The boys and girls of summer are swinging bats across Palm Beach County, boosting hotel occupancy and restaurant business during the slow season.
Amateur sports events in June and July will put 14,000 heads in beds, county Sports Commission Executive Director George Linley said. Some of those are repeat nights by the same person.
Softball tournaments between girls’ teams and older men’s teams played out into $1 million in direct visitor spending in the county, and baseball added another $1.7 million from one tournament alone. Amateur baseball is estimated to bring 6,000 players for 11 tournaments, totalling $2.4 million in economic impact this summer, the Sports Commission estimates.
One big tournament was the USSSA Florida Fastpitch Softball State Championships over the July 4 weekend that brought 90 teams to fields at Okeeheelee, John Prince and Seminole Palms parks. And a bunch of 8- to 18-year-old girls (about 1,600) need food and extra socks as well as a place to sleep.
Another softball tournament in late June, the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association’s Swamp Classic, had 100 teams competing and meant at least 338 room nights, as the hoteliers count an overnight stay.
Also in late June, the USA Baseball National Team Championships brought its under 14 and under 17 teams to Palm Beach County for 260 games from June 19-26. At least 3,644 hotel room nights were racked up by the players and their fans.
Golf, lacrosse and rugby also got playing time on Palm Beach County fields.
“By the end of summer, we’re going to be able to report one of our highest event levels for the number of events were hosting, number of visitors and number of room nights,” Linley said.
That could help the Tourist Development Council’s streak continue.
Bed tax revenues for the fiscal year, which started in October, are running 10 percent ahead of budget with three months to go.
The Convention and Visitor Bureau’s MyPalmBeachSummer.com campaign seems to have gotten off to a good start. Two months in, a substantial number of hotels are participating, offering 120 different specials and packages.
The promotion started at the beginning of May, and the county ranked second in the state in hotel occupancy growth, a 9.4 percent increase over 2012, CVB President and CEO Jorge Pesquera said. Early June numbers show June occupancy was up 7.5 percent.
“Early indicators show MyPalmBeachSummer.com is an even bigger summer campaign success than it was in 2012,” Pesquera said.
Top trip advice
One of the CVB’s key jobs is wooing travel agents and meeting bookers, who in turn sell the benefits of Palm Beach County’s tourism offerings.
The CVB won a Pinnacle Award from Successful Meetings magazine for Palm Beach county’s excellence as a meetings destination, a credit to the conference center as well as the CVB. The county will be listed publication’s August edition and online at www.successfulmeetings.com/pinnacle.
“This award is particularly meaningful to the CVB because it reflects the opinions of satisfied meeting planners and guests who have visited The Palm Beaches for business,” Pesquera said in a news release.
Much of the CVB’s sales efforts are directed at group travel, especially since The Breakers, the Boca Raton Resort and Club and other area resorts specialize in large, luxury groups.
But the CVB also reaches out to leisure travel planners.
The Colony Hotel hosted one such group last month, the American Society of Travel Agents, with more than 100 agents attending.
Arrivals and departures
JetBlue Airways’s San Juan, Puerto Rico flight kicked off last May with a warm reception. However, the route hasn’t been as popular as hoped.
But don’t worry yet. JetBlue intends to keep the flight at Palm Beach International Airpiort, Airlift Development Senior Director Sophie Gaeta told the airport advisory board last month.
“It appears that the traffic is heavier on the outbound flights,” said Gaeta, who works with the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Center.
She has since visited Puerto Rico on a sales mission to try and build the passenger flow back to West Palm Beach.
PEOPLExpress livened up the summer talk on airlines when it bought out XTRA Airways and thus procured itself a fleet. PBIA is one of its chosen destinations, though no start dates nor flights have been announced.
Once PEOPLExpress announces when it will begin flights and to where, landing fees will be waived as they are for all new flights into PBIA, county Airports Director Bruce Pelly said. That perk lasts a year, sometimes two.
And Pelly said he hopes Southwest will give a Providence, R.I., flight another go this winter for maybe six months instead of the six-week trial run it had last winter.
For a route limited to six weeks with no marketing and available only on the Southwest website, the flight had a good response, he said. Apparently the Pittsburgh trial run didn’t go as well.
But it will be several months before flights will pick up.
Prime travel time for the airport is January through March, with March peaking at nearly 700,000 passengers this year.
April rider numbers (538,086) were down from the 2012 figures, but May passengers were up by almost 1 percent at 434,810.
Airlines are packing in the customers, as seat capacity is down from last year, but the load factor is up. Flights in May were 86 percent full compared to 79 percent last May.
That’s pretty much the way airlines are operating these days to make the most money. It’s also one reason the airlines are adding flights at bigger airports, like Miami and Fort Lauderdale, rather than PBIA.