Foreign tourists giving boost to South Florida economy

Travel wholesaler Arturo Armayor surveys South Florida's battered tourism market and finds much to celebrate.

He books rooms at a discount for Europeans and Latin Americans with modest vacation budgets, a job made easier by this winter's 11 percent decrease in room rates across Miami-Dade County. His foreign clients seem less spooked than American travelers by the economic crisis, with his Miami Beach bookings higher than last year's.

And while a booming travel market once relegated much of Armayor's business to airport hotels and other low-cost spots, the downturn has brought his clients more desirable options.

"We are getting many spaces on the Beach," said Armayor, CEO of Vacations USA Tours, based in North Bay Village. "All the hotels that didn't want to talk to us, now they're trying to catch up with us."

Armayor's good fortune captures many of the challenges facing South Florida's hotel industry as well as the hope that foreign travelers will once again prop up the summer tourism season.

Last summer saw record numbers of foreign visitors taking advantage of a weak U.S. dollar while domestic tourists cut back on travel.

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