County breaks tourism record

A record-breaking number of tourists came to Palm Beach County last year, shattering the 2014 benchmark by 10 percent, tourism officials announced Wednesday.

(The Palm Beach Post)

(The Palm Beach Post)

Roughly 6.9 million people visited the county in 2015, marking the fifth consecutive year of record-breaking growth, according to Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s official tourism marketing organization.

Tourism officials said the 2015 visitor tally “dramatically surpassed” Discover’s yearly forecast. Discover had predicted annual visitation would reach roughly 6.7 million.

“We saw a significant increase from our key target markets, particularly those where we made tactical investments and customized our message to resonate with that specific target audience,” said Jorge Pesquera, Discover’s president and CEO.

The announcement comes as the number of hotel rooms, shopping districts and cultural attractions in Palm Beach County continues to increase.

Tourism leader say shopping centers, including the Palm Beach Outlets in West Palm Beach and the $150 million waterfront Harbourside Place entertainment complex in Jupiter, have become huge tourism draws. Both shopping districts opened in 2014.

Meanwhile, the number of hotel rooms available in the county also continues to grow. There has been a surge in new hotel construction, particularly in West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

Tourism leaders say the additional visitors in 2015 resulted in the creation of roughly 6,000 jobs here.

Hotel bookings were also up.  Roughly 4.3 million nightly bookings were made at Palm Beach County’s hotels and motels last year, up from 4.19 million in 2014.

Despite the spike in visitors and bookings, the amount of money tourists spent during their visits here fell slightly in 2015.  Direct visitor spending totaled $4.83 billion last year, down from $4.84 billion in 2014.

Tourism leaders said Wednesday they were “cautiously optimistic” about the 2016 tourism forecast. Some Palm Beach County hoteliers have said this year’s winter ­travel season got off to a slower-than-normal start, pointing to unseasonably warm temperatures across much of the country at the start of the year.

As part of its 2016 marketing plan, Discover has said it plans to encourage locals to use social media and other communication channels to encourage visitors to travel here.

“Our future success will largely depend on empowering local residents to become brand ambassadors,” Pesquera said. “We invite all residents to use the power of a personal invitation to support our tourism strategy this year.”