Miami hotels are expecting an influx of visitors this week that will bring their occupancy rates to the highest level since the COVID-19 pandemic torpedoed the tourism industry in March.

Traditionally Thanksgiving week has been a highlight for Miami-Dade hotels, as tourists escape from cooling temperatures elsewhere. This year, amid the pandemic, some hotels still expect to sell out thanks to an influx of visitors from the Northeast and Florida, despite a warning from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid traveling for the holiday.

“We are excited,” said Cynthia Boyett, director of sales and marketing for The Ritz-Carlton South Beach. “I know it’s daunting with the [COVID] numbers increasing, but being in hospitality we are ready for our guests to come back.”

In a normal year, Miami Beach hotels sell out for Thanksgiving up to a month in advance; last year the county had an occupancy rate of 87.3% on the Friday after the holiday, according to data from STR, a hotel data tracking firm. This month, hotels are experiencing last-minute bookings for the holiday week that may get them close to or all the way to full occupancy for the first time since they were forced to shut down in March.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Rolando Aedo, chief operating officer at the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Miami-Dade’s tourism marketing office. “The trend we’ve been seeing with more and more room nights being sold, more and more passengers; it’s starting to build up some momentum. Getting the volume back is critical. The next step of course is getting the rates back to where they were.”

An exterior shot from the beach of The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Bal Harbour, Florida, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

For Boyett, that’s a huge success. The 376-room Ritz-Carlton in South Beach reopened in January after renovations and quickly had to shut down again in March. Now, demand is high enough that the hotel is opening its spa and club lounge.

“Thanksgiving will be better than anything so far,” said Boyett. Countywide, hotels currently are about 40% filled, according to STR.

The holiday week will be the busiest for Miami International Airport since the pandemic began, according to airport spokesman Greg Chin. MIA is expecting an average of 52,000 passengers each day over the 12-day holiday period ending Dec. 1. That’s a whopping 59% decrease from last year, Chin said, but an improvement over last month, when the airport averaged around 40,000 per day.

But not everyone will be arriving by plane.

Gregory Polino, general manager of the 216-room St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, said he is seeing more Floridians book stays — some in for the long haul as they work and study remotely from the resort; others are coming for the holiday week.

The concierge desk at The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in Bal Harbour, Florida, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

Before the pandemic, the valet service was parking around 100 cars per day. Now, Polino said, the number can reach to 300 per day.

“For Thanksgiving, it’s locals who want to get our of your house, don’t want to do the cooking,” he said. “You can get everything in your room.

“It will be the busiest since we reopened.”

Polino said normally the hotel would be almost entirely booked through Easter, as Art Basel and cold temperatures elsewhere drew visitors to Miami. This year, he said it could be slow again until around Dec. 23.

“It’s encouraging. I’m optimistic, but still very conservative,” he said. “It’s hard to plan.”

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Taylor Dolven is a business journalist who has covered the tourism industry at the Miami Herald since 2018. Her reporting has uncovered environmental violations of cruise companies, the impact of vacation rentals on affordable housing supply, safety concerns among pilots at MIA’s largest cargo airline and the hotel industry’s efforts to delay a law meant to protect workers from sexual harassment.