Tourism numbers improve, even in typically slow September | News

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Tourism numbers improve, even in typically slow September

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Tourism numbers for hotels in St. Johns County are up for the fiscal year ending in 2012, according to local visitors bureau.

The slow month of September wasn't so slow either.

At the Hilton Historic Bayfront in St. Augustine, General Manager Bob O'Neill smiled Tuesday, "Our September was fantastic!"

September is often one of the slowest -- if not the slowest month of the year -- in the local tourism industry.

It sure was different this year.

"We picked up about 250 room nights over the last year," O'Neill explained. "That's 10-a-day because that's all weekday business."

According to the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau, St. Johns County hotels saw a 6.7% increase in occupancy in September 2012 compared to September 2011.

The agency said the demand for overnight accommodations was up 6.6%, allowing hoteliers to raise room rates by an average of 2.9%.

O'Neill joked about why September's numbers were so much better, "I like to tell my owner that it's the management! But really, I definitely think it's the market itself."

He means that St. Augustine has a lot to offer the visitor. He also believes the economy is bouncing back.

Richard Goldman is the Executive Director of the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. He said there are a variety of reasons that may have increased September's numbers.

Goldman said there were many events in September which lured visitors to St. Johns County such as Mitt Romney's visit to St. Augustine, popular concerts at the amphitheater, and an increasingly popular Founder's Day celebration.

"These things taken in aggregate will make a difference," Goldman noted, "But any one of them individually... not so much."

However, some retailers and attraction managers say their September was still pretty sluggish.

As for the fiscal year ending September 30th, 2012, hotels in St. Johns County saw a 5% increase compared to the previous fiscal year, said Goldman.

"We outperformed the state of Florida," he beamed.

Also, O'Neill said the county has been aggressive with its marketing of the destination.

National and international accolades may have had an impact as well. Recently, Conde Nast Traveller listed two St. Johns County resorts in Florida's top 20 resorts: Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and The Renaissance World Golf Resort. National Geographic listed St. Augustine's Nights of Lights display as one of the top 10 places for holiday lights in the world.

Ultimately an increase in visitors is good news for the local economy. 11,000 people in St. Johns County work in the tourism business.

"It takes people to entertain people, and that's good for employment," Goldman noted.

And O'Neill at the Hilton is one of those hard-working folks who make a living in the county's biggest industry.


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