WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — It’s no secret that a driving force of commerce and revenue in Florida is tied to tourism.
So, with hardly anyone traveling these days because of the global pandemic, how is that affecting Palm Beach County?
Tourism generated an annual economic impact of $7 billion to the local economy, according to the county's Tourist Development Council.
On Thursday, Palm Beach County tourism leaders met to discuss the impact of the virus and what they can do to bring back travelers.
Hilton West Palm Beach and many other hotels in Palm Beach County were coming off a record start to 2020 before the coronavirus hit the state.
“Getting into mid-February and early March we started seeing those cancellations,” said Derrick Steinour, the director of sales and marketing at Hilton West Palm Beach.
Now, the Hilton and the local tourism industry are weathering a huge hit from the virus.
Discover the Palm Beaches revealed Thursday that early indications show tourism is down about $20 million in revenue so far this year.
“It’s put a lot of pressure on us going through rebudgeting every one of our marketing organizations,” said Glenn Jergensen, the executive director of the Tourist Development Council for Palm Beach County.
He said that a 33 percent reduction in bed tax revenue is money used for marketing and promotion. Now, contracts have been deferred and all marketing has been put on hold.
Discover The Palm Beaches will tap into its reserves, but it won’t be able to recoup the total loss.
“The board has actually authorized us to bring to the county commission that we want to use some of those special project funds to put into marketing and promotion,” said Jergensen.
He is now looking ahead toward recovery plans by first targeting locals for a staycation. Then, targeting the so-called “drive market” where people can get to Palm Beach County by car and eventually air travelers by late fall.
Hilton is following the county’s model, and it’s opening its pool and Galley restaurant to the public next week.
“We are starting to see the green sprouts, and we’re turning our attention to business recovery,” said Steinour.
Jergensen said it will take a few years to get back to the tourism numbers of 2019, and we won’t have a full understanding until April numbers are released.
He also expects unemployment across the tourism industry in Palm Beach County will be about 30 to 40 percent.
Tourism-related jobs account for about 60,000 position in Palm Beach County, which have left many unemployed for the last two months as travel came to a halt this spring.
In 2018, more than 124 million people visited Florida, according to data from Visit Florida.