Palm Beach RoundtableFebruary 21, 2011 By: Ruthanne Terrero Travel Agent
|From left, facing camera, Sophie Gaeta of the Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Paul Leone of The Breakers and The Travel Group’s Ruthanne Terrero listen as Ian Black of The Brazilian Court talks about the success his hotel has had with corporate meetings.|
Executives from the Palm Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau and area members gathered at The Four Seasons, Palm Beach to share inside information with Travel Agent on how this South Florida resort area has been faring and where it’s headed.
“A Wild Ride” at CVB
Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of the Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau, termed his three-year tenure at the CVB “a wild ride.” While 2009 was a very tough year, 2010 saw an uptick in occupancies, average daily rates and RevPAR in the area’s hotels.
Palm Beach County has been focusing on leisure travel to compensate for the loss in corporate segment that areas across the country suffered as a result of the “AIG impact.” That the Travel Promotion Act has been passed and the Visa Waiver Program has recently been expanded is also good news for Palm Beach and national tourism officials, said Pesquera. “We now have eight additional countries that we do not require visas for, so we have a total of 36 countries, which is about two-thirds of the main market,” he said. That factor would help travel spending grow overall, particularly in 2011-12.
|Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of the Palm Beach County CV B, shared 2010 highlights.|
On a local level, the CVB had conducted a community brand assessment.
“So we now have a better understanding of what we represent to the world and how we can communicate our essence to different markets,” said Pesquera. “We shifted in a very significant way from print to online media, and we are just moving in the direction of online and web-based marketing efforts.”
Additionally, the CVB aggressively pursued airlift development with Palm Beach International Airport to determine how to target specific airlines with tailored presentations.
“We are targeting a number of cities nationally, and certainly, we are talking to Latin American and European carriers,” said Pesquera. Efforts have already resulted in an additional 150,000 new seats into Palm Beach County.
In other news, the Palm Beach Florida Travel Companion, the destination’s official tourism iPhone App, has been launched and is available in the travel section of the iTunes online store, said Carli Smith, director of public relations and communications. Additionally, the website has increased the number of content pages from 80 to 1,000.
As for Downtown Delray Beach, Executive Director Marjorie Ferrer said that her area is filled with thousands of small businesses, mostly “mom-and-pop outlets” that provide a real local flavor.
“I have two Starbucks and that’s it,” she quipped. The area’s latest effort has been to launch an awareness campaign for every month of the year. For example, November was deemed to be “Beauty Month,” when Delray Beach’s more than 100 beauty salons, spas and wellness centers ran promotions. Social networking is also used to highlight the area’s attractions and hotels, which include a good mix of luxury properties right on the beach.
Attractions and Events
“One of our goals this year is to really raise our national profile through marketing and public relations efforts,” said Alexia “Lexi” Davis, director of marketing, Norton Museum of Art. Raising its profile ensures that when visitors come to Palm Beach County, “we are a part of their plan, we are part of the destination,” said Davis. “We are competing with beautiful beaches and golf, so it’s hard to lure people from the outside to inside for some quality time at the museum.” With that in mind, the museum now stays open until 9 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month, providing family-fun programming, light music, films and gallery talks. Groups business is also a priority for the museum, which hosts weddings and corporate meetings using an in-house caterer. Currently, Egyptian treasures are on display at the museum till May 8.
Vicki Chouris, COO, South Florida Fairgrounds, said her facility, spread out over 131 acres, works with hotels in the area to host events, which can be held outdoors or within a 10,000-square-foot exhibition hall. The South Florida Fair is held here annually in January for 17 days and draws a half million people.
Harold Kramer, general manager, Lion Country Safari, which has been in existence for 42 years, has two parks under his aegis—the drive-through Safari Park and the Safari World amusement park (including a petting zoo) in nearby Loxahatchee. Lion Country offers behind-the-scenes VIP Tours of the drive-through safari, as well as a popular summer day camp.
Word From the Hotels
Michael King, general manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach, told us that the hotel will soon be celebrating its 20th anniversary, which will play well into the activities going on at the CVB. The resort pays particular attention to hosting destination weddings, he said.
Paul Leone, president of The Breakers, said that the hotel has undergone a renaissance with $300 million having been invested over the past few years on improvements. Since it’s privately owned by a family, it didn’t have to endure any pressure from lenders over the recession. The Breakers, like other hotels, did suffer from a drop in the groups market, but has learned a lot from the experience. “You can’t carry on with business without traveling and you can’t really carry on in life, in particular, without weddings,” said Leone. Indeed, The Breakers’ wedding business continued to grow through the recession. And while The Breakers typically positions itself as the price leader in Palm Beach, management has moved toward adding value to its pricing.
Ian Black, director of group sales, The Brazilian Court, said his boutique hotel had small-groups business from CEO and strategic corporate meetings because the property tends to run under the radar. The larger groups have tended to keep costs down by offering cash bars to attendees rather than paying for drinks. Agendas are also being set with “breakfast at leisure,” rather than group breakfasts.
Jupiter Beach Resort represents barefoot elegance, said Diane D’Amico, the property’s director of sales and marketing. The resort, which is owned by Ocean Properties, hosted 120 weddings last year and that market provided 50 percent of the hotel’s weekend business. The property is currently being spruced up, with fire-pits and fun outdoor furnishings, to draw more leisure visitors; it’s also just added a children’s program with supervised activities.
“We are really focusing on the families. Kids really dictate where the parents want to go and if the kids have fun, everyone has fun,” she said. “Our biggest challenge is Sunday to Wednesday; that’s when corporate travelers come in, and we focus on them as well.”
Working with travel agent partners has become easier, she said, since the hotel recently joined the Preferred Hotel Group; previously, it functioned independently.
The Four Seasons, Palm Beach has just completed a renovation and redesign, said Kathleen Horrigan, general manager. Bathrooms in guest rooms now boast separate marble tubs and showers.
In 2010, the resort saw a significant growth in groups business over 2009, courtesy of efforts that began in 2008. Added value has been the strategy to draw that market, said Horrigan. Building back on rates is a priority, she said, but occupancy has also been a focus. Reduced pricing has meant that some new leisure guests have been captured, since they couldn’t afford to stay at the hotel in the past; the same can be said of some new groups business, she added.
“We are very eager to move the leisure business up again both in terms of the volume and rates to the extent we are able to,” she said.
|Paul Leone of The Breakers observed that the destination wedding market at his hotel has remained strong, helping alleviate a drop in business groups.|