BREAKING: Record number of tourists visit PBC; did Ballpark help?

A record number of tourists visited Palm Beach County during the first three months of 2017, an increase fueled largely by a rise in domestic travelers, including visitors from Washington, D.C. and Houston, home of the two Major League Baseball teams that began holding spring training here this year.

Roughly 2.3 million visitors traveled to Palm Beach County during the first quarter, up 7 percent over the same period in 2016, according to Discover The Palm Beaches, the non-profit group charged with marketing the county as an international destination for tourists.

Contributing to the growth: An 8.4 percent increase in the number of tourists who traveled here from other states. The largest gains were among travelers from Washington, D.C., Houston, Chicago and Detroit, Discover said.

Visits among travelers from Houston were up 23 percent, while the county saw a 14 percent rise in the number of tourists from Washington, D.C.

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches , the spring training and minor league complex of the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, opened in February. Palm Beach County tourism leaders did not specifically point to the new ballpark as a contributor for the tourism growth, however, they did say sporting events help promote the area as a vacation destination.

In a statement released by the tourism agency, Jorge Pesquera, Discover’s President and CEO, said the agency saw double digit growth in areas where it targeted its marketing efforts, including Chicago, Tampa and Jacksonville.

“We’re particularly excited about the increase in visitation from areas we’ve targeted through our strategic marketing efforts,” Pesquera said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that this is an indicator that we will a continuation of the trend of increasing visitation for the eighth year.”

Discover’s announcement came days after Gov. Rick Scott announced that a record-breaking 31.1 million tourists visited Florida during the first quarter of 2017, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2016’s level.

Despite the record growth, Scott continued to warn this week that cuts to the state’s tourism marketing budget threaten the industry and could cost jobs throughout the state.

The Legislature this month approved an $83 billion budget that sets aside $25 million for the state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida — a $50 million cut from the agency’s 2016 spending plan. Scott has not yet signed the budget.

“This historic number would not have been possible without the significant funding we have invested in Visit Florida over the past few years,” Scott said. “It is disappointing that the Florida Legislature made a shortsighted decision to jeopardize the growth of our tourism industry and the 1.4 million jobs that rely on it by cutting funding to Visit Florida by 67 percent.”

Given the potential cuts, Palm Beach County tourism officials have said they will look for more ways to partner with industry businesses, attractions and local government groups to showcase the area as an international vacation and meetings destination.

Tourism is one of the county’s largest industries, contributing more than $7 billion to the local economy. Since 2010, the number of tourists who travel to the county has grown by 65 percent.

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