As countywide numbers fall, this local hotel sees surge in international travelers

Although the number of international tourists who traveled to Palm Beach County fell by 4.5 percent in 2016, one local hotel says its has seen a recent surge in the number of bookings from guests living outside of the country.

During the first three months of the year, the Best Western Palm Beach Lakes Inn located across the street from the Palm Beach Outlets in West Palm Beach welcomed guests from across the world — some living as far away as New Zealand, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

Roughly 15 percent of the inn’s bookings between January and March were made by travelers living outside of the United States, according to the hotel.

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Rick Netzel, the inn’s director of sales and marketing, said he started noticing an uptick in the number of international travelers staying at the hotel during the last quarter of 2016. He attributes the rise to the inn’s location across the street from the outlet mall, rising room rates in the county and Best Western’s name recognition across the world.

“The outlets, that was a game changer,” Netzel said.

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Palm Beach Outlets opened in 2014, replacing the 45-year-old Palm Beach Mall, which had become a sign of blight along Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and Interstate 95. During its first six months of operation, the outdoor shopping mall drew roughly 4 million visitors, mall officials have said.

Shopping ranks among the top activities for tourists who come to Palm Beach County. A 2012 tourism study found 30 percent of tourists said shopping was one of the reasons for their visit.

According to Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s official tourism marketing arm, 739,000 international tourists visited the county last year, down from 774,000 in 2015.

Despite the drop, the county welcomed a record-breaking 7.35 million visitors in 2016, an increase of 5.8 percent over the previous year. The jump was driven largely by an increase in domestic travelers, Discover said.