SUNNY ISLES BEACH – Ibis Romero sometimes gazes at the sun-drenched waters outside her office and fights the urge to stroll along the white sands.
“One of my biggest challenges is not being able to hang out at the beach all the time,” said Romero, laughing.
These days, she's too busy beckoning travelers from around the world to come visit Sunny Isles Beach, the postcard-perfect scene along Collins Avenue that is becoming one of South Florida's prime vacation spots.
Romero, a 52-year-old New York native whose parents are black Cuban immigrants, is executive director of the Sunny Isles Beach Resort Association. Since taking over the association in January 2007, Romero has traveled the world – Latin America, Canada, Europe – introducing Sunny Isles Beach's new image.
Her work is paying off: Sunny Isles Beach was named the nation's top travel destination by TripAdvisor, a travel information Web site, in its 2008 list of emerging hotspots.
The area now draws visitors from countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Chile.
Sunny Isles Beach's transformation began about seven years ago when developers started taking notice of the area, said Romero, who has spent the past two decades working in the travel industry.
The tiny motels that used to line the shore, previously dubbed “motel row,’’ are now joined by luxury high-rise hotels, such as the 51-story Acqualina Resort & Spa and the Trump International Sonesta Beach Resort.
“I'm just getting out there educating the industry of the changes that have occured,’’ said Romero, who previously worked as associate vice president of membership at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The area has changed dramatically. We have really reinvented ourselves and now we’re targeting a different audience.’’
One of the biggest draws of Sunny Isles Beach is that the area offers a less hectic scene than the nearby South Beach, but is still in close proximity to Miami’s nightlife, Romero said.
The new luxury hotels also attract more high-end travelers.
“We're not as busy as South Beach,’’ Romero said. “It's a little more friendly. We offer something for everyone, not just the jet setters.’’
When she's not traveling, Romero is planning events to help draw more people to the area, such as the Sunny Isles Beach Jazz festival, to be held from Oct. 17 to 19. The event will feature several local and celebrity jazz entertainers, and is expected to become an annual event for the area.
Romero said it’s tough working as the only employee of the Sunny Isles Beach Resort Association. She said plans are in the works to hire more employees, but for now she will continue at her hectic pace.
“I'm a one-woman band,’’ she said. “Sometimes I wish I was cloned.’’
For more information about Sunny Isles Beach, visit www.sunnyislesbeach.com.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Ibis Romero