By Mary Thurwachter
If it seemed to you that traffic was more congested, lines to see attractions were a little longer and reservations at your favorite restaurants were a bit tougher to get last year, there was a good reason. Palm Beach County experienced record-breaking visitation numbers in 2018, according to Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s tourism marketing organization.
Year-end hotel performance data, released in late February, show 8.02 million visitors came to the county from January to December. That was an increase of 1.7 percent over 2017 and marked 10 consecutive years of tourism growth. And all those visitors generated a record-high $7.4 billion in economic impact to the area, supporting more than 70,000 jobs in the county.
A large share of the county’s tourists came to South Palm Beach County.
“The confirmed hotel developments under construction in Delray Beach (Aloft, Courtyard, The Rey) and Boca Raton (Mandarin Oriental) are vivid examples of the success of our tourism development strategies and the trust by investors in our tourism economy,” said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO for Discover The Palm Beaches. “These properties, coupled with our southern cities’ commitment to visitor-friendly activities and urban renewal, will add more options for our visitors to experience in South County.”
Pesquera says he is proud to see the growing visitation numbers in the southern region, and throughout the county.
“The increases validate that our strategic marketing and group sales efforts toward creating the ‘endless season’ are working — and that excitement motivates our team to attract even more visitors here,” he says.
One South County resort enjoying the rise in visitors is the Seagate Hotel & Spa in Delray Beach.
“In the lead up to our 10-year anniversary this fall, across the board, the Seagate Hotel & Spa witnessed an upward trend in 2018,” says William Sander III, executive vice president, director of operations and general manager.
“The Seagate Spa and The Atlantic Grille led the way for the property as a whole. The continued interest and excitement for both outlets as we reach our decade mark can be attributed to the awards and accolades that the Seagate Spa continues to receive and the standard of quality that the Atlantic Grille upholds with its service and bespoke culinary offerings.”
Compared to 2017, the Seagate experienced a moderate to slight increase in the transient room nights and an overall room occupancy increase in 2018, according to Sander.
“We attribute the increase to a stronger, growing economy and the consistent quality service provided by the Seagate Hotel & Spa that has created a solid, steadfast foundation of repeat guests,” he says.
Another destination reporting an upswing in visitors last year is Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan.
“2018 was a terrific year for us,” says Nick Gold, Eau’s director of public relations. “There are several factors that we attribute this to, including the allure of Palm Beach. Many visitors want to come for the history and beauty of the area, as well as to visit friends and family.”
Occupancy levels at the resort were especially strong, Gold says. “As a new luxury brand in Palm Beach — we celebrated our fifth anniversary in July — we are still building our brand and pride ourselves on our strong service levels, repeat guests and outstanding reputation in the market.”
What propelled the visitation rise overall in the county?
Pesquera says the expanding meetings and convention market, a strengthened marketing plan and positive news media exposure were major drivers.
In February 2019, Discover The Palm Beaches launched a new marketing and leisure sales representation in five international markets: Mexico, Argentina, Germany, Canada and Colombia — added to existing representation in Brazil and England — with the goal of increasing visitation from these countries.
Last year, international visitors increased by half a percent to 749,000, with significant growth from the U.K. (9 percent to 39,000 visitors), Brazil (3 percent to 29,000 visitors), and Colombia (5 percent to 22,000 visitors).
Domestic visitation grew 1.2 percent to nearly 4.5 million visitors from outside Florida. Visits originating within Florida grew 2.8 percent to 2.8 million visits, with Orlando showing the strongest growth with a 13 percent increase for the year.
Glenn Jergensen, executive director for the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council, says that long-term economic strength is building and shows that collaborative tourism strategic efforts of the council and Discover The Palm Beaches are working.
“The Palm Beaches are on an unprecedented trend of leisure, arts/culture, sports and meetings/convention tourism successes, and we’re aiming to become a year-round travel destination,” Jergensen says.