When Major League Soccer player David Beckham announced plans to start a soccer franchise in Miami, the buzz became yet another jewel in the city's shiny crown. There's no question about it: Miami is hotter than ever. While the location of the new 25,000-seat stadium is still up in the air, the fan enthusiasm is firmly planted on solid ground.
"Miami has never seen such tremendous growth in so many areas," said Jorge Salum, a city native and business development leader at Visa who has travelled throughout the Caribbean and Latin America for the last decade.
International traffic to the city is on the upswing, and in 2013, for the first time ever, the majority of visitors—51 percent—came from outside the US. Together they represent 70 percent of overall tourism dollars spent in Miami, according to William Talbert III, the president of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Florida has been officially bilingual for two decades, but Miami has long been known as the US capital of Latin America for its cultural vibe and regional business hub status. Indeed, more than 40 percent of the population speaks Spanish at home.
Investment is flowing in from far beyond Latin America, joining Miami-headquartered US companies like Burger King and a trio of cruise companies—Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean. London-based Swire Properties is building Brickell City Centre, a $1.05 billion (77.4 billion euros) complex that will include homes, offices and shops when it opens in 2016. Britain’s Virgin Hotels moved its headquarters to Miami from New York in 2013. Spain’s Banco Santander and Portugal’s Banco Espírito Santo have set up shop along Brickell Avenue, the city's business centre.
Meanwhile tech industry events like eMerge Americas and the SIME conference have been held annually in Miami, and organizations like the Miami Economic Development Council and Florida International University provide grants and infrastructure to support start-ups; local techies have started calling their city "Silicon Beach.”
Miami International Airport is a major hub for travel between the US and the rest of the Americas. American Airlines operates 73 percent of the flights here, including routes to nine cities in Miami's number one international visitor market, Brazil.
Connections from the airport to the downtown business core are a cinch. A taxi ride, which takes about 20 minutes, costs between $25 and $30, and the Metrorail orange line from the airport to the Brickell Avenue stop takes 20 minutes and rings up a fare of $2.35.
Miami tourism officials are implementing a taxi improvement program to boost vehicle standards and customer service training. Poor taxi service was a common area of complaint for visitors. For safety purposes, rental car companies changed the way license places are marked to so drivers are not identified as tourists.
Many of Miami's airport terminals have suffered from aging infrastructure, but a series of recent improvements include a new international arrivals facility that opened in 2012. Getting around the terminals can be a test of patience and endurance with long walks, but it’s worth a hike to get a Cuban sandwich and coffee at Versailles, the airport branch of the popular Little Havana restaurant, in Terminal D.
The US dollar is standard, but international travellers will have no problem using credit cards in almost all shops, restaurants and hotels. The city is implementing a new program that will improve taxi safety by promoting vehicle maintenance and squeaky clean driving records, as well as require all taxis to accept credit cards. For Uber fans, the car-sharing service has just set up shop in Miami allowing travellers to summon drivers via mobile apps and pay directly with credit cards.
Miami locals operate on their own clock. It isn’t unusual for meetings to begin a few minutes late and the city's traffic can sometimes snag expected arrival times. The Brickell drawbridge in the heart of the business core is notorious for slowing travel plans, opening as needed for boats passing through.
Miami has one of the largest collection of boutique hotels in the world — with dozens in Miami Beach alone — but business travellers may prefer the amenities of something larger. The 641-room Intercontinental Miami boasts stunning views of Biscayne Bay and is home to the popular Latin restaurant Toro Toro, run by Miami native Chef Richard Sandoval. The executive lunch menu lures busy workers with dishes like chipotle miso Chilean sea bass and churrasco beef skewers — all served in less than an hour. After work, a happy hour tapas menu includes empanadas and ceviche with a twist.
For something smaller, Brickell Avenue’s 168-room Viceroy enjoys a reputation as an elite address with excellent skyline and water views. Its redesigned 15th & Vine restaurant on the 15th floor opened in January. Here locals gather by outdoor fire pits sipping craft cocktails or nosh on the chef's summer menu of Cuban pork belly, Korean short rib tostadas, and Hawaiian style ahi poke.
Dinner for one
Seasalt and Pepper, which opened in December 2013 on the Miami River, is a favourite power lunching spot for executives who make the short drive from Brickell Avenue for the seafood casseroles served in Peruvian clay pots. The rack of lamb and pappardelle pasta dishes with braised short rib are favourites. Early reservations are recommended.
La Mar by Gaston Acurio at the Mandarin Oriental Miami opened in January and boasts a waterfront dining room with a Peruvian menu. The menu brings together Latin and Asian ingredients including a half dozen ceviche combinations and a dish called Causa Chalanita composed of whipped potatoes topped with tuna, crab and octopus.
For a casual breakfast, head to Little Havana's Calle Ocho (only a $10-15 taxi ride from Brickell Avenue) to sample a strong cortadito (espresso) and churros (fried and flavoured doughnuts) in the heart of Miami's Cuban quarter. The Cubano sandwich (ham, pork, cheese, pickles squeezed between toasted Cuban bread) at Versailles is a must-have.
Off the clock
The see-and-be-seen glamour of Miami Beach is only a $20 taxi ride from Brickell Avenue but there is plenty to entertain visitors in the downtown core. In December, the Perez Art Museum Miami opened a new location by Biscayne Bay showcasing modern art by Latin and Caribbean-born artists. Reaching the museum is easy using the city’s convenient (and free) Metro Mover elevated train system, which stops across the street from the museum.
Those buying gifts to take home, or just for themselves, will find locally-owned clothing boutiques as well as flower, cigar and chocolate shops at Mary Brickell Village, one block from Brickell Avenue.
There is a reason the city's basketball is called Miami Heat. The balmy temperatures year-round are a big draw, but the humidity can be unbearable for even the shortest walks outside in the summer months. Business visitors, especially men wearing suits, should consider packing an extra dress shirt if planning al fresco walks to avoid arriving at meetings coated in sweat.
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