Hurricane fallout for Palm Beach County: more tourists

Palm Beach County has seen its tourism tax collections soar in the four months since hurricanes tore through the Florida Keys and the Caribbean.

The September storms caused widespread damage in the middle Keys, Puerto Rico and other tropical vacation spots, leaving hoteliers with fewer rooms to rent out. As business owners continue to deal with the damage, some tourists have decided to look for new places to visit during the winter travel season.

That shift, coupled with several large events at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, has kept local hotel rooms full and sent tourism tax collections climbing, county tourism leaders said.

“There are still a lot of places that are not inhabitable, and they aren’t a destination,” said Rick Netzel, director of sales and marketing at the Best Western Palm Beach Lakes Inn. “So, people came here.”

Since October, the county has collected $15.5 million in tourism tax revenue, a 15.5 percent increase over the same four-month period the previous budget year.

“Certainly, there are a lot of things affecting that number,” said Glenn Jergensen, executive director of the county’s Tourist Development Council, which monitors tourism tax collections and spending. “As the Keys recover and Puerto Rico recovers, we could see some changes in that, but right now we will take it.”

The tourism tax, also known as a bed tax, is a 6 percent tax levied on all hotel and motel stays and short-term vacation rentals. It generated roughly $48 million last budget year. That money is used to pay for tourism-related advertising, beach renourishment and facilities such as Roger Dean Stadium and the new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

In January alone, the county took in $5.7 million in tourism taxes, a 17.5 percent jump from the previous year.

The tourism council had projected a 4 percent jump in bed tax collections for the budget year that began Oct. 1. Tourism leaders recently increased their forecast to 7 percent, citing the surge in revenue.

At the Best Western on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, Netzel said the average price of a nightly booking also is up. In January, the hotel charged an average of $129 a night to stay in one of its rooms, up from $115 a year ago, he said.

The hotel also was busy during the first two weeks of January, which is historically a slow time for the county’s tourism industry as shoppers recover from the holidays and travelers return to work. The hotel’s occupancy stood at more than 80 percent during the first two weeks of the year, Netzel said.

Cold weather in the northern part of the country also has helped keep hotel rooms full, Netzel said.

“We are getting a lot of requests for extended stays,” Netzel said.

Countywide, hotel occupancy hit 76 percent in December, up 5.8 percent over the previous year, according to the tourist council.

Tourism is Florida’s largest industry, accounting for roughly 1.4 million jobs.

More than 112 million out-of-towners traveled to the state in 2016, spending $108.8 billion during their stays here, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing organization.

In Palm Beach County, the industry employs roughly 66,000 and contributes more than $7 billion to the local economy.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in

Publix boycott movement forces tough decisions
Publix boycott movement forces tough decisions

Becky Abel has been a loyal Publix shopper since moving to Florida as a teenager in 1971. But the Lakeland resident says she has decided she will now do her shopping elsewhere.  That action is her response to recent news reports that Publix, the family of its founder and current and past executives have donated $670,000 over the past three years...
Noel Martinez: Why work, mental health issues drive Leadership summit
Noel Martinez: Why work, mental health issues drive Leadership summit

Leadership Palm Beach County celebrates its 35th year with 1,700 alumni from elected leaders to CEOs, but a June 15 summit led by executive director Noel Martinez isn’t so much about looking back. It aims at new starts, a kind of civic crowdsourcing to solve knotty problems dominating too many headlines. Mental health in the workplace. Ex-offenders...
JUST IN: Congressmen call on feds to suspend Brightline bonds
JUST IN: Congressmen call on feds to suspend Brightline bonds

Days after Brightline completed the first leg of its passenger train service, the battle continued to grow over whether the company should be allowed to use federally approved tax-exempt bonds to finance its extension north to Orlando. Brightline carried its first paying passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami on Saturday — marking the completion...
Scripps Florida researchers win $3.6 million NIH grant to study autism
Scripps Florida researchers win $3.6 million NIH grant to study autism

JUPITER -- Scripps Florida researcher Gavin Rumbaugh won a five-year, $3.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to continue studies of abnormal brain circuitry in autism, the nonprofit lab said Tuesday. The grant builds on Rumbaugh’s previous work, research that found a crucial period in brain development during...
Report: This is the hottest (little-known) career in America right now
Report: This is the hottest (little-known) career in America right now

The hottest job in America may be one you've never heard of, but demand for people who can fulfill the roll is very high – as is its starting pay. If you're qualified to be a data scientist, according to Bloomberg, you may find companies fighting for your services. Andrew Gardner, a senior machine learning manager in Atlanta at Symantec...
More Stories