by Diane Sears
Updated 5 yearss ago
The first annual World's Fair for Kids is set for March 25 through April 3 in Orlando. Developed by the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau and World's Fair for Kids LLC, an expo production company in North Carolina, it is billed as the largest interactive exposition for children and families. It's the centerpiece of a marketing initiative that will tout Orlando as the world's top family spring break destination. Aimed at children ages 3 to 13, the fair will include activity pavilions with themes such as sports, cooking, technology and travel, as well as live entertainment.
Why the big push for kids? Count the numbers. Travel spending nationwide is predicted to hit $585 billion this year, $33 billion more than in 2003. Families traveling with children already make up about 43% of Orlando's domestic leisure travelers and almost 30% of overseas visitors, state and national figures show.
During the spring break period alone, central Florida annually sees about 350,000 visiting families, according to the visitors bureau.
This summer, 38% of all families with children nationwide are expected to travel, spending $1,101 per person per trip, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
That's why tourism leaders aren't waiting until spring to start working on Junior to get his parents to come to central Florida. Orlando has launched a $7-million, 14-city advertising campaign -- its largest of the year -- with the theme "Orlando. Bring Your Family. Together." The TV and newspaper ads target families in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Cleveland, Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Tampa/St. Petersburg and West Palm Beach.
Targeting kids is nothing new for theme parks. The challenge is to keep creating attractions that raise the bar and capture the attention of young people used to fast-action films and video games. In the four years it took to construct The Mummy attraction, which opened at Universal in May, the creative team enlisted fruit-packing plants, missile manufacturers, warehousing technology experts and undersea researchers to help make special-effects equipment for the roller-coaster ride. The integration of those technologies with Maglev electric train concepts, pyrotechnics and computer-generated imaging gives the ride a "wow" factor, says Mike Hightower, Universal's vice president of project management. Universal is whispering about a new attraction in the works but won't divulge details.
Meanwhile, attendance is up 15% over last year at Universal's domestic theme parks and up 18% at Walt Disney World, attractions officials say.
To help combat childhood obesity, restaurants at 57 Ritz-Carlton hotels worldwide have introduced healthy menus for kids. Chefs at different properties have added their own delicacies such as "ants on a log," celery stuffed with peanut butter and studded with raisins; chicken and veggie kabobs served with air-popped popcorn, fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt; and a dessert of crushed granola in a small plastic sandbox with a tiny shovel to use instead of a spoon.
Marriott International is set to open Tampa's first Renaissance Hotel on Aug. 2 adjacent to the International Plaza near the airport. The $45-million hotel will have 293 rooms.
St. Petersburg-based Payless Car Rental System has expanded its rental fleet by 2,000 vehicles, adding franchises in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Sacramento, Calif.
The top destinations domestic vacationers say they'd like to visit this summer, according to the Travel Industry Association of America:
Florida 38%, California 29%, Hawaii 16%, New York 15%, Colorado 12%, Texas 11%, Nevada 9%