Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
You can credit bad weather up North, the recovering national economy or the growing reputation of Palm Beach County as a popular winter tourism destination.
Whatever the reason, Palm Beach County continued to be a mecca for winter visitors this year, with occupancy rates reaching records in some areas and with local hotels being close to sold out for many days during the winter season.
“This season has been unprecedented in terms of tourism for Delray Beach,” said Stephanie Immelman, executive director of the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative, which promotes the area as a tourism destination. “Occupancy levels are up year over year even with a new hotel — the Fairfield Inn & Suites — opening.”
Countywide, total occupancy rates remained strong, reaching almost 82 percent in January, close to 90 percent in February and a little more than 86 percent in March, according to statistics compiled by the county’s tourism agency, Discover the Palm Beaches.
In south Palm Beach County, occupancy rates were even higher, with hotels seeing record occupancy levels in January and February.
Another measure used to gauge growth in hotel visitors — revenue per available room — shows across-the-board increases, according to Brittany Schnorr, manager of industry relations for Discover the Palm Beaches.
That number is calculated by dividing the total amount of revenue received by area hotels by the number of available hotel rooms.
Overall, Discover the Palm Beaches statistics show more than 6.2 million people visited Palm Beach County last year, eclipsing the 2013 record of 6 million. Early estimates indicate occupancy in 2015 is on track to top last year’s record numbers.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
In Delray Beach, according to marketing cooperative numbers, every hotel had an occupancy rate in the high 80s or low 90s for the first three months of 2015.
“Our occupancy rate has been creeping up every year for the last couple of years,” says Ashley Mileschkowsky, sales and marketing manager at Crane’s Beach House Boutique Hotel & Luxury Villas. “You don’t think it can get any better and then it does.”
Mileschkowsky said the 28-room boutique hotel, just a few blocks from the ocean, had many nights when every room was taken.
“If we had twice as many rooms, we probably could have filled them, too,” she said.
A few blocks away, in downtown Delray Beach, the 89-year-old historic Colony Hotel & Cabana Club also had an outstanding season.
“We had our best season ever,” said owner Jestena Boughton. “We had very high occupancy.”
Boughton said occupancy was at 90 percent for the first three months of the year, with the rate climbing into the high 90s in February and March.
Both Crane’s and the Colony are seeing the trend continue heading into summer.
“May looks stronger than ever,” Boughton said.
Weather in the Northeast played an important role in the strong tourist season. But there were other factors at work as well.
“Weather always has an effect on tourism,” Schnorr said. “As long as it continues to be cold up North during the winter, Palm Beach County will always be an attractive destination.”
Visibility and awareness of all the area has to offer, especially among those in the Northeast, also play an important role in the growing tourism numbers.
“We have a lot of organizations promoting Delray and that’s part of it as well,” Boughton said.
Thanks in large part to efforts by the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative and others, Delray Beach has been catapulted into the national spotlight. The city won recognition from Rand McNally and USA Today as America’s Most Fun Small Town in 2012 and recently was nominated as one of Coastal Living magazine’s Happiest Seaside Towns.
“Awareness of Delray Beach has hit a national level due to sustained media coverage,” Immelman said.
The recovering economy, according to Mileschkowsky, also is a factor in Palm Beach County’s record-setting tourism season.
“People have been starting to travel again in the last few years,” she said.