With Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach expects more tourists because of Trump, like him or not

The weekend trip will be Trump's first stay at the Mar-a-Lago resort since his Jan. 20 inauguration. He's expected to attend the 60th annual Red Cross Ball being held there on Saturday night. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
The weekend trip will be Trump's first stay at the Mar-a-Lago resort since his Jan. 20 inauguration. He's expected to attend the 60th annual Red Cross Ball being held there on Saturday night. [SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Feb. 2, 2017

PALM BEACH — Regardless of what you think about President Donald Trump, Palm Beach County leaders say his frequent trips to his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago club will be a boon for the local tourism industry.

Trump is set to arrive at Palm Beach International Airport on Friday to spend the weekend at his lavish resort, bringing the attention of the international media along with him. The spotlight, tourism officials say, will help raise the county's profile as an vacation destination for both domestic and international travelers.

"The Palm Beaches have long been a preferred leisure destination for heads of state and commerce, dignitaries and celebrities," said Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover the Palm Beaches, the county's official tourism marketing organization.

"From a tourism perspective, we expect that the renewed media focus on the president's oceanfront retreat will raise the profile of the Palm Beaches and entice curious travelers to explore the vast array of recreational and cultural activities, innovative restaurants and award-winning hotels that these headlining celebrities frequent during their regular visits."

The weekend trip will be Trump's first stay at his lavish home since his Jan. 20 inauguration. He's expected to attend the 60th annual Red Cross Ball being held at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday night.

Trump protesters are planning a march from West Palm Beach to Mar-a-Lago on Saturday. That demonstration was briefly canceled due to safety concerns until it was taken over by other organizers. Trump supporters were expected to join the crowd near Southern Boulevard.

Lynn University history professor Robert Watson said media attention surrounding Trump's visit is "priceless."

"No matter how unpopular Trump may be, his visits down here will be newsworthy and they will be a net plus for our community," Watson said. "It is still the office (of president). It is the institution."

South Florida has long been a winter retreat for American presidents.

John F. Kennedy made his first post-election trip to Palm Beach 56 years ago, inaugurating his parents' north end home as his winter White House.

Kennedy spent much of late 1960 in Florida, summoning vice president-elect Lyndon Johnson and other government officials to the island. JFK wrote parts of his inaugural address at his father's house.

The Kennedy Estate remained a spring break destination for the Kennedy clan long after JFK's death, as well as an enduring tourist attraction until the family sold it in 1995.

While president, Richard Nixon made numerous trips to his Key Biscayne home. He also had two of his greatest moments in Miami Beach, where GOP conventions in 1968 and 1972 nominated him.

"Nixon really put the area on the map," Watson said. "It added to the luster and perceived elegance of Key Biscayne as a hot spot in South Florida."

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But Harry S. Truman's frequent trips to his winter retreat in Key West provided the biggest boost to South Florida's image, Watson said.

Photos of Truman standing on the beach in the middle of the winter helped drive tourists to the area, Watson added.

"All presidents have these retreats and they become working White Houses," Watson said. "All of these locations become indelibly etched into the American consciousness."

Presidential familiarity with the area has its potential benefits, too. While president, Truman presided over the establishment of Everglades National Park.

Trump will likely use Mar-a-Lago as meeting place for diplomats and international summits, adding to the boost that Palm Beach County receives from his visits, Watson said.

"Even if Trump continues to do controversial and unpopular things, the fact that he has selected Palm Beach, it is putting us in the news," Watson said. "It adds mystique. It adds romance."

Palm Beach County's tourism industry has also seen boosts from television shows and celebrity sightings that land the area in the spotlight. Actors Robert DeNiro and Helen Mirren were spotted in Delray Beach, where a movie, The Comedian, was filmed.

A popular reality television show produced on the links at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens earned the county millions in free advertising and promotional marketing.

The Big Break The Palm Beaches, FL followed a dozen aspiring golfers as they battle for the chance to take on the pros at the 2015 Barbasol Championship on the PGA Tour. It aired on the Golf Channel.

The international exposure that the county received from the show would have cost roughly $25 million if it had been paid advertising, county tourism leaders have said.

Palm Beach County tourism leaders got another break in 2015 when actress Sofia Vergara married Magic Mike XXL star Joe Manganiello at The Breakers in Palm Beach. Vergara and Manganiello documented their stay on social media, landing the history-laden resort in the Instagram feeds of potential travelers from across the globe.

Tourism leaders say Trump's visits will bring even more international attention to Palm Beach County.

Trump spent two weeks at Mar-a-Lago for the Christmas holiday. While much of the country was locked in a deep freeze, former Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway spoke to members of the media from picturesque Bingham Island near the Mar-a-Lago club. Conway wore a short-sleeved purple dress. The backdrop for the interview: the Intracoastal water backed by a grove of royal palms under Mar-a-Lago's tower.

"Anytime a president travels, they don't travel alone," Watson said. "They travel with aides, members of Congress, the security detail and the press. The press will report where they are at. Households across the planet are seeing the reporter standing there mentioning the town."