|By Laura Green, The Palm Beach Post,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 29, 2010--One of the busiest tourism seasons for area hotels is busier than last year, one more small sign that the economy is improving.
December bookings are up 15 percent over 2009 at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens.
The property is expected to be nearly, if not completely, full through Saturday, said Craig Falanga, director of marketing.
An uptick in visitors did not come without a lot of work.
Beginning in July, the hotel staff reached out to previous guests, asking them to return for the holidays.
The hotel caters to tourists as well as friends and relatives of residents in PGA National, Mirasol, Ballen Isles and other nearby neighborhoods. During this season, it offers visits from Santa, Christmas carolers and organized games and activities for children.
The holidays are typically prime time for Palm Beach County hotels.
As 2010 wraps up, occupancy countywide has been up about 10 percent over a difficult 2009, said Carli Smith, a spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Convention &Visitors Bureau.
The most recent data available, from November, shows that not only are bookings up but the average room rate has increased by $5 from 2009.
That's doubly good news, Smith said.
"It's not that we've had to compromise the room cost to get our occupancy rates up," Smith said.
Rooms are sold out until New Year's at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, which has 1,040 rooms, the largest inventory of any hotel in the county. The property is already seeing promising signs for 2011. Corporate group bookings are up 25 percent for the first quarter compared with the same time in 2010, said Carole Boucard, director of public relations and marketing.
"We are also seeing improvement in leisure travel," she said.
At The Breakers on Palm Beach, bookings are up over the past two years, said Ann Margo Peart, public relations manager. Rooms were still available for New Year's, but Peart expects they will sell out.
Last week's warm weather fueled last-minute bookings at The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach, in Manalapan.
"We hope to continue the momentum into 2011," said General Manager Michael King.
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