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South Florida's tourism slump may be ending

Hotels continued cutting room rates through the spring, but South Florida's tourism slump may be stabilizing, according to new statistics.

In April, room rates fell 12 percent to $155 a night in Miami-Dade County compared to a year ago, according to Smith Travel Research. That was the smallest rate decline since January for the region's largest hotel market.

Hotel numbers in Broward County and the Keys also hinted at a plateau for room rates, with declines leveling off at prices last charged in 2006. That adds to evidence that the swift economic downturn that hit the United States last fall is touching bottom — at least for now.

"My sense is we have hit bottom," Jonathan Tisch, chief executive of Loews Hotels, said in a recent interview. The New York company owns the Loews Miami Beach, South Beach's largest hotel. "I don't feel it getting worse."

The big challenge this year could be summer, when hotels must cut rates to fill beds anyway. Canadians, Europeans and Latin Americans helped rescue the summer season last year as the U.S. recession gained steam and domestic travelers stayed home.

Rolando Aedo, head of marketing for the Greater Miami tourism bureau, said he expects foreign tourists to arrive in numbers equal to last year, largely thanks to discounted rates hotels are offering to replace conference business lost to the economic downturn.

"In some markets – Germany in particular – they're reporting their '09 numbers will actually be higher than their '08 numbers," Aedo said.

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