- Jennifer Sorentrue Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Hotel occupancy in Palm Beach County climbed by 15.8 percent in October, an increase local tourism leaders say was likely caused by the lingering effects of Hurricane Irma.
As residents and business owners in the Florida Keys continue to deal with damage caused by the Sept. 10 storm, some tourists have opted to find new accommodations in other parts of the state. That shift helped keep Palm Beach County hotel rooms full during what is typically a slow time of year for local hoteliers.
“The Keys are dealing with a lot of damage,” said Rick Netzel, director of sales and marketing at the Best Western Palm Beach Lakes Inn. “Palm Beach was basically untouched. If people were traveling, they were traveling here. We know that to be true just in speaking with our guests.”
Irma made landfall in Cudjoe Key, temporarily closing hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses. Palm Beach County’s hotel industry, however, was unscathed.
A record-breaking 396,000 hotel rooms nights were sold in Palm Beach County during October, up 19.7 percent from October 2016, according to Discover The Palm Beaches, the nonprofit group charged with marketing the county as a travel destination.
Countywide hotel occupancy hit 75.5 percent in October, up from 65.2 percent a year ago, Discover said.
Another key benchmark for the tourism industry — revenue per available hotel room — grew 21.1 percent this past month. The benchmark, which gives an average of what visitors pay based on the number of rooms available, is used by local hoteliers to evaluate the state of the tourism industry here.
“The Palm Beaches saw dramatic occupancy increases year-over-year for the month of October, even while our room inventory increased,” said Jorge Pesquera, Discover’s president and CEO. “While being sensitive to the areas that were negatively impacted by Hurricane Irma, we do want to celebrate that so far this year, all our hotel performance metrics show positive growth. We’re confident that tourism will continue to see increases across the board for the rest of the year, as we continue to promote the destination’s amazing range of authentic experiences as ‘The Best Way To Experience Florida.’”
In the days after hurricane moved across the state, Discover officials launched a marketing campaign designed to let travelers know the county’s tourism industry was open for business.
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 residents and contributes more than $7 billion to the local economy.