As tourism leaders prepare to celebrate a week of all that is tourism, the Palm Beaches are winding down from what appears to have been a blockbuster season.
Taxes on hotel stays, known as bed taxes, probably rang up at $4 million for both February and March, the first time Palm Beach County has seen that benchmark back-to-back in one season. An early Easter contributed, but clearly a recovering economy is helping people spend more when they travel, and local hotels have been able to boost room rates because of it.
This week is a showcase of travel, as tourism leaders locally and nationally tout the benefits of the business.
The highlight of Palm Beach County events is the Travel Rally Day luncheon Tuesday when the Convention and Visitors Bureau will present the Providencia Award. For the second time in its 23-year history, the award was selected by public vote through the PalmBeachPost.com website. Voting ended April 25.
Finalists are Lynn University, the International Polo Club or The Honda Classic
The Providencia Award is given annually to an individual or organization that has made “an extraordinary (and positive) impact on local tourism,” according to the CVB news release.
In Martin County, the Convention and Visitors Bureau is holding a monthlong Facebook contest called “Places to Go and Stories to Tell.” By going to the Discover Martin page and posting photos or stories, Martin County residents are entered for a May 31 drawing for a round-trip airfare from Palm Beach International Airprt to Marsh Harbor, Bahamas on Silver Airways.
After three years of boosting budgets from reserves, the Convention and Visitors Bureau is facing a year (starting with the fiscal year Oct. 1) with less money because it can no longer tap those rainy day funds.
So it’s a somewhat ironic problem for the county’s destination marketing agency to be scaling back at the same time record funds are coming in to support those agencies.
If hurricane season brings no catastrophes, the Tourist Development Council could be reporting double-digit revenue percentages over expectations.
Ultimately, some of the extra money could be funneled to specific bed tax agencies like the CVB, if it makes a persuasive proposal for the cash. The fiscal year ends in September, so a conservative TDC board is unlikely to tap those “extras” too soon.
In the meantime, CVB staff will scale back on trade shows and PR junkets while trying not to lose any momentum in group sales and visitor numbers.
“This isn’t where we want to be,” CVB board Chairman Troy McLellan, president and CEO of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, said during a recent CVB meeting. “This is not going to make us more competitive.”
Nonetheless, the CVB is kicking off its off season marketing campaign that proved a huge success last year.
Chief Marketing Officer Shirley Talbert said the My Palm Beach Summer campaign will again promote travel packages on MyPalmBeachSummer.com in conjunction with hotel partners. Packages are offered in affordable luxury, family fun, and drive and dine. It went live last week.
“There is no better time to experience The Palm Beaches at such an incredible value than during the summer months, when virtually every hotel, attraction, and restaurant in the destination is featuring special offers and packages throughout the season,” CVB President and CEO Jorge Pesquera said in a news release on the campaign.
As the tourism season slows here in South Florida, the summer specials start up. Though the good ones aren’t really available until the sun is scorching.
A couple of big name resorts offer prices locals might squeeze in the budget.
The Breakers beginning June 1 has $299 room rates during the week and $379 for weekend nights (Friday and Saturday) with some extra perks like free continental breakfast and reduced golf fees. The summer deals end Sept. 30.
Boca Raton Resort and Club kicks off some of its packages right away, with the “Compliments of Waldorf Astoria Package” running May 23 through June 30. Basically you buy three nights and get the fourth free with rates starting at $149.
The Uniquely Boca Summer Package offers rates starting at $199 from May 1 to Sept. 30, with discounts on greens fees and spa services, complimentary breakfast and valet parking and a late check out.
Both resorts have entertainment for the kids too, including a Surf School by Billabong launching Memorial Day Weekend at the Boca resort. But don’t expect the lowest rates on holiday weekends, of course.
The JetBlue Getaways program is coming back to the area this summer, with an emphasis on the New York metro market.
The dotted line still needs to be signed on the details, but JetBlue will package flight deals with hotel deals at the destination. Flight dates are July through the end of September, but must be booked in July and August.
The CVB’s Airlift Development Director Sophie Gaeta said local hotels definitely saw a bump two summers ago when the county last participated.
JetBlue and Delta Air Lines have been “neck-and-neck” for top carrier at PBIA for a couple of years, but JetBlue surpassed Delta in January based on the previous 12 months, county Airports Director Bruce Pelly said.
Market share was 24.58 percent versus Delta’s at 24.37 percent.
Both airlines were up for the prior 12 months: JetBlue by 6.7 percent, Delta up 1.3 percent.
Arrivals and departures
February air traffic at Palm Beach International Airport showed a slight decline from the previous year in total passengers: down 0.7 percentage points.
But Finance and Administration Director Mike Simmons told the airport advisory board recently that last year was a leap year. So if you make adjustments for the extra day, like accountants do, the figures were actually up nearly 3 percent.
For the first quarter of the year, passenger numbers were up 2.6 percent once adjusted for leap year, he said.
Most of the seasonal nonstop flights added for the peak months have gone away. But airport officials hope high interest in Southwest Airways’ nonstop flights to Pittsburgh and Buffalo will persuade the carrier to reinstate the routes.
The Boca Raton school hosted the 2012 presidential debate in October, bringing hundreds of national and international media outlets to south Palm Beach County and the eyes of the nation for the final debate during a heated campaign.
It was estimated to add $13 million in immediate economic impact to the county, and the publicity value to Lynn and the entire area is estimated at $63 million.
International Polo Club Palm Beach
The Wellington facility hosts nearly four months of competition each winter bringing luxury tourists and local entertainment. It was the 10th season for the facility.
With 16 teams and 240 games during the season, polo is estimated to bring a $20 million economic impact to the area.
The Honda Classic
The Palm Beach Gardens golf tournament incorporates charity into the weeklong event, whose economic impact is estimated at $43 million.
More than 168,000 spectators on site and 27 hours of TV broadcast means exposure in 250 different countries for Palm Beach County.