Hotels excited for Memorial Day crowds as Miami Beach hopes to avoid spring break woes

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After playing host to a chaotic spring break, Miami Beach is once again bracing for large crowds as Memorial Day Weekend approaches, with hoteliers optimistic about a spike in business even as the mayor promises to crack down on misbehavior.

Just like during spring break, cops will work on 12-hour rotating shifts during the long party weekend beginning May 27, call in reinforcements from outside agencies and set up a traffic loop in South Beach to limit overcrowding. About 200 civilian ambassadors from Miami-Dade County will educate visitors about city rules and work with police to de-escalate situations.

There will be a few new wrinkles: There won’t be a midnight COVID-19 curfew in place to limit late-night parties or government mandates forcing social distancing or mask usage. But there will be a brand new 2 a.m. last call at clubs in South Beach’s entertainment district.

“We’ll maintain order,” Mayor Dan Gelber told the Miami Herald. “We urge you to just abide by the rules.”

Over the last 20 years, Miami Beach has been a popular destination during Memorial Day Weekend for tourists in search of pool parties, clubbing and a late-night street festival atmosphere. At times, the revelry has erupted in dramatic clashes between police and crowds.

Concerns about the city again losing control over its visitors — spring break rowdiness so unnerved Beach politicians and police the city closed causeways and created an 8 p.m. curfew — led Gelber this week to request a new curfew even before the crowds come in two weeks. His proposal failed.

But Gelber said police will “arrest people that act out.” Typically, he said at Wednesday’s commission meeting, South Beach resembles an “armed camp” during Memorial Day Weekend.

Crowds returning to pre-pandemic levels

The city’s most significant measures are expected to be announced next week. They have historically included a clampdown on public consumption of alcohol, the use of license-plate readers at city access points and local-access restrictions on some city streets.

“I have concerns that this Memorial Day could be as, or likely more challenging than others,” Gelber told the Herald. “If we could legally have a curfew I would want one implemented, but our lawyers have said we cant do it until there’s an observable need for it.”

Crowds look like they’re set to return to pre-pandemic levels, with Miami Beach hotels reporting an occupancy rate of 72% as of Wednesday, according to a city spokeswoman. The city expects the occupancy rate to be higher over the holiday weekend.

The prospect of bigger crowds may worry some city leaders, but it’s welcome news for hotel and bar owners who are hoping to recoup COVID-19 losses. Both politicians and business owners share excitement for the return of the Hyundai Air & Sea Show over the holiday weekend.

“There’s no question this will generate a lot of community spirit,” said Mickey Markoff, executive director of the show. “And it generates a lot of revenue for the businesses.”

The Air & Sea Show is giving hoteliers some hope that the city can avoid the chaos of spring break, which had no programming.

“It was a good move for the city to move forward with the show,” said Yaser Mohammed, general manager of the 116-room National Hotel on Collins Avenue. “Less people coming to party, more people to come and enjoy a real weekend of celebration.”

Hotels recovering from COVID-19

The National remained closed through much of the pandemic, until Dec. 10, when it reopened for adults only. Children, Mohammed said, are harder to control during a pandemic, and the pivot has worked out well for the hotel.

“We’re very glad we made that decision, we are getting adults, grandparents and couples,” he said. “It has been very well received.”

By some measurements, Miami Beach hotels are faring better now than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed the hospitality industry. Room rates are up compared to 2019, and many hotels are reaching full occupancy on weekends, though still struggling to fill the weeknight void left by disappeared business travel.

Peter Szabo, owner of the 20-room Viscay Hotel on Collins Avenue, said he doesn’t think the city has done enough to turn down the party scene ahead of Memorial Day. He said the recently approved 2 a.m. last call should be citywide.

“Restaurants should close at midnight. It’s open after midnight, it’s not a restaurant,” he said.

But club owners are frustrated with the recent restrictions approved by the Miami Beach City Commission, including the elimination of a noise exemption for businesses between Ninth and 11th streets on Ocean Drive. Thomas Donall, who owns The Palace Restaurant and Bar on Ocean Drive, said limiting controlled entertainment in the entertainment district will lead to a bigger party on the street and hurt businesses.

“I think it’s better for all businesses to be open to control the crowds than have them on the street,” he said.

Still, Donall said he was excited for the holiday weekend — and the influx of crowds that continue to come to Miami Beach during the pandemic.

At the 790-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel, managing director Mutluhan Kucuk said he’s been pleasantly surprised by the Miami Beach market’s comeback. Though the hotel is missing business from big conventions and meetings, they’re making up for it in higher rates for leisure travelers who are flocking to South Florida. He said he’s optimistic that Memorial Day Weekend will be successful.

“Every conversation we have with our partners in the city, it makes me feel more comfortable about the plan,” he said. “You can never be 100% sure because things never go as planned, but based on our conversations with them, I feel we have a good plan in place for our city.”

Rolando Aedo, chief operating officer of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Miami-Dade’s tourism marketing bureau, is hoping people explore all of the county during the holiday weekend. The bureau is promoting things to do for tourists including visits to Miami art museums, golf courses, parks and the zoo.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of options,” Aedo said. “We can expand the perception of Miami and mitigate those congested areas.”

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