Last year outpaced pre-recession tourism as 5.47 million people visited Palm Beach County.
If it seemed like most of them were New Yorkers, well, nearly a fifth were — about 1 million people. Except for Florida itself, New York is the top source for county visitors, the majority of whom come to visit friends and family.
And the overall numbers went up significantly from 2011. The percentage of New Yorkers fell, but because of the rising overall numbers, the total number of New Yorkers who visited last year went up.
BarbaraJayne DeGolyer has lived in Palm Beach County for 32 years, but her friends and family from New York still come to visit. Having six brothers and sisters keeps the guest room full.
“Friends, plus brothers and sisters, plus husbands and wives, plus my mother, plus children, that’s a lot of people,” DeGolyer said. She gets constant requests.
“There’s so much to do because of the sun and beach, and Disney’s not too far from us,” she said.
It’s no coincidence that New York is a major feeder market for Palm Beach County tourism.
The Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau targets New York and surrounding areas with its ads and marketing efforts. New York airports are the top destinations for Palm Beach International Airport passengers.
It’s the weather, of course, said Buffalo transplant Alka Sharma. Her West Palm Beach condo has a view of the ocean and Intracoastal, versus “bare trees and coldness in Upstate New York.”
“Whenever the Bills play, I usually have a couple of other people mosey in for a place to stay,” she said. When the coats come out in September, the guests head south.
“It’s just nice to get out of the cold,” she said.
More than half of all visitors, not just those from New York, come to visit friends and family.
“With nearly 5.5 million visitors contributing more than $5 billion to the local economy in 2012, travel and tourism continue to play a critical role in Palm Beach County’s economic development,” Tourist Development Council Executive Director Glenn Jergensen said.
The bureau has been looking closely at the numbers for the past two years, using a TravelsAmerica Visitor Profile Report.
Bureau research manager Gustav Weibull told its executive committee this month that nearly 402,000 international visitors came to Palm Beach County last year.
Most visitors are from elsewhere in Florida. But the share of in-state visitors dropped last year, perhaps because fewer people are taking staycations with the economy slowly improving. That means more typical visitors are returning, and more South Florida residents are traveling farther for a leisure trip.
The domestic survey showed some additional changes from last year, though the most significant was the increase in visitors.
Length of stay declined from 2011 to 2012, but Palm Beach County still gets mostly affluent couples or singles who vacation without children. And visitors tend to be older — an average age of 53 in 2012.
Visitors in 2012 were older and wealthier than those in 2011, the survey showed.
Palm Beach County visitors
2012 5.47 million
2011 4.90 million
2010 4.43 million
2009 4.12 million
2008 4.88 million
2007 5.38 million
2012 — 38 percent
2011 — 42 percent
2012 — 19 percent
2011 — 12 percent
Source: Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau