Chabeli Herrera is a business reporter for the Miami Herald, covering South Florida's tourism industry. Her coverage focuses on the business of cruise lines, airlines and hotels. It has been recognized by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.
Wacky Florida travel/tourism stories keep it fun. In-depth stories on consumer issues keep it meaningful.
Previously, Chabeli worked at the Miami Herald as a healthcare reporter. She also enjoyed a stint with WLRN, South Florida's NPR station, and the Miami Herald as a Public Insight Network Analyst and Digital Strategist, managing duties that ranged from audience engagement to graphics development to content distribution.
A proud Gator, Chabeli graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She was born in a small town in Cuba and moved to the United States in 1996 with her mother in search of better opportunities.
It's been great so far.
Hotel housekeepers commute for hours as high rents push them farther away
"Fontainebleau hotel housekeeper Odelie Paret climbs out of bed at 4:30 a.m., as she does each weekday, to start her hourlong commute from the faded warehouses of Opa-locka to the well-heeled, island city of Miami Beach. The sky outside her window is still inky black.
...Paret’s two-bus commute takes her across the 79th Street Causeway to a $15-an-hour, highly physical job, where for 21 years she has been a critical but little-noticed cog in the machine that runs Miami-Dade’s $25 billion tourism industry. Her wages, higher than most Beach hotels thanks to a union contract, support an unemployed daughter in her 30s, a grandson in middle school and family in Haiti.
The 13.5-mile journey between her modest two-bedroom apartment and Miami Beach exemplifies the ugly reality for most in today’s local tourism workforce. Every morning, thousands of hospitality workers like Paret commute for hours to get to the Beach, where a bitter cocktail of exorbitant rents and stagnant wages have pushed workers farther and farther away from the workplace."
Travelers keep falling for ‘free’ cruise schemes. Here’s how companies get away with it
"All too often, such “free” travel offers can be deceptive schemes perpetrated by Florida-based companies trying to piggyback on South Florida’s status as the Cruise Capital of the World. ...In many instances, such “free” travel deals turn into trouble for consumers: Last year, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received 1,028 complaints about travel or vacation plans, making it the No. 8 most common complaint. The department characterizes “free” cruise deals that require travelers to pay additional fees as travel scams.
...'It’s all about plausible deniability,' said Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocacy expert who has helped many travelers unravel these kinds of schemes across the travel industry. 'You have entity A, the cruise line; entity B, the travel agency; and entity C, the fulfillment company. If something goes wrong with the trip, there is some finger pointing, some shoulder shrugging, but nobody is going to get a refund.' "
In the Keys, Irma ‘knocked out’ the tourism industry. Now, the race to recovery is on
"Some residents call it the Irmanator: The roughly 97-mile stretch between Key Largo and Key West that traces the devastating path of Hurricane Irma, as she blasted through the Lower Keys and then seemed to grow bored with destruction further north.
Get past it and you’ll reach Key West, the tourism heartbeat of the Florida Keys, where damage is minimal, cruise ships are docking and tourists are trickling back in. But the drive down the Overseas Highway is no Key West. It’s a testament to Irma’s wrath, the breadth of her impact and the challenges that lie ahead for an island chain whose livelihood depends on cooperative weather.
...The Keys hasn’t seen anything like Irma in modern memory, said Jim Bernardin, owner of Pines & Palms Islamorada Resort.
'This one ...is a different storm because the economic engine of The Keys is tourism and it’s just like getting knocked out by Muhammad Ali,” Bernardin said. “But we woke up.'"
A SPLIT SECOND DECISION SAVED HIS LIFE IN THE PARKLAND SHOOTING. THE TRAUMA HAUNTS HIM
Crowds spooked him now. It was seven weeks since he had locked eyes with a black-masked gunman taking aim at him in the midst of the worst school shooting in Florida’s history. Seven weeks since he’d made the split-second decision that saved his life but left a softball-sized hole in his leg. Seven weeks since he’d seen bullets lodging in the wall around him as he ran past bodies of his classmates in a wild panic to survive.In an instant, Kyle was back in the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The fire alarm ringing. A cluster of students moving slowly at first and then scattering to reveal Cruz — looking straight at him and lifting the muzzle of an AR-15.
There are days when the images overpower Kyle, when he’s in class or in a mass of people, at home where he feels safest or when it grows silent. Cruz barges back into his life.
Cruz and the gun, pointed at him. Cruz and the gun. Cruz and the gun. Cruz and the gun.
Lolita may never go free. And that could be what’s best for her, scientists say
"...Often lost in the well-meaning attempts to return Lolita home is one central question: Is freedom really what’s best for her?
The orca, now about 50 years old, remains the last known survivor of the group of more than 50 whales captured 47 years ago. Since her mate died of a brain aneurysm in 1980, she has become the only solitary orca in captivity, where she lives in the smallest killer whale tank in the nation. As the years have passed, the likelihood of her return to the sea — and her ability to adjust to that change — has become less likely, said Russ Rector, a long-time marine mammal advocate. Lolita’s identity as a living being has been usurped, he said.
“She is just a casualty of captivity and the activists. She has become an icon that quite frankly, nothing has been done for her except a slogan: ‘Free Lolita, Free Lolita,’ ” Rector said. “I’m sure Lolita appreciates that.”
She endured 6 minutes of terror, steps away from the shooter. Now she returns to school.
"Glass shards and bullet shell casings littered the floor. Police officers were shouting over each other: 'DON’T LOOK DOWN. HUG THE LEFT WALL. KEEP YOUR HANDS UP. LET ME SEE YOUR FINGERS. DON’T LOOK DOWN.'
But she had to look down, or she’d lose her footing.
There was blood — in large puddles on the floor and dripping from the lower parts of the wall. It smelled like rust. Taylor tried to step around it, but she was slipping. The blood stained her black flats.
Two bodies lay in the hallway, a boy and a girl, crumpled in on themselves. Their hands were over their faces.
'The police officers were helping other kids, carrying other kids out of the classrooms, pushing us to go in the hallway, but they were just stepping around them. So I didn’t understand why weren’t they helping them,' Taylor said. 'They just looked broken. They looked dead.' "
More cruise ships failed sanitation inspections in 2017 than any other year
"In 2017, cruise lines failed their sanitation inspections at the highest rate ever since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program started holding cruise ships to its Operations Manual guidelines in 1990.
Fifteen ships earned failing scores last year, a figure that dwarfs the average failure rate of about two to four ships a year, a Miami Herald analysis of the CDC's historical inspection data found. The only year that comes close to 2017’s all-time-high figure is 2013, with 10 failures. In 2016, just four ships flunked their inspections, and from 2009 to 2011, there was only one failure a year.
...'Local authorities can close a restaurant, they can fine a restaurant, and that’s really powerful,” said John Hickey, a Miami-based maritime attorney with Hickey Law Firm. “That just does not exist on cruise ships.'"
The first Cuba tourism boom is over. Here comes the next wave: cruises
"Havana was exploding in yanqui frenzy. Seven hundred Americans streamed across its streets one steamy May 2016 morning on an expedition of rediscovery. They were the first to arrive via sea since John F. Kennedy was president.
The wave of change was crashing over Cuba.
For passengers on this historic voyage, the visit included hours of tours through the city’s highlight reel. Dinner at a private Cuban restaurant, un paladar. Rides in classic — Cubans would call them rustic — 1950s cars, los almendrones. Strolls through the centuries-old Spanish squares of La Habana Vieja.
...While airlines have cut back, cruise lines have pushed forward, adding itineraries through the end of the year. By the end of 2017, eight U.S. lines — seven based in Miami — will offer Cuba itineraries.
How $20,000 fines have made Miami Beach an Airbnb battleground
"For the past eight months, Miami Beach has waged a war against short-term rentals. Its weapon of choice: $20,000 fines.
One property on Meridian Avenue has been walloped three times, totaling $60,000 in fines against the historical five-bedroom home. Owner Daniel Sehres may still be able to circumvent the fines — if he finishes converting the home into a bed-and-breakfast, an option available to him only because he falls into a narrow set of criteria.
...The city of Miami Beach feels short-term rentals should play a very limited role in the makeup of the city, where zoning prohibits short-term rentals in almost the entire island, save a few pockets such as a stretch of Harding Avenue and Collins Avenue. Since raising the penalty to a flat $20,000 from a previous cost of $500 to $7,500 in late March, Miami Beach has fined residents and rental companies themselves — including Airbnb, HomeAway and Booking.com — a combined $4 million. Residents who live in areas that allow short-term rentals may also get fined if they don’t have a business tax receipt and resort tax account to operate legally. Tourists staying in illegal rentals can get evicted, but not fined."