WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Palm Beach County tourism leaders are looking forward this year to capturing more business from visitors who love to shop, and Brazilian tourists figure heavily into that strategy.
The Latin American country recently landed on the cover of Florida Trend, a business magazine, as the Floridian of the Year. In 2011, the number of visitors from Brazil, who are drawn to the state's theme parks and shopping, among other lures, is up by at least a third.
Palm Beach County as a shopper's paradise will be a key focus in 2012, according to Jorge Pesquera, president and chief executive of the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"We offer a stress-free, pleasurable shopping environment," Pesquera said, with plenty of variety, from high-end boutiques on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach to big-box retailers scattered throughout the county.
The shopping is about to get even better with the coming rebirth of the Palm Beach Mall in West Palm Beach. New owners plan to turn the aging mall along Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard into a destination center known as the Palm Beach Fashion Outlets, featuring luxury retail outlet stores. The mall revamp is expected to be completed in 2013.
With more than 120 nonstop flights coming to South Florida, Pesquera said Brazilians coming here need to find out more about Palm Beach County as they head up the state on their way to Orlando and its theme parks.
Pesquera said the CVB already has started courting Brazilian tour operators who arrange trips to Florida. A new international sales director has been to Brazil three times in the past six months, he said, and the CVB had a presence at a Brazil trade show last year. In addition, the CVB hopes to hire a sales rep in Brazil this year to further boost business to Palm Beach County, Pesquera said.
The CVB also is trying to stoke interest here among hotel operators. In November, the bureau hosted an educational workshop for Palm Beach County's hospitality industry, with a focus on reaching the Brazilian market. The presentation included opportunities to target Brazil and other Latin American countries. A representative from Panrotas, Brazil's leading tourism publication, made a presentation.
One factor that will help goose travel is the addition of two new direct non-stop routes by JetBlue Airways, one of the major airline carriers servicing Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach. Flights to Hartford, Conn., started Thursday, and flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico, will start May 15.
Pesquera said Hartford is a key market featuring business travelers as well as tourists.
John Checketts, JetBlue director of route planning, agreed. The route is attractive "because it's a mix," he said. "There's a lot of leisure travel going down to Palm Beach, and there's a business component we're interested in, too."
(There's more synergy in this route than meets the eye. Last month, JetBlue picked a Pratt & Whitney engine, the PurePower W1100G-JM, to power the airline's Airbus A320neo aircraft. Pratt & Whitney, based in East Hartford, has a facility west of West Palm Beach.)
Checketts said the route to Puerto Rico will appeal to the growing population living in South Florida.
During the next two years, Checketts said JetBlue hopes to expand the number of flights now going to the larger markets served out of West Palm Beach, New York and Boston.
That's the word from Commercial Florida Realty Services of Boca Raton. Peter Reed, a Commercial Florida principal, said overall vacancy rates were at 22.86 percent for the fourth quarter of 2011, down only slightly from 22.94 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010. Lease rates remain flat at $17.83 per square foot.
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