IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN — THE end of another busy season. Winter visitors are heading north, crowds at restaurants and stores are thinning and traffic is becoming a bit less congested. By all accounts, it has been a good season for the tourist industry and other business and nonprofits that feed off the fattened-up seasonal population.
“We had a historic number of visitors come to The Palm Beaches during the season, a remarkable eight years in a row of visitation growth since the
Great Recession,” said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The
Palm Beaches, the tourism-marketing corporation for Palm Beach County. “This is powerful testimony that tourism marketing works.”
Last year, the total increase in visitation was driven by a 7-percent increase in domestic visitors and a 7.3 percent increase in Florida-based visitors, compared to 2015. The largest domestic growth markets were New York with a 5 percent increase, Miami/Fort Lauderdale with an 11 percent increase, and Orlando with a 9-percent increase in visitors. Most of the visitors to Palm Beach County (6.6 million) were domestic, while 739,000 visitors came from international regions including Canada, Western Europe and Latin America. The number of hotel room nights sold, 4.4 million, was a 2.3 percent increase over the previous year.
Have the frequent visits by the President Trump, who calls Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach his southern White House, had an impact on the area, other than the annoying traffic jams and increased security costs?
“The Palm Beaches have long been a preferred leisure destination for heads of state and commerce, dignitaries and celebrities,” Mr. Pesquera said. “From a tourism perspective, we expect that the renewed media focus on the president’s oceanfront retreat will raise the profile of the Palm Beaches and entice curious travelers to explore the vast array of recreational and cultural activities, innovative restaurants and award-winning hotels that these headlining celebrities frequent during their regular visits. The Palm Beaches deliver more best-in-class experiences than anywhere else in Florida, and we look forward to welcoming folks from every walk of life who wish to join us in the year-round sunshine.”
“Regardless of the country’s events, Palm Beach always shines,” Ms. Baker said. “Having the president visit as often as he does has brought new awareness worldwide of the Town of Palm Beach — that makes everyone happy, particularly when the visitors stop by the stores and restaurants to enjoy the Palm Beach hospitality.”
On the chamber level, Ms. Baker added, “we had a terrific year — great speakers, audience attendance averaging 500 — lots of new members taking advantage of the various benefits. Life is good!”
Peter Emmerich, one of the owners of Grandview Gardens Bed & Breakfast in West Palm Beach, said he has not noticed a strong direct effect from the president’s visits.
“Here and there a guest will ask where Mar-a-Lago is and if one can drive by. With some bookings, I suspect they chose our destination because of the buzz, but it is not dominant and we would be full in high season anyway, luckily.
“However, there is clear interest by the media. My business partner Rick Rose, who does the Worth Avenue Walking Tours every Wednesday during season, has been interviewed repeatedly by the largest Russian, Chinese and German TV networks regarding the effect of the president.”
The B&B has had a very good season and numbers are up, Mr. Emmerich said. “The room revenue Dec. 1, 2016, to March 31, 2017, is up by 7 percent and the room occupancy for the same period is up almost 3 percent. Our strong pillars during season continue to be the extended bookings from the gallerists and antique dealers for the four big art shows, as well as several long-stay, annual repeat-guest bookings.”
This last season also was the first time the B&B’s Palm Beach Vacation Rentals had a total of 15 short-term vacation rental units on the market for the entire season. All houses were fully booked for most of the season, basically at rack rate, Mr. Emmerich said.
At Guanabanas in Jupiter, business has been really good, said Executive Chef Vinny Trupia.
“We’re an outdoor restaurant so the weather is very important,” Mr. Trupia said. “We didn’t have much of a winter or rain, so it’s been really good.” On a good day, the popular eatery can serve between 1,000 and 2,000 diners.
On a smaller scale, Farmer Girl restaurant in Lake Worth also reports a good season.
“We’ve been rolling right along this year,” said owner Pete Roubekas. “For us the busy season runs from November until April, when many people go north.”
“Some people thought that meant the restaurant would be closing, but that’s not true,” Mr. Roubekas. He said that he was getting older and that he annual dinners, which feed thousands each Thanksgiving, were an enormous amount of work. His family wanted him with them at home for the holiday.
Many local fundraising organizations also reported strong seasonal gains.
“We far exceeded our fundraising goal this year, due in large part to an exceptional and relevant speaker, Dr. Michio Kaku,” said Marcy Hoffman, director of institutional advancement at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium. “We successfully tied in our theme, The Future of the Mind, with raising funds for our new $2,000,000 walk-through brain exhibit to be installed next year, raising more than $400,000.”
“We are fortunate to have many committed donors, both in terms of foundations and individuals, who believe in our mission to supplement the arts and academic curriculum at the school. This translates into funds which enable us to provide 22 artist-in-residence positions for the school as well as $135,000 in scholarships to Dreyfoos students in addition to art supplies, private lessons, and covering travel expenses and tuition for summer programs, among other items. Our special events continue to be popular as we showcase our talented students in outstanding performances. Our pop-up, all-white dinner event, Dreyfoos in White, is growing in its appeal as an event where creativity abounds.”
The Palm Beach County Food Bank is grateful for the support it receives from the community, said the organization’s new executive director, Karen Erren. “Four years ago Bethesda-by-the-Sea started Empty Bowls in Palm Beach as part of its Feeding in February program and it has continued to be an outstanding event each year. Building on that success, we were delighted to have the opportunity to expand Empty Bowls into Delray Beach this season. It was also a great success with an enthusiastic and highly effective committee, generous corporate sponsors and a big turnout from the public the day of the event. This type of community- based event is important because it brings people together throughout the community to support the Palm Beach County Food Bank’s efforts in our fight against hunger.”
“Girl Scouts is grateful to have the ongoing support of both seasonal and full-time residents for our annual Emerald Awards,” she said. “What we have found is that the relationship with an organization and a shared commitment for its mission is a driving force behind this support.” ¦