Family-Friendly Miami

Miami is a city best known for its vices, such as fun-in-the-South-Beach-sun, nights out at any one of its famous clubs and, of course, a certain namesake TV show and movie. However, recent additions to the city's landscape, including ParrotJungleIsland and the Miami Skylift helium balloon ride, are making Miami a more family-friendly destination. The question is: Are clients interested? A tiger lounges at the Metrozoo (top); the Seaquarium's new "Swim With Our Dolphins" program is a hit (above)

Maggie Blehert, a spokesperson with Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates, says agents she spoke with report receiving a wealth of information from the SunnyCity's family attractions. Furthermore, a recent CWT survey of 507 franchise owners, managers and agents released earlier this month also reveals Miami and Miami Beach jumping from number 13 to number seven on travelers' vacation destination wish lists for 2007—but that doesn't mean the two trends are correlated.

"It's interesting because the indications are that it is a popular destination, but it is not as well known as a family destination," Blehert says. "Miami is definitely making a push, but traveling there does depend on the family's budget. People just usually think of Walt Disney World first for families."

Miami Beach positions itself as a destination for all-ages fun

David Whitaker, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, is aware of this fact and attributes the renewed interest in Miami to an evolving family, rather than an evolving destination. "We're not so presumptuous as to try to compete with the core family attractions of central Florida," he says. Instead, Miami's new and existing attractions are drawing hip baby boomers and their culturally sophisticated children.

"Miami's brand essence always has been more of a cosmopolitan lifestyle with high-energy activities," he notes. "You have people interested in great restaurants and hip places to go, but tagging along with them are children."

The new and existing attractions in Miami reflect this. In the last few years, the city has seen a surge in activities for children, as well as family-centric hotel packages. In 2007, the city's Seaquarium debuted its new dolphin habitat and its Metrozoo opened a new $35 million Tropical America exhibit.

The Loews Miami Beach now has its "Loews Loves Kids" program, which gives welcome gifts to children under 10 and offers supervised recreational programs, lending game libraries and special children's menus. Likewise, pint-sized visitors at the Mandarin Oriental Miami are greeted with a welcome gift, as well as their own bathroom amenities and bathrobes.

Chimpanzees are one of 3,000 animal species at Parrot Jungle Island

Too, Whitaker says Miami enchants children—especially teens and preteens—thanks to the events and celebrities who frequent the city. MTV hosted its Video Music Awards in Miami in 2005, drawing teen idols and heartthrobs like Gwen Stefani and Orlando Bloom.

"Being a hip and happening place has always been our brand," Whitaker says. "Having the VMAs come to Miami was part of that brand coming alive."

So what about Miami's attributes that could be deemed by some as not so family-friendly, such as the city's hard partying nightlife and its gay and lesbian culture? That's not going away either, Whitaker says.

"We don't want to be myopic. That would eliminate others that are coming here," he says. "Whatever you're into, we want you to be into it here."

If a client has any hesitations about Miami as a full-fledged vacation destination, CWT's Blehert notes that Miami also serves as a port for many cruises. "We do know that people are cruising out of Miami, and in that sense, families are probably coming out of the port," she says. "We talk a lot about adding pre-and post-cruise itineraries, and Miami has millions of people going through the port every year, so there is a lot of potential there.