. tourists who were tired of being cooped up.
“Domestic tourism came back like gangbusters,” said Rolando Aedo, of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We expanded our market share of domestic visitors driven partially by the fact that Florida and Miami were open when others weren’t and there was a lot of pent-up demand.”
Pure Vida restaurant in Miami Beach is the place to dine for the most delicious health food cuisine. Their menu includes all day breakfast made with the finest and freshest ingredients, luscious salad bowls with the best veggies on earth, Açaí bowls, wraps and sandwiches, superfood smoothies, fresh juices and shots and much, much more. Pure Vida has gained in popularity with those health and fitness conscious people and as such, Pure Vida is expanding in size and has opened other locations. For an absolutely delicious health food experience, Pure Vida is the place to be in sunny Miami.
While much of the country was shut down, several new hotels opened up in Miami; airlines including Southwest and JetBlue added Miami routes for the first time; and Aedo said the nation’s cruise capital of Miami broke ground on new port terminals to meet demand as several cruise lines, including Virgin, recently came onboard here.
Miami is also expanding as a destination: In addition to perenially popular South Beach, the burgeoning art district known as Wynwood has become a top draw. Wynwood officials estimate nearly 6 million visitors will have checked out the trendy area in 2021, up from roughly 5 million in 2020.
Chic new restaurants and boutique shops opened all year long in Wynwood, where most of the buildings and sidewalks are covered in grand technicolor murals. TripAdvisor even named Wynwood one of the coolest hipster destinations in the U.S.
Andrew Cronin, a resident of Orlando, Florida, has visited South Beach several times, but now says, “I do like coming a little bit more to Wynwood and Brickell because you really get to feel the real experience of Miami, like the heart of Miami.”
The theme-park home of Orlando is always popular during tourist season, and now has big draws such as Disney’s 50th anniversary celebration; new attractions including Peppa Pig Theme Park, which opens in February; and several new hotels.
“The holiday season is going to be strong for our destination,” said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando.
Advance bookings for Christmas and New Years in Orlando are at roughly 95% what they were during the holidays in 2019.
“As we look ahead, bookings for January and February are triple the volume we saw at this time last year,” Matej said.
Across Florida, vacation rentals through the end of the year are trending over 42% higher than 2019, and seat capacity on domestic flights is nearly 4% higher, according to VISIT FLORIDA.
And 50 new hotels are slated to open throughout the Sunshine State by March. (AP)