Improved roads, new flights and expanded cruise ship calls will bring more tourists to Broward County in 2015, industry leaders said Friday during the 7th Annual Economic Engine Performance Report.
At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, passenger traffic is expected to grow this year on both the domestic and international front, Aviation Director Kent George said.
JetBlue Airways will add service from Fort Lauderdale to Cleveland and Detroit in April and to Baltimore in November. Allegiant Air also is expanding there, with new flights to Indianapolis in April and to Memphis in May.
Those flights follow a handful of other new domestic routes that carriers added earlier in the year.
Last year, the Fort Lauderdale airport added four new international carriers: Copa (Panama) Azul Brazilian (Brazil), Tame (Ecuador) and Volaris (Mexico). As these flights gain traction in the market, more visitors are expected from these Central and South American regions.
Some 24.6 million fliers traveled through the Fort Lauderdale airport last year, up nearly 5 percent from 2013. Its international traffic grew 26 percent over 2013 to 4.6 million passengers.
The loosening of trade relations with Cuba has sparked discussion that general tourism might one day be allowed. The airport already has customs procedures in place if it happens, George said.
Broward's tourism chief, Nicki Grossman, said it would take Cuba at least a decade for its infrastructure to become competition for South Florida. If Broward did become a connecting hub for travelers visiting Cuba, she said, the destination would benefit from pre- and post stays.In the meantime, other tourism continues to flourish here.
"We expect to deliver 15 million tourists" to Florida this year, said Grossman, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Last year, Broward attracted 14.3 million visitors who spent $11.4 billion. That's 5 percent more tourists than the prior year.
The county also collected record-breaking tourist taxes of $53 million in 2014, a 12 percent increase from 2013.
Grossman said group business is growing, with several new conventions and conferences scheduled this year, including a National Urban League event in July and the Southern Comfort Transgender Conference in September.
As for plans to expand the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center and build a hotel there, Grossman said: "We are moving forward."
She said "a wide net is being cast" for potential developers of the project, which currently includes plans for a 750-room hotel and 100,000 square feet of additional conference center space.
The 1,056 group bookings generated in 2014 accounted for $1.01 billion in economic impact, Grossman said. At Port Everglades, officials expect more growth in fiscal 2015 after stellar numbers last year. "2014 was a record year at Port Everglades," with milestones in both cruise and cargo business, said Chief Executive and Port Director Steven Cernak.
The seaport welcomed 3.88 million multiday cruise passengers in fiscal 2014, which ended Sept. 30, and that helped it reclaim its spot as the world's second-busiest cruise port. PortMiami retained the No. 1 position, while Port Canaveral slipped to No. 3.
On the cargo side, Port Everglades set a record last year when it surpassed 1 million 20-foot equivalent units or TEUS — a standard measurement of cargo containers — for the first time in its history.
More improvements are on tap for the port such as dredging and widening of its waterways to accommodate larger cruise ships and cargo vessels, Cernak said. Additional upgrades to cruise terminals also will be completed where necessary to enhance passengers' arrival, check-in and departure, Cernak said.