Signs of Spring
Industry experts are predicting this year to be one of the best ever for tourism.
By the end of the first quarter, the six largest shows held at the newly expanded Orange County Convention Center had attracted 299,000 delegates and generated $373 million in economic impact. More than 300 meetings have been booked at the center through 2028 that will bring in 5.9 million delegates and a local economic impact of $7.4 billion. Another 300-plus meetings under negotiation for that same period would generate an additional 4.7 million delegates and $5.9 billion in local spending.Occupancy Boost
Orlando's 2004 hotel occupancy rate increased 12.8%, faster than that of any other destination in Smith Travel Research's ranking of the top 25 U.S. markets -- although that ranking doesn't include Las Vegas, one of Orlando's biggest competitors, which doesn't report its numbers. The second-fastest in the Smith survey was 8.9% in Oahu, Hawaii.
Statewide tourism, up 3% last year, was on track to climb even higher before the storms, according to preliminary figures from the state's official tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida. An estimated 76.8 million people came into the state by air, road or rail, and by the end of November, tourists had spent $51.8 billion -- an increase of $300 million over 2003.
This year, the Orlando area alone expects 50.8 million visitors, 3 million more than last year, says Bill Peeper, president of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Those visitors are expected to pump $28 billion into the local economy, or $2.5 billion more than in 2004, he told Orlando-area business leaders gathered for a 2005 economic forecast breakfast.
Orlando's hotel occupancy rate is expected to hit 77% this year, says Peeper, who promised the Orlando audience: "If we can get to an 80% mark, you'll see me up here doing an Irish jig."
In 2004, Orlando's occupancy rate increased 12.8% to 70.7%, the highest since 2000, when visitors kept hotels occupied at 72.6%. The 2004 national average was 61.3%.
At Orlando International Airport, last year's record-breaking traffic increased by 14% over 2003, rising by 4 million passengers to 31.1 million, according to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. The smaller Orlando Sanford International Airport just an hour north of Orlando saw an increase of 45%, bringing its passenger count to more than 1.8 million.
Fort Lauderdale's tourism figures also broke records in 2004, when the area hosted 9.4 million, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. That was a 5.6% increase over 2003. Hotel occupancy in Fort Lauderdale was at 73.4% for the year, an increase of 8.2% from 2003. The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport -- the fastest-growing major airport in the nation -- handled 20.8 million passengers in 2004, a 16% boost over the year before.
Tourism officials say last year's heavy hurricane season isn't deterring travel to Florida.
Miami's airport has taken a bit of a hit as it competes with Fort Lauderdale and Orlando for domestic and international travelers. Traffic there climbed by less than 2% last year to 30.1 million. Just one year before, Miami's figure had been higher than Orlando's by more than 2.2 million.
But Miami, long known as a favorite destination for international tourists, has seen a trend that's showing up in other parts of Florida and the rest of the nation as well: An increase in visitors from Europe who are shopping more than they have in years, egged on by the strength of the euro and pound.
Just in case there's any sluggishness in travel plans this year, Visit Florida has secured $4.75 million in state funding for ads to lure leisure travelers and meeting planners. Areas hit hardest by the hurricanes can apply for grants from that money to help market their specific destinations. That state also is offering meeting planners a weather warranty, supplemental business insurance that reimburses costs in the event of weather-related disruptions from August through October.
Dry Tortugas National Park, a group of seven islands off the coast of Key West, has been named one of the top 10 favorite sites of retired national park rangers because of its pristine underwater vistas along the coral reefs. The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees also named nine other spots from among 388 national parks:
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska
Chaco Culture National Historical Park in Arizona
Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming
Fort Bowie National Historic Site in Arizona
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon
Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota
Yosemite National Park in California
Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Zion National Park in Utah
Leisure travel has been rebounding steadily since Sept. 11, 2001, and now business and convention travel are finally starting to recover as well, according to a report from the Travel Industry Association of America, the National Business Travel Association and the Institute of Business Travel Management. That's good news because about one-third of all travel spending is business-related, even though business travelers make up only 18% of visitors nationwide.
On the Move
A new business in the 1.1- million-sq.-ft. Orange County Convention Center rents Segway vehicles to help security personnel, event managers, set-up workers and others get around. Owner Tally Helman is the son of Alan Helman, a prominent architect who helped design the latest convention center addition and other notable buildings, including the Astronaut Memorial in Titusville and the UCF Rosen Hospitality School in Orlando.
Gift of a Cruise
Fort Lauderdale-based Cruises Inc. now offers a wedding registry service for its honeymoon cruises. Instead of giving a toaster or a blender, friends and family can log onto the company's website and donate money toward a post-nuptial holiday.