Beach Traffic Good Indicator of Economic Health

Daytona Beach News-Journal: When people think of Daytona Beach tourism, they often think of "the world's most famous beach." As one of the area's big draws, how closely the shoreline resembles a can of sardines during the peak summer months is one indicator of the tourism economy's health.

Although beach tolls have been down slightly the past few months, Volusia County Beach Patrol officials and area businesses say the beach seems as busy, if not more, than in the past few years. The July 4th crowd backed them up.

"We seem to be at 100 percent in a lot of areas," Beach Patrol Capt. Tammy Marris said Monday. Because the beach was full, access was closed for at least an hour at International Speedway Boulevard and at Ponce Inlet, Marris said. "And New Smyrna Beach had to close for about an hour," she said.

Beach toll numbers have ebbed and flowed like the tides this year. After being up triple-digit dollar numbers in February and March over the previous year, beach tolls for Volusia County in April and May showed decreases of $23,033 and $29,373, respectively.

Beach Patrol spokeswoman Capt. Tammy Marris said the beach tolls do show a decrease in car traffic on the beach in April and May, but there are other factors, including people who choose not to drive on the beach. Off-beach parking lots have been busy in recent months, she said.

"The last few months, I think we've been probably close to the same as last year," Marris said. "It just depends on the weather." Marris said the parking lots at Tom Rennick Park in Ormond Beach, Sun Splash Park in Daytona Beach and 27th Avenue in New Smyrna Beach had all been crowded in recent weeks.

"A lot of people say it's because of the economy," she said. "People are saying it might be a cheaper way to go, just drive over to the beach, get on the beach."

Texas resident Amy Lyons was out on the beach by the Ocean Walk on Friday afternoon with her kids, taking advantage of the first sunny day all week. She'd been to Daytona Beach four years ago in the summer, she said, and didn't remember it being quite this crowded.

The beach is her favorite thing about coming to Daytona, she said. "My least favorite would probably be the amount of people here," she said. "It's pretty busy." She said her family tries to come mid-July, but this year it wasn't possible. "I'm sure this weekend is going to be nuts," she said.

Lyons' prediction seems to have panned out, some, but not everywhere. Across from the county-maintained free Rockefeller parking lot in Ormond Beach, two-year resident Bobbie Donaldson who lives in an apartment on A1A said she thought the beach looked quite crowded from her balcony during the Monday holiday. But Diane Tartaglia of Longwood, who had set up a tent at the beach access across from the parking lot didn't think it was all that crowded.

"We own two condos here, and it was less crowded than I thought it would be," Tartaglia said. "We come Memorial and Labor Day, and it seemed more crowded."

At Ocean Walk Shoppes, Director of Marketing Kim Ellis said there's been a 6.3 percent increase in traffic from June of last year, and a 16.1 percent increase from May to June this year. She attributed the busier month to summertime initiatives like free movies at 10 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday with family-friendly titles and the live concerts and fireworks at the Bandshell on Saturday nights.

Dino Paspalakis, whose family owns a number of businesses on the Boardwalk, including Joyland Amusement Center, Mardi Gras Fun Center and Pizza King, said he's seen an increase in customers, too. "We're definitely busier, but I'm not sure whether I'd attribute it to tourism or to the fact that the Ferris wheel has been a major draw to this area, to the Boardwalk in specific."

Paspalakis also said he thinks the fireworks off of the pier on Saturday nights have been a draw, with a countywide fireworks ban affecting other parts of Volusia County in recent weeks.

However, Rich Larkin, general manager for the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, said his hotel isn't feeling the beach increases. Occupancy at his hotel has been flat for the past few months compared to last year. However, he said, he has seen large increases in leisure tourists and decreases in convention customers, and that the leisure customers generally spend more time at the beach.

"I can't gauge it so much because I don't have the driving on the beach (at the Hilton)," Larkin said. "When I go to the beach, though, it looks the same to me. There's no indication that it's up or down."


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