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"Tropicultural" Miami:
Building Boom Supports Arts Renaissance

By Kathleen Cassedy

The past September, George Neary was excited about the upcoming Invitation to the Arts the following week. As cultural tourism director for Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), he had been orchestrating the event since February, which for the first time would bring a few thousand business people, representing 19 chambers of commerce; members of the 1,100-member GMCVB; the concierge association; and the Beacon Council, which works to relocate companies to Miami; to the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts. There they would meet 40 local arts organizations at their information booths, and preview performing arts on stage.

This showcase aims to introduce Miami-Dade County's business community to its various multi-cultural arts organizations, which can perform at fund-raising events, special programs, promotions, and conferences. Neary hopes businesses will also consider cultural venues as a place to hold board meetings, seminars and conferences.

Neary, who was the former executive director of the Miami Preservation Design League, came to the newly created post of cultural tourism director in January 1998. While cultural tourism to Miami-Dade County has been steadily increasing ever since the art deco historic district in Miami Beach was created in 1976 by the U.S. Department of Interior, in the past five years cultural tourism has been booming. According to a study by the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council for FY 1995-'96, an annual investment of $186 million in cultural spending provided an economic impact of $329 million.

Yet with hundreds of millions of dollars currently invested in expanding or building performing arts and other cultural facilities, Miami's renaissance has hardly peaked. Highlights from upcoming cultural products are:

The $225 million Performing Arts Center of Greater Miami, which broke ground this past May, will be a major attraction in the city and, for that matter, the world. It is expected to revitalize the older Omni Venetia district where it is located, a few blocks from downtown Miami, by attracting 500,000 people a year. Designed by the firm of renown architect Cesar Pelli, it will house a 2,480-seat, horseshoe-shaped ballet opera house, a 2,200-seat concert hall, a 500-seat studio theatre, and a 57,000-square-foot outdoor plaza for the arts. Scheduled to open in 2002, it will be a showcase for five resident companies, including the Miami City Ballet and the New World Symphony. (The center is only four blocks from the $190 million American Airlines Arena, which will be home to the Miami Heat basketball team, scheduled to open this year.)

Completion of the "cultural campus" is near. This includes an extension of the library, an $8.1 million expansion and renovation of the Bass Museum, and the new $7.5 Ophelia and Juan J. Roca Center of Miami City Ballet, which will house offices and studios, that is scheduled to open this year.

Along with the many unique shops, restaurants, art galleries and a theater that have opened on the revitalized Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, this past decade, the Lincoln Road Mall opened this June. The mall features a $40 million cinema complex with 18-screens, which seats 3,000 patrons, who will enjoy its multi-digital sound systems; and 50,000 square feet of retail shops, restaurants, and a six-story parking garage.

Ocean Steps, another South Beach retail complex, will have nightclubs, restaurants, including rooftop dining, and a 1,000-seat theater, designed by renown architect Michael Graves, partially opens this year.

Miami Museum of Science is planning a $200 million Science Center after 2002.

Florida Grand Opera plans a $13.5 million facility by 2001.

Florida International University's Art Museum plans a new $10 million museum after 2000.

Recognizing that few warm-weather beach destinations have such an abundance of cultural organizations and activities, shopping malls, restaurants, and world-class hotels, the GMCVB sought to create a new image for itself that would highlight this aspect of the 30 municipalities it represents. In 1997, the GMCVB trademarked a kind of pun, "tropicool," to serve as its new marketing logo. The term represents GMCVB's greater emphasis to promote its tropical weather and cosmopolitan ambiance together as distinct from other "sun 'n sand" holiday spots.

Following on the success of "tropicool," which places the logo on promotional literature and in advertising, and resulted in an additional web site address ( this past August, the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council also devised a new word-logo, "tropiculture," to promote the area's cultural aspects. This term is placed on literature that promotes and highlights the area's cultural programs, events and attractions.

To market the cultural attractions and events to tourists and excursionists, Neary and other members of the GMCVB marketing department worked on a co-operative campaign with American Express two produce two pocket-size brochures-a directory of arts and cultural organizations and their facilities, and a calendar of events/performances. Neary himself delivers this material to 20 selected city restaurants and hotels. American Express contributed $10,000; the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Council provided $5,000; and the GMCVB matched both with $15,000. The money was used to publish 200,000 directories annually and 50,000 calendars quarterly. American Express also produced special "check presenters," to include the cultural brochures with restaurant checks, and is including the brochures in direct mailings to preferred customers. This successful program, called "tropiculture," began in 1999, and is currently planned for 2000.

Tropiculture calendars also include dates of upcoming festivals that are held in various city neighborhoods, such as Carnaval Miami's Fiesta de Las Americas/Calle Ocho, billed as the world's largest block party in Little Havana, and the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, which a press released describes as 'filling the streets from Coconut Grove to South Beach with revelers." The Art Deco Weekend, which is a festival and antique show in the Miami Beach historic district, annually attracts 500,000 people. In fact, this popular area attracts 70 percent of tourists to the Miami area.

Neary is working to coordinate other cooperative efforts with museums and theaters. He has brought 15 area medium- to small-size museums together to market themselves as one entity, so that now a full page print ad lists all museums. He also encourages motorcoach companies to package museum tours.

"We promote cultural tourism on a very broad basis. For us, culture transcends the performing arts; it's really about heritage-our multi-culturalness, and the more traditional performing arts," says Rolando Aedo, GMCVB vice president of marketing and tourism.

The GMCVB is including more cultural aspects of the city in its advertising, for both print and television. Ads have run in Miami Herald and New York Times newspapers, and Conde Nast Traveler. in which portion of the ads are devoted to cultural attractions. "That wouldn't have been the case before," Neary explains. In the travel trade magazine, Recommend, an entire 16-page advertising supplement for Greater Miami this past spring was devoted to arts and culture.

Visitation to the area is slightly down, which reflects the economic troubles in Latin America, a major market to Miami. In 1998, Greater Miami attracted 9.7 million overnight visitors, which was 1.1 percent less than in 1997. Visitors accounted for $12 billion in direct economic impact, and $6.4 billion in indirect economic impact. Of these visitors, more than half (54 percent ) are international, and 94 percent arrive by air.

Although overall 1998 domestic visitation was down 2.1 percent in 1998, market research showed the decline was mainly from visitors who traditionally visit friends and relatives, who may not have come because of last year's mild winter. "If you...look at people coming primarily for vacations/pleasure, we actually posted a healthy 10.6 increase in domestic travel, as well as a 3 percent increase in business/convention travel-two segments most influenced by our marketing efforts," explains William D. Talbert, president and CEO of the GMCVB, in a media release.

To leverage limited funds, the GMCVB's is involved with several cooperative marketing programs. By partnering with travel affiliates, such as airlines, car rental, and credit card companies, the GMCVB attracted $2 million to supplement its base advertising in 1998.

The bureau's oldest co-op began in 1995 with American Airlines, which controls a majority of the gate at Miami International Airport. This past year, the GMCVB committed $250,000, matched equally by American Airlines and collectively by three tour operators-Liberty/GoGo, Travel Impressions, and American Airlines Vacations. With $750,000, an advertising campaign was developed to target seven major Northeast gateways-from Boston to Washington, D.C., and expanded to include Chicago in 1998. The ads run in fall and spring, promoting special hotel and airline offerings. An economic impact study of the campaign over the past four years shows that it generated more than $10 million and 25,000 room nights.

"Our emphasis with most of our advertising efforts, whether they're co-op or not, is to bolster visitation from spring through fall," Aedo points out. The AA co-op campaign is enhanced and modified each year to remain competitive. This year, for example, American Airlines is offering additional Advantage Miles, and another co-op member, Alamo Rent-A-Car, is providing free double upgrades. Ten hoteliers are also part of the program and are offering special packages.

Except for programs targeting meeting planners, all GMCVB marketing programs are aimed at the leisure market. "We have limited dollars, and we know that business executives are reading leisure magazines," Aedo says. Leisure travelers to Greater Miami stay an average of 7.1 nights; business travelers stay 5 nights; while conference delegates stay 4.1 nights.

In 1998, GMCVB began a cooperative advertising program with United Airlines, directed at the Latin American market, which accounts for 46 percent of international visitors to Miami-Dade County. UAL contributed $210,000, which the GMCVB matched. TV spots ran in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico on Sony Latin American, TNT Latin American and the Discovery channels. This year, the ante was raised to $250,000 for each co-opt partner. Ads are designed to attract upscale FIT travelers to visit Greater Miami before Christmas.

Although growth from Latin America was one-half percent in 1998, Aedo considers this good, considering the region's recent economic problems, especially in Brazil. Now that Brazil is starting to pick up, the GMCVB has partnered with a major Brazilian tour operator, Tia Agusta, to run newspapers ads in Sao Paulo's major newspapers, promoting the tour operator's Miami packages.
To accommodate the expected increase in visitors, Miami's ports (sea and air) are renovating and expanding. The Miami International Airport, which is the second largest domestic airport in international passenger traffic, is undergoing a $5.4 million construction program that is modernizing current terminals and concourses, and adding a fourth terminal by 2002.

Its seaport, called the Dante B. Fascell Port of Miami-Dade (the name was changed from Port of Miami after Dade County changed its name to Miami-Dade County in 1997) is also undergoing major expansion, in part to accommodate delivery of the world's largest cruise ship, RCCL's 3,600-passenger Voyager of the Seas. Both Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Miami-Dade County contributed a total of $76 million to renovate three terminals, and build a 750-space parking lot.

"We're attracting a more upscale visitor who is staying longer and spending a record amount of money. The growing sophistication of our industry product distinguishes us from our warm weather competitors," Talbert says. To accommodate those upscale visitors, several luxury hotels are planned: a Mandarin Oriental, a Four Seasons, a J.W. Marriott, and two Ritz Carltons. Meanwhile, other new hotels are planned and dozens of current properties are renovating and expanding.

"This is a wonderful time to be in Miami," Neary says. "It's exciting, invigorating, and we have wonderful cultural venues and organizations to highlight and to share with visitors from the rest of the world." It appears that Miami will be ready for them.

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