Miami Spent $5M On Campaign to Bring in Vacationers, Spring Break Crowds After Losing Billions

Miami tourism officials have spent $5 million on a campaign to bring vacationers back to the city after losing billions in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Associated Press, tourism in Florida generated over $91 billion in 2018, but due to COVID-19 lockdown measures, Miami lost billions of dollars in revenue during the summer months last year.

Tourists who have traveled to Miami Beach have received text messages urging them to "Vacation Responsibly or Be Arrested."

"Spring break in Miami Beach may be one of the great rites of passage, but only if you plan on following the rules. Otherwise, you might as well just stay home and save yourself the court costs," the message said.

In Florida, there is currently no statewide mask mandate or capacity restrictions for businesses, but local city and county governments are allowed to impose their own COVID-19 mitigation restrictions.

In Miami-Dade County, there is currently a mask mandate and curfew in place for residents, but Mayor Daniella Levine Cava sent a memo to county commissioners last week noting that the curfew could be lifted by April 5.

"We can't afford to let our guard down when we are so close to the finish line. I am confident that by continuing to work together with our residents and businesses, we can drive down our positivity rate below the 5.5-percent mark needed to minimize community spread of COVID-19, as we accelerate vaccination to develop widespread immunity and truly put this pandemic behind us," she said in a press release.

An aerial view shows a deserted beach in Miami Beach, Florida, on March 20, 2020. - Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber warned of "devastating consequences" over the virus and ordered bars and gyms to close this week, telling springbreakers: "You've got to think about the person next to you and even the person you don't know." Chandan Khanna/Getty

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Colleges around the U.S. are scaling back spring break or canceling it entirely to discourage partying that could spread the virus and raise infection rates back on campus.

Texas A&M University opted for a three-day weekend instead of a whole week off. The University of Alabama and the University of Wisconsin-Madison also did away with spring break but are giving students a day off later in the semester.

Even some students who have the time to get away aren't in the mood. Michigan Tech's weeklong break began Friday, but 21-year-old Justin Martin decided to visit family in Michigan instead of making that epic senior-year trip to Florida he once envisioned.

"I don't want to travel all that way, first of all, especially with everything being shut down. It just doesn't seem worth it, especially with COVID too," he said.

Airline travel to Miami is down more than half from last year, said Rolando Adeo, chief operating officer of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors bureau. But hotel occupancy is expected to reach 70% in Miami Beach this month, he said. While that's down from 85% in 2019 pre-pandemic, it's still a marked improvement from 43% last year.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis reported: "Hotel rates are very competitive and occupancy is also very high, so we're excited for that."

University of Louisville student Josie Hornback and four girlfriends spread their colorful towels as they tanned on Florida's Clearwater Beach last Tuesday, unfazed by the virus.

"I'm with people I know. I'm not an at-risk person," she said.

Around the state, many are taking the party to the open waters, where guests can imbibe under less-watchful eyes.

Andrew Cohen, co-owner of Staying Afloat Party Boat, said his boats are nearly sold out for the rest of the month in Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.

"A lot of them are coming down from the colder states," he said. "And they were just sick of being cooped up for the year."

California is discouraging visitors from out of state, warning tourists they will have to quarantine for 10 days on arrival, and a season that ordinarily would see crowds at beaches, theme parks and ski mountains is expected to be thin. The state, with miles of coastline and popular spring break spots like Disneyland and the Santa Monica Pier, has some of the nation's toughest pandemic restrictions.

At the University of Mississippi, which canceled spring break and will instead end the semester a week early, senior Eliza Noe had been planning a "last hurrah-type getaway trip" with her girlfriends, but that isn't going to happen now.

"Spring break is your last moment to lose your mind before becoming an adult, so that was kind of the plan," she said, "but then the world ended."