Sports Tourism Leads the Way for Post-Pandemic Hotel Occupancy Boom

Sports in Palm Beach County have led the way in terms of economic recovery as hotel occupancy rates have surpassed 80% for the first time in a year. The increase comes as both professional and amateur events have brought visiting spectators and participants back to The Palm Beaches.

The last time occupancy rates were at this level was on March 6, 2020, shortly before Florida’s State of Emergency was issued to restrict hotel reservations to “essential lodgers” only. Since restrictions have loosened, the Palm Beach County Sports Commission has guided numerous sports organizations through the event planning process to ensure safe returns to action.

At the professional level, staple events like the Winter Equestrian Festival, the PGA Tour’s The Honda Classic, and Major League Baseball Spring Training have brought spectators from around the United States back to Palm Beach County. The Winter Equestrian Festival, a twelve-week collection of the world’s finest horse shows, set the tone for a stellar year in sports tourism with riders from around the world flocking to the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington. The Honda Classic continued the trend of limited capacity events as the PGA Tour event returned to PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens for the 15th consecutive year. The tournament featured Australia’s Matt Jones picking up his first PGA Tour victory since 2014 in front of a daily crowd of around 10,000 fans and a total of 50,000 fans over the week. MLB Spring Training has a storied history in The Palm Beaches and in 2021 added to that history. Four MLB clubs – the Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and Washington Nationals – played their pre-season games at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium and the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. This spring, the clubs returned to action in front of fans for the first time since the 2020 season was cut short. MLB implemented extensive Covid-19 protocols that allowed stadiums to welcome fans back. Other events like the inaugural Delray Beach Pickleball Open, the first Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) Tour event in Palm Beach County, and the Gauntlet of Polo, a series of three high-profile polo tournaments, among others, have also made a strong economic impact.

Many events that the Palm Beach County Sports Commission has helped to return are youth and amateur sports events. Amateur sports create a massive economic impact by boosting hotel occupancy rates with participants, spectators, and staff. Events like the Tim Rand Invite, a premier gymnastics meet featuring hundreds of athletes performing at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, and the Palm Beach Challenge, a month-long baseball festival featuring amateur and collegiate teams from the U.S. and Puerto Rico, have led the efforts to bolster sports travel. Other notable events bringing visitors to Palm Beach County include USA Powerlifting’s Florida State Open Championships, East End Volleyball’s Sunshine Series, the Next Level Greats South Florida 7-on-7 football tournament, and the Angels 4 Autism fastpitch softball tournament.

Beyond current events, the Palm Beach County Sports Commission is steadfast in its efforts to work with more owners and organizers to continue the positive uptick in travel to Palm Beach County. The summer months will be full of premier events like the First Responder Games which are set to take place this June at multiple venues across The Palm Beaches. During the two-week stretch, the games will feature over 3,000 first responders competing in nearly 30 different sports. Many of the participants are expected to be traveling from outside of the county.