WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Start at San Francisco, swing by Maui, hang a left at Aruba and you end up in West Palm Beach - U.S. News & World Report's 11th-ranked summer vacation destination.
It's a great place to be: on that list. Tourism officials scraped together funds over the past year and a half to get Palm Beach County back on people's vacation GPS once the economy seemed to be rising out of the recession.
Last month, 250,000 people used the U.S. News & World Report travel website, Travel Editor Joel Fineman said. "Our rankings are our most popular pages," he said.
The timing is good because University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith says there are indicators that people are willing to spend some money. People who kept their jobs through the recession were being frugal, and many are ready for a well-deserved vacation, he said.
In fact, tourism in the state is up slightly this year, with 23.3 million travelers visiting from January to March, according to VisitFlorida.
And signs show that people are visiting Palm Beach County in greater numbers.
Hotel stays surged in April, up 13 percent over April 2010 - the biggest jump in Florida - and those visitors are paying more for hotel rooms. After a couple of discounted years, the daily room rate is trending up. The county's figures are starting to mimic 2005, which wasn't the best year of the 2000s (that was 2007), but has people breathing easier, said Roger Amidon, executive director of the Tourist Development Council.
"People are traveling, and we are attracting them here to Palm Beach County," he said.
A benchmark for county tourism officials is 80 percent occupancy. County hoteliers hadn't hit that figure since 2007, but rates hit 80 percent eight times in April.
That's due in no small part to money, Amidon said. The county dedicated $3 million to stimulate tourism for 2010 and 2011 - all from taxes on hotel stays. County commissioners agreed to tap $800,000 from Convention and Visitors Bureau reserve money for an advertising blitz the rest of this year.
"That $3 million marketing campaign enabled Palm Beach County to stay in the marketplace, not only on a state level, but on a national and international level as we were going through the Great American Reset," Amidon said.
The county broadened its target during these ad campaigns. Luring people here isn't just about promoting golf or the beaches, said Jorge Pesquera, head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Yes, the county is considered Florida's golf capital and has 47 miles of beaches. In fact, Palm Beach County also made U.S. News & World Report's list of luxury destinations at No. 9. But marketing campaigns also tout the area's fishing, diving, culture, wildlife and other attractions.
"It used to be primarily presented as a beach and golf destination, primarily on the luxury side," Pesquera said. "There's a lot to be offered here that maybe had not been served up to different niche audiences."
County tourism officials are going after all these travelers through many media, including a sizable commitment to online advertising, such as with O, The Oprah Magazine.
"It's all about getting into the consideration set for travel decision-makers," Pesquera said.
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