©2019 by The Beacon Today. A news publication of Palm Beach Atlantic University

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Why Palm Beach County loves tourists

‘Tis the season of 80 degrees in December for Palm Beach County. Christmas lights and sunshine welcome travelers escaping cold weather from their home states as a harsh winter approaches.

Families and friends taking photos in Rosemary Square, West Palm Beach.

Grace Maclaughlin, a West Palm Beach resident of 20 years, relies on the tourism industry. 


“Florida is an all-year-round vacation. During the winter this is the perfect time [for tourists], and you can tell, you see a lot more people at the outlet stores or grocery stores wherever you go all the time,” Maclaughlin said.


In 2017, visitor spending contributed over $85 billion to Florida’s Gross State Product, according to Rockport Analytics. Florida tourism supported about 1.5 million jobs and involved around 131 million out-of-state visitors. 


Maclaughlin is not new to the concept that Florida thrives off of tourism and travel. She holds a Bachelor of Science in event management and hospitality from Rosen College of Hospitality

Management at the University of Central Florida and previously worked at Walt Disney World.


Maclaughlin explained that because of her background and current job at a resort in Palm Beach, she enjoys tourists and sees the industry as a great source of income for many people.

She suggests allowing extra time for a commute with more drivers on the road in winter months. 


After viewing a Visit Florida infographic on the vitality of tourism, Maclaughlin explained that if Florida counties want to have a successful economy, they need to make sure their cities are functioning and have fun incentives for tourists. 


Over 8 million visitors came to the area in 2018, according to Discover The Palm Beaches. The visitation generated over $7 billion of economic impact to Palm Beach County specifically, and visitors supported more than 70,000 jobs. 


Isabella Abadia, a resort employee in Palm Beach County, said that while there are tourists, Palm Beach is currently in the snowbird season.


Abadia explained the tourists that visit Palm Beach County positively impact the area, but the overall tourist atmosphere is smaller than Miami and South Beach. She mentioned that the amount of tourists and snowbirds fluctuates throughout the year. 


“I wouldn’t say [tourism] is as big as South Florida or the Orlando area,” Abadia said. “Palm Beach County does thrive off of tourism but not as much as the rest of Florida.”


Tourists spent $18 billion in Miami in 2018, according to the Miami Herald. Abadia acknowledged the difference between Palm Beach County and more well-known cities in other parts of Florida. 


Abadia resides in Loxahatchee but commutes over half an hour to Palm Beach because she knows there’s more opportunities for employment in the city.  Regardless of the specific numbers and data of tourists, Abadia enjoys working in the hospitality industry with guests from all over the world and learning about their experiences.


She says tourists aren’t the only people that come to Palm Beach County to enjoy warmer weather year-round. While Abadia is from Florida, many of her coworkers are from other states.


“People from other states or other countries like to come and work here too,” Abadia said. “You get to interact with people with different backgrounds and different cultures.”


With all the people who visit the county, it’s hard to keep track of where they’re coming from.


But a museum in Palm Beach County figured out a way to understand their visitors on another

level.


The Norton Museum of Art underwent a $100 million renovation and reopened early this year. Upon entering the grand entrance and walking up to the counter, the employees at the welcome desk ask every guest the same question: “What is your zip code?”


Diego Gutierrez, director of visitor experience at the Norton Museum, explained that asking for the zip code helps the museum to understand where their visitors are coming from and what programs and art exhibitions they might enjoy. 

Visitors outside Norton Museum.

The database the museum uses analyzes visitation, whether that’s in Palm Beach County, other counties or internationally.


“The vast majority, 65 percent, of our visitors are from Palm Beach County,” Gutierrez said.“Admission is a significant portion of our revenue, and we do make a good number of it in the season when we have our visitors from out-of-town.” 



Gutierrez says in terms of admission revenue, the Norton Museum does better during the week of Thanksgiving through the last week of April. The museum creates programs condensed in the three-month period from January to March tailored to a seasonal audience.


In addition to the museum, Gutierrez notices growing businesses just a mile away.


“Rosemary Square is changing. There’s just a lot of stuff here that’s really growing to foster that tourism,” Gutierrez said. “That shows just how important that business is for the county.” 


Gutierrez mentioned that not only are the tourists good for business, they are genuinely interesting to meet. He said the chance to talk to visitors about art, something he and his coworkers enjoy, is an enriching experience.

Tourists walking through Rosemary Square.

“We have visitors from all over the world and from all different walks of life, and it’s very interesting to meet these people,” Gutierrez said. “They are people that you probably would never engage with on a normal basis just because of how different their lifestyles are.”


Even though Palm Beach County isn’t a giant metropolitan area compared to Miami or Orlando, and does not possess the same magnitude of tourists, the statistics contribute to the economic growth of Florida. 


“In the past ten years I’ve seen a lot of improvements,” Maclaughlin said. “I’ve been here and I’ve seen everything be built and grow and definitely can see an increase in people going out and doing things.”


Those that live, work and enjoy sunny weather year-round can meet people from around the world in a day. The impact of the visitors that come and go only adds to the experience of living in a location where others vacation. 


By Heather Chiles

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