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Tourism

HOTELS: Regaining Its Footing

The state's hotel industry has been trying since Sept. 11, 2001, to establish new benchmarks for measuring its annual performance. Just as occupancy figures were getting back to pre-2001 levels in mid-2004, Florida was hit hard by four major hurricanes in a six-week period. While the disasters actually helped fill rooms in some areas -- becoming temporary homes for power company workers, federal aid officials and displaced residents in the Orlando area, for instance -- they closed hotels in coastal areas for months at a time. "We've been dealing in an unreal world," says Ed Griffin, appointed in November as president and CEO of the Florida Hotel & Motel Association. "Normal changed after 9/11. It moved to a different axis. Unfortunately, normal was again aberrated by all those darned hurricanes."

Tourism industry leaders expect visitors to show the same kind of resilience as Florida's residents and return to business as usual, especially with Super Bowl XXXIX coming to Jacksonville on Feb. 6. And Griffin says hoteliers are hoping an unexpected windfall of sales taxes collected in 2004 by the hotel industry can help bolster the state budget so Florida can spend more money on tourism marketing and advertising.

2005 Forecast: "I think we'll see a gradual progression of increased occupancy and the coming seasons will be strong," says Ed Griffin, president and CEO of the Florida Hotel & Motel Association. "Super Bowl will obviously help the Jacksonville area ... and the visibility will help Florida in general. I think Florida is well-positioned to enjoy success throughout 2005."
THEME PARKS: 'Banner Year'

Florida's attractions started out strong last year but took a major hit after the hurricanes, when attendance dropped by 13% in August and 38% in September, says Donna Ross, president and CEO of the Florida Attractions Association.

"Hurricanes notwithstanding, it looks like it was pretty much a banner year" for Florida's theme parks in 2004, says James Zoltak, editor of Amusement Business magazine. Walt Disney World introduced new Mission Space, Mickey's Philharmagic, and Stitch's Great Escape attractions and saw a boom in attendance, a trend expected to continue this year as Disney touts its 50th anniversary worldwide and opens a park in Hong Kong.

Universal Studios Florida unveiled several attractions, including The Mummy,
a ride that won an industry award for its innovative design and helped Universal ride the wave of resurging state tourism and international visits with a 12% increase in attendance at its two Orlando theme parks.

2005 Forecast: "It all adds up to a positive outlook for theme park tourism in 2005," says James Zoltak, editor of Amusement Business.