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The Palm Beaches are located in southeast Florida and comprise thirty-nine towns and cities, like Boca Raton, Palm Beach and Jupiter. It's been called "America's First Resort Destination," because of its history as a popular vacation destination.
Jorge Pesquera, President and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches and Erick Garnica, Senior Director, Leisure Trade Industry Sales at Discover The Palm Beaches explains why the area is such a great vacation destination and how it's adapted to keep visitors safe throughout the pandemic.
TravelPulse (TP): What are the biggest things that attract travelers to this area?
Jorge Pesquera (JP): As America's First Resort Destination, The Palm Beaches has been welcoming guests for 125 years. We are a gentler side of Florida where gulf-stream waters allow for less humid days and cleaner sands. It is a place where fewer crowds and a slower, genteel pace welcome visitors from all walks of life.
The Palm Beaches offer a diversity of experiences, from wide open spaces, emphasis on the outdoors, to the historical luxury of the area -- the world-renowned sports events, spas, alfresco dining and shopping. In one day, you can paddle along the Loxahatchee River, see a polo match, experience part of the Everglades, catch a Broadway show and dine at celebrity-approved restaurants without venturing more than 45 minutes.
TP:How have The Palm Beaches been affected by the pandemic?
JP: The pandemic has had a significant impact on tourism in Palm Beach county, as it has throughout the state of Florida and frankly, the entire world. We had to make some difficult decisions and depart from our established marketing and sales plans, but are finally starting to see considerable light at the end of the tunnel.
Pre-COVID-19, The Palm Beaches welcomed a record-breaking 8.22 million visitors in 2019. That year marked 11 years in a row of consecutive visitation growth, and international travelers represented 703,000 of total visitation that year. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, we immediately had to pause and re-strategize, prioritizing our people and our community first. We started with a regional marketing approach, centered on health and safety. Then, as we moved into the fall of 2020, we began targeting our traditional key markets in the Northeast, taking advantage of CARES funding, spending a record level of dollars on marketing efforts to keep The Palm Beaches top of mind with eager potential travelers.
Fast forward to today, we've adapted, offering most, if not all, of the same treasured experiences with augmented safety measures in place. Though many destinations experienced dramatic business downturns due to the pandemic, we always believed that our less congested, outdoors-oriented area has been better poised for a strong recovery. We are immensely gratified by recent trends and just this March, we achieved 80 percent occupancy, which was just 4 percent shy of 2019 figures.
TP:What measures were put in place to help the tourism industry recover?
JP: During the pandemic, we wanted to help the travel industry through carefully balanced messaging. One that remained sensitive to traveler concerns, but also informed that we were open for business for those who were ready, with health and safety as our top priority. With this in mind, we became a trusted source of information on health and safety, like communicating the availability of accommodations for first responders.
We organized informational sessions, staging town hall meetings with different state associations to showcase our latest efforts and technology to combat concerns, including the implementation of GBAC 2 STAR Accreditation. We were the first in Florida and one of the first within the U.S. to support our hospitality community by pursuing the GBAC STAR Accreditation in a destination-wide approach. Supplementing this initiative was The Palm Beaches Pledge. This Pledge is a commitment from local businesses and destination partners to adhere to social distancing, sanitation and masks. It shows our promise as a destination to prioritize the health and safety of guests, employees and residents and is still prominent throughout destination businesses.
TP: What measures were put in place to help the tourism industry recover?
Erick Garnica (EG): From a travel trade perspective, we felt it was extremely important to maintain continuity of marketing, and after a brief pause, we stepped up our efforts to keep The Palm Beaches top of mind with this important customer sector. We re-assessed our strategic partnership alliances, like those with global distribution companies Travelport and TravelClick and continued our investment to reach this audience.
Specifically, in partnership with Travelport, we launched a unique travel agent incentive program that offered an additional 3% commission for travel agencies and agents that booked The Palm Beaches from Oct 1-Nov. 30, 2020. The program was available to agents who utilize Travelport Global Distribution Systems (GDS) reservation systems and are based in Florida and neighboring states such as Georgia and the Carolinas, then expanded to agents in NE markets and other US markets. We are very proud of the campaign and the impact it yielded in revenue and room nights for The Palm Beaches and our hotel partners. It really served as a "thank you" to the travel trade community who supported the destination during a challenging time.
TP: What is something that most travelers will be surprised to discover during a trip to The Palm Beaches?
EG: Most travelers might not realize the diversity and wealth of offerings The Palm Beaches provide. We are world-renowned for some of our affluent locations such as Palm Beach and Boca Raton, but many don't know that we represent a destination that comprises 39 cities and towns, all with their own unique character and touristic appeal, offering something for every taste and budget.
Water lovers can rejoice along our 125 miles of peaceful waterways for on- or in-the-water activities all within close proximity to our city centers and neighboring towns. There are 160 golf courses in the county, award-winning parks, plentiful cultural venues and we're home to more than 100 family-friendly attractions, as well as an abundance of world-class, award-winning restaurants. That's why we've trademarked phrases like Florida's Golf Capital and Florida's Cultural Capital.
Lacey Pfalz is a freelance Associate Writer for TravelPulse. When she's not writing about traveling, she's often found fussing...
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