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Booming tourism in Palm Beach County impacting local residents

'I think we are getting to the point where ... season has somewhat disappeared," Glenn Jergensen says
Posted at 5:51 PM, Mar 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-16 18:35:37-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The housing market isn't the only thing pricing people out of paradise.

Record tourism is coming with some major growing pains, causing residents to struggle to get restaurant reservations, tee times or even afford staycations at local hotels. 

During the Florida winter months, Bill Grenker migrates from New Jersey to Palm Beach County.

He's what you call a snowbird, and lately, there's more of him in South Florida staying longer — a lot longer.  

"You can't get any tee times between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., which is when everybody wants to play," Grenker said. "Just more people here." 

And it's not just on the green.

WATCH: Local leaders discuss booming South Florida tourism

Facebook Q&A: Tourism impact on South Florida

The kitchen is full at family-owned Zuccarelli's Italian Restaurant in West Palm Beach and so is the dining room.  

"After 40 years of business, it's just been crazy," said owner Olimpia Zuccarelli. "People are booking two to three weeks in advance."  

Zuccarelli said some of her regulars are frustrated with the boom in business.  

"'We've been coming here all these years; We have to wait?' I'm like, I'm sorry I'm doing the best I can," added Zuccarelli.  

It's part of an increasing wave of tourism in Palm Beach County. Restaurants are booked up weeks in advance, hotel rates are up 30 to 50 percent because of demand.  

Overall, Palm Beach County's tourism numbers for the last five months are 100 percent ahead of the same time a year ago. And there's no sign of it slowing down.  

Olimpia Zuccarelli, owner of Zuccarelli’s Italian Restaurant
Olimpia Zuccarelli says her restaurant has been packed with customers.

"I think we are getting to the point where ... season has somewhat disappeared," said Glenn Jergensen, executive director of the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council.  

Jergensen said people are eager to return to their favorite vacation spots.  

"Demand is there for people to get out," he said.  

Hotels are experiencing a record-breaking tourism boost.  

"The last three weeks we have been at full capacity almost every single day," said Tanya Coote, sales manager at Aloft Hotel in Delray Beach.  

Aloft Hotel saw 84 percent occupancy last month compared to 58 percent in February of last year.  

Tanya Coote, sales manager at Aloft Delray Beach hotel
Tanya Coote discusses the increased occupancy numbers at the Aloft Hotel in Delray Beach since last year.

"Everybody is getting excited to get back to their lives and have their events," Coote said.  

The events, the sports, and the beaches are all drawing in the crowds and the locals are feeling it.  

"You've got to plan very well," said Nicole Hill, a Palm Beach resident. "So happy hours, we're switching them over maybe like a Thursday or Wednesday versus Fridays just because Fridays are crazy."  

And if you're trying to get out of town, get ready to see higher airline ticket prices.  

"Right now, the flights are over $800," said Madeline Midkiff in Palm Beach Gardens, who has been trying to plan a weekend trip to Las Vegas. "It's a feeling that you're trapped."  

Nicole Hill, Palm Beach resident
Nicole Hill, a local resident, shares some of the frustrations that Palm Beach County residents have experienced with the high tourism numbers.

With the rising rates at hotels, "staycationing" is also a challenge. They are either booked up or prices are much higher.  
"If you get a room, you're lucky if you get it for like $600 a night," Hill said.  

But with the lows, there are highs. Tourism tax dollars are up 83 percent in the county compared to last year, netting nearly 8 million this January.  

"Remember that these folks are ... driving our economy," Jergensen said. "We're able to build stadiums. We're able to keep those beaches re-nourished just the way they are." 

While living in paradise might mean the cons of congested traffic and higher costs, there are pros to the county riding the tourism wave a little longer, especially after a two-year pandemic.  

Glenn Jergensen, executive director of the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council
Glenn Jergensen says residents should look at the benefits that high tourism numbers bring to Palm Beach County.

"I think people are more happy even though we are paying for more," Hill said. "I think we're also grateful that we have the ability to go out and masks and mandates have lifted."  

Below is some advice from hoteliers on booking locally:  

  • Ask about Florida resident rates 
  • See if your memberships like AAA or AARP can get you discounts 
  • Be flexible about your vacation time, try to book for Sunday or Monday  
  • Be patient. Rates are expected to dip nearing summertime