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Oct. 13--More than 700 new hotel rooms are expected to open in the county over the next three years -- giving tourism officials new ways to market the area as a vacation destination for both out-of-town travelers and larger convention groups. Six large chains, including Aloft and Mandarin Oriental, plan to open hotels between Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens, according to Discover The Palm Beaches, the county's official tourism marketing organization.

Over the past 10 years, the number of tourists traveling to Palm Beach County has grown by 45 percent -- hitting an all-time high of 7.35 million visitors in 2016. Local tourism leaders say the growth in visitation, combined with new cultural attractions and the industry's efforts to market the area as a vacation destination, have led to the hotel building boom.

"The increasing numbers of visitors who come to The Palm Beaches, year over year, validate that the reach of our brand is greater and the area is growing in popularity as a leisure and meetings destination," said Jorge Pesquera, Discover's president and CEO. "The increase in tourism activities, festivals, attractions and culinary offering coupled with effective tourism marketing by all (tourism) agencies and the success of the Business Development Board in attracting corporations to the county have definitely resulted in greatly increased demand for hotel rooms and the attention of the investment community."

At least four hotels are set to open next year: the 125-room Fairfield Inn West Palm Beach; the 97-room Springhill Suites Downtown West Palm Beach; the 122-room Residence Inn Palm Beach Gardens; and a 150-room Canopy by Hilton Hotels planned in downtown West Palm Beach.

Construction crews broke ground this month on the county's first Aloft hotel, planned in Delray Beach's trendy "South of Atlantic Avenue" district. The 121-room boutique hotel is expected to open in 2019.

The luxury Mandarin Oriental brand will open a 118-room hotel in downtown Boca Raton in 2020. The hotel, Mandarin Oriental's second property in Florida, is part of the 830,000-square-foot complex now under construction at the northeast corner of Federal Highway and Camino Real.

The hotel's opening is expected to elevate Boca Raton's status as a meeting place for larger convention groups and associations.

For decades, the Boca Raton Resort and Club has been a popular gathering spot for corporate groups, trade associations, and other large events. But through the years, the 1,000-room resort has been forced to turn some of the largest groups away because there weren't enough nearby hotel rooms to accommodate all the guests.

With the opening of the 200-room Hyatt Place Boca Raton last year and the addition of the Mandarin Oriental, the Boca Raton area will be able to host large "citywide" conventions -- allowing southern Palm Beach County to compete for events that would generate about 1,500 nightly hotel bookings.

"It is a pretty powerful combination," said Glenn Jergensen, the executive director of the county's Tourist Development Council. "With the Mandarin, we are going to have almost two convention center districts in the county. You will have the Boca Restort and you will have the convention center."

Meanwhile, other hotels, including the PGA National Resort & Spa, the Chesterfield in Palm Beach and the Embassy Suites in Boca Raton, have recently completed renovation projects designed to help keep their rooms full.

There are roughly 17,000 hotel rooms in the county, up from about 15,800 in 2014, Discover said.

The new hotel rooms "are certainly a driver of the economy," Jergensen said. "You are going to have a continuous flow of people coming in. They are always going to be spending money."

Other tourism-related businesses, including Brightline's express passenger train service, which is expected to start shuttling passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami later this year, The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, food tours, and new craft breweries, have also helped the county set itself apart from other destinations, Pesquera said.

"Unique tourism related projects like the new Brightline rail service and The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches are putting us on the map and generating tremendous interest from international tour operators and meeting planners," Pesquera said.

Food tours, breweries and other unique businesses offer "authentic experiences" for travelers, he added.

"We are also seeing a greater awareness by city and town leadership about the potential tourism has for their communities and are incorporating hotel and other tourism related components in their urban development plans," Pesquera said.

The tourism industry contributes more than $7 billion to the local economy and employees roughly 66,000 people.

But one industry insider says as the number of hotels grows, there may not be enough tourists to keep all the rooms full, particularly during the slower summer months. The additional rooms could also drag down nightly room rates at established hotels, said Rick Netzel, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Best Western Palm Beach Lakes Inn.

"They are overbuilding for the demand," Netzel said. "With the new rooms that are coming in we are going to supply the demand in season. But when it come to the dog days, it is going to saturate the market. People are going to lower rates."

Hotel boom

Here's a look at the new hotels set to open in Palm Beach County over the next three years.

Residence Inn Palm Beach Gardens

opening next year

122 rooms

Fairfield Inn West Palm Beach

opening next year

125 rooms

Springhill Suites Downtown West Palm Beach

opening next year

97 rooms

Canopy by Hilton Hotels -- downtown West Palm Beach

opening late next year

150 rooms

Aloft Delray Beach

opening 2019

121 rooms

Boca Raton Mandarin Oriental

opening in 2020

118 rooms

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