|By Emily Roach, The Palm Beach Post,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 09, 2011--PALM BEACH -- An army of elves has been at work at The Breakers and hotels around Palm Beach County, using the off-season to update in readiness for the tourist season.
But the tourists are already here, as demonstrated by a surge this fall in bed tax collections, which hotel guests and short-term renters pay and are reinvested in promoting the area. October figures made available Thursday registered a 34 percent jump over 2010 collections, according to Tourist Development Council reports. That was after a 24 percent jump in September from the prior year and a nearly 10 percent improvement in 2010-2011 receipts over the previous fiscal year.
Tourism is one of the top industries in Palm Beach County and provides one of every eight jobs.
"This trickles down into economic impact into Palm Beach County and into jobs," Tourist Development Council Executive Director Roger Amidon said Thursday. "The hospitality sector for well over a year has seen growth in jobs over any other sector -- not just at the county level, but in the state."
With a nearly steady climb in hotel revenues since the end of the recession in summer 2009, the tourism industry has shown continuing signs of improvement and that has translated into jobs. The hospitality and leisure sector added 2,400 more jobs in October than it did in October 2010, according to Workforce Alliance of Palm Beach County.
During the off-season, hotels renovate, such as the Singer Island Hilton's upgrades that will be finished just before Christmas and Hanukkah and the Jupiter Beach Resort's overhaul of its pool area, Amidon said.
Hotels pour millions of dollars into hotel renovations on a regular basis, said Dave Semadeni of the Palm Beach County Hotel and Lodging Association. It's a boost for the construction industry, which has not seen a rebound since the recession decimated what was a thriving industry.
With the season set to begin, Amidon said expectations are positive.
In the short-term forecast, The Breakers should be fully booked, as the week between Christmas and New Year's is one of the highest-demand weeks, hotel spokeswoman Ann Margo Peart said Thursday. The hotel is being recognized as one of the "best dressed" in the nation by Internet search engine Bing.
"We are looking forward to a great holiday season when we see many of our loyal guests return to enjoy quality time with loved ones," she said.
There's pent-up demand among consumers who have been frugal for years, as evidenced by the surprising holiday shopping figures. People may have tired of staying home, as well.
"With the economy, other than on the corporate side, it's been very well," Semadeni said. "Individuals are booking."
Visitors are good, but what the hotels really look for is a return of the business traveler and corporate groups.
Corporate travelers usually pay more for hotel rooms, and the "AIG effect," a backlash against lavish corporate spending, is starting to diminish as groups book premier resorts again, Amidon said.
An increase in the average daily rate is partially responsible for the spike in bed-tax collections, he said. Hotels like to see it because it means an increase in profitability.
"The hotels that can go out there and attract that group-rate business, then when the regular tourist or business traveler comes in, they can inch up that rate," Amidon said.
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