Florida tourism making comeback

PALM BEACH COUNTY, FL (WFLX) - After several years of slow to recover economic numbers, South Florida local businesses, driven by tourism, are seeing some bright spots just in time for the holidays.

The candles were lit and the table was set for another big night at Buccan, a Palm Beach restaurant featuring wood-fired and grilled small plates. "It was an amazing opportunity to grow this year," said David Sabin, organizer of the 2012 Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival.

Two years ago, the event was just three hours long. This year, it grew to five full days -- drawing tourists from around the nation. "As a culinary-centric town, we should have the recognition on a national level for that," said Sabin.

Good food and good drinks are, perhaps, part of the recipe bringing more tourism dollars to Palm Beach County and the state. VisitFlorida, the state's tourism marketing firm found that 67.5 million people have visited Florida so far this year - a million more than last year.

In Palm Beach County, officials with the Convention & Visitors Bureau say hotel revenue per available room was up ten percent; marking 33 consecutive months of increases.

The tourism board, meanwhile, is casting a much wider net to bring in new tourism dollars. This year, there is a greater focus on international travelers.

"We're going to be doing a lot more in those important markets in Latin America to attract them as well," said Carli Smith, Spokesperson for the Palm Beach County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

John Reis, owner of Hot Pie Pizza in West Palm Beach is enjoying a slice of the positive economic pie, as well. "We are now starting to move in a positive direction. There's no question about it," he said. A large percentage of Reis' bottom line comes from out-of-towners coming from the now-chilly northeastern states.

"I like it to be cold and frigid up there so they can come down here and enjoy 70 degree weather and some great pizza," he said.

Reis, though, like most business owners is taking the positive economic trend with a grain of salt, so to speak.

"I hope there's expansion; expansion at a moderate pace, not something that's 100 miles per hour forward," he said.

Officials with the Chamber of Commerce of Stuart and Martin County say that region is experiencing a similar economic boost, with tourism spending up between five and six percent this year over last year.

Other Treasure Coast counties are also seeing positive trends, but updated data through the month of November is not yet available.

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