County officials hail ninth straight year of record numbers
By Arlene Satchell
Palm Beach County clocked another year of record tourism in 2017, welcoming 7.89 million visitors, a 7.3 percent increase from 2016, the county’s official tourism marketing corporation announced.
Discover The Palm Beaches attributed the increase in visitation to more domestic visitors, growth in groups and meetings and innovative destination marketing campaigns that helped bolster community engagement.
“A successful tourism community equates to a thriving local economy, which is why we’re so proud of nine consecutive years of visitation growth in the Palm Beaches,” Jorge Pesquera, Discover’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “This sustained increase reaffirms the area’s continued ability to compete for global visitors, while supporting nearly 70,000 jobs.”
In 2016, Palm Beach County had a record 7.35 million visitors, up about 6 percent from the 6.9 million who visited in 2015, Discover’s records show. By contrast, the county had 4.12 million visitors in 2009.
The repeat record tourism results augur well for job creation and employment prospects for the region’s future hospitality workers, industry specialists say.
“Decreased visitation means decreased jobs,” said Peter Ricci, director of the hospitality & tourism management program at Florida Atlantic University. “For now, our students continue to get hired at outstanding rates surpassing 90 percent. Most are already employed by junior year and simply stay in roles in the industry upon graduation.”
Last year, the Palm Beaches, as the county is dubbed for tourism marketing purposes, welcomed nearly 8 percent more U.S. visitors than in 2016. The destination’s top domestic markets for increased visitation included New York, with 11 percent, or 1.1 million visitors; Fort Lauderdale/Miami with 8 percent, or 808,700 travelers; Tampa/St. Petersburg, with an 11 percent increase, and Orlando, which jumped 4 percent to 516,800 visitors.
Another top growth market was Washington, D.C., which increased 13 percent to 310,400 visitors. Discover attributed those gains in part to the opening of The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, the new spring training home of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals.
In 2017, international visitation to the Palm Beaches rose 0.9 percent to 745,000 travelers overall. However, a handful of key markets saw improvements despite lingering economic and currency exchange pressures, namely Canada, at 2 percent; Argentina, 8 percent; and Brazil, 2 percent.
Canada accounted for 321,270 visitors, while Argentina and Brazil accounted for 36,620 and 28,100, respectively.
County hotels were also fuller in 2017 as travelers booked 4.6 million room nights across the destination, an increase of 4.9 percent from the previous year, Discover noted.
The tourism marketing agency said joint partnerships with the Palm Beach County Convention Center and local hoteliers were instrumental in boosting room night bookings for groups, meetings and conventions.
“We are seeing a significant shift in our ability to attract meetings and conventions throughout the Palm Beaches, and particularly citywide events in West Palm Beach,” Pesquera said. “The demand is likely to support additional room inventory in key cities.”
Management at the Hyatt Place Boca Raton/Downtown also heralded 2017 for capping off a solid first year of operations. The 200-room Hyatt Place at 100 E. Palmetto Park Road opened in December 2016 as Boca’s first downtown hotel.
“Hyatt Place Boca Raton/ Downtown had a great finish to our year one,” said Audra Durham, director of sales. “[We’ve seen] strong demand in this market with a combination of robust corporate, extended stay, group and leisure business.”