A broad brush to paint all industries

Art Basel Miami Beach isn’t just a boon for art galleries.

It’s an opportunity to show off South Florida’s priciest condos, its tony stores and its luxurious hotels. It’s a time when local businesses can expect long lines of customers willing to pay top dollar.

art basel

Months before the out-of-town galleries begin to arrive, workers are putting up art installations, the party announcements go out, and greater Miami’s restaurants and hotels are training staffers.

Hospitality businesses that haven’t already opened their doors host a marathon of grand openings before reaching the finish line Dec. 6.

Companies entertain millionaires, billionaires, celebrities, investors and affluent tourists in between their glitzy private soirees and tours of art-filled tents. Many of these well-heeled visitors will be booking rooms and making travel plans for next year’s Art Basel Miami Beach as they attend this year’s event.

These businesses bank on the promise that Art Basel Miami Beach will be the cultural center of the contemporary art universe for a few days every December. And, after 14 years, that promise is still kept.

“It’s a significant thing for our calendar year that the event happens in December,” the GMCVB’s Talbert said. “It’s not January, not February. December now has some of the top days that the industry has.”

Talbert is referring to hotel occupancy, which is a measure of how many travelers are staying overnight in greater Miami and generating bed tax dollars. During Art Basel, occupancy and revenue per available room (RevPAR) resemble the robust weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, which are area hotels’ most populated weeks of the year before they stay nearly full until spring.

Occupancy rates remain high above the national average for most of the year in South Florida, but January through April are still the region’s best months for occupancy and RevPAR, according to data from hospitality research firm STR Inc. Art Basel Miami Beach creates a frenzy of hospitality spending during an historically calm time of year.

“If you take out New Year’s Eve, Basel [2014] is the No. 1 and No. 3 highest RevPAR days in our history,” Talbert said, adding that the five-day event’s launch day takes the top spot.

It’s safe to say the 2015 event will create another historic RevPAR day this year, Talbert said.

Before Art Basel arrived at Miami Beach, occupancy was 57 percent during the early days of December, the GMCVB’s Aedo said. Now, the days during Art Basel tout more than 85 percent occupancy, which is equivalent to full occupancy, he added.

Bookings come a year in advance

tadd schwartz

Hoteliers are confirming that some of the bookings for Art Basel Miami Beach were made a year in advance. Most attendees begin booking in the summer, and many hotels on the beach already know they will be full for the event by fall.

“We start preparing for Art Basel when people start booking, which is six months in advance,” said Alex Tonarelli, managing director at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel, which has 790 rooms. “We are usually sold out a week or two before for Basel.”

The week of Art Basel Miami Beach is among the hotel’s Top 3 busiest weeks of the year, along with the weeks of Easter and New Year’s.

“The timing of it, being the first few days of December, has been great for our city,” Tonarelli said.

South Beach is not the only area brimming with tourists during Art Basel. Downtown Miami hotels see solid bookings during the week, as well.

Art Basel Miami Beach has become one of the top weeks for the 641-room InterContinental Miami, General Manager Robert Hill said.

“This year, we’ve been sold out for Art Basel now for five or six weeks,” he said. The week of the Ultra Music Festival in March and New Year’s Eve are also top weeks for the hotel.

The InterContinental, like many others, holds its own art events in December to coincide with Art Basel. The hotel’s Form and Substance show is a light projection and mapping art installation that runs Dec. 2-6.

“We already have something lined up for Art Basel 2016,” Hill said, but would not divulge further.

Plans begin so far in advance at the W South Beach that General Manager Rick Ueno feels like the hotel is preparing for the fair year-round.

“We’re always doing renovations to keep the hotel in tip-top shape, so every year when our Art Basel customers come, they can be impressed,” he said.

This year, the hotel refurbished its lobby (also referred to as its “living room”) and upholstered all its furnishings there. The art at the hotel changes nearly every year for Art Basel. This year, it features 10 to 12 artworks from American pop artist Andy Warhol.

Bookings can be made a full year in advance at the W South Beach. During Art Basel, the 350-room hotel’s staff swells to 700 people.

“Basel sets the tone for our hotel,” Ueno said. “We want to make sure our hotel is pristine shape.”

Guests are paying for the attention to detail. The starting rate to stay at the W South Beach for Art Basel is $1,400 a night.

Art Basel isn’t simply raising the number of hotel rooms rented during the early days of December. It raises room rates across Miami-Dade County, too.

Research from the GMCVB shows that before Art Basel arrived more than a decade ago, the average daily room rate across Miami-Dade County during that time was $93.52. Last year, it was $266.23 – a 185 percent increase. Room rates were even higher in Miami Beach, at $433 a night.

“It’s dramatic what has happened since 2001,” the GMCVB’s Aedo said.

A taste of Miami

Once Art Basel brings the travelers in, they’re ready to sample South Florida’s highly regarded restaurants and retailers that allow the region to be touted as a world-class destination.

James Beard-award winning celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein is behind a number of high-profile eateries that all operate during Art Basel Miami Beach, including Cena by Michy in Miami and Crumb on Parchment in the Miami Design District. She owns and operates them with husband David Martinez.

Bernstein and Martinez have returned this year to the Miami Beach Botanical Garden with pop-up restaurants that are only available during Art Basel Miami Beach. Michy’s Pop Up opened Nov. 30 and seats 95. Garden Café by Michelle Bernstein debuted Dec. 2, seating 120. She has hired hundreds of people to run all of her eateries smartly.

Bernstein is also the official caterer of 34 events during Art Basel. At least two of the affairs have more than 1,000 attendees.

“It’s the busiest week of the year, and it’s helped our businesses grow,” she said. “We wait for this week all year.”

The Miami native says Art Basel and the busy winter months are most profitable for South Florida’s restaurant scene. It’s when they can potentially create enough revenue to be sustained through the slow months of the year, she said.

“It’s a kind of busy we randomly see,” she said of Miami’s restaurants during Art Basel. “It’s such an incredible time to live here and be from here and have our homes here. It just makes me proud.”

Today’s Art Basel attendee can sample food and retail from all over Miami-Dade County as they go to Lincoln Road, Bal Harbour Shops or the Miami Design District. In the coming years, Art Basel participants may shop and eat at massive multi-use developments like Brickell City Centre and Miami Worldcenter. Miami’s arrival as a world destination, leading to its massive growth, can be traced back to Art Basel’s beginnings in South Florida.

“You can point to Art Basel that shows we are a top-tier community in the world,” Talbert said.

Building Miami’s brand

Few events in Miami-Dade’s history have contributed to the region’s brand like Art Basel has, said Tadd Schwartz, founder of Schwartz Media Strategies.

“Basel came in at the right time, when Miami was moving forward as a hospitality-driven city,” he said. “Today, it’s known as a great city to invest in, not just because of the hotels and the beaches, but also because of its arts and culture.”

Investors all over the world are bullish about Miami, evidenced by its booming real estate market. They’re buying up both commercial and residential properties at premiums to be part of the action.

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