March 1, 2024

Florida tourism: Briefs & stats

| 1/28/2015

Cuba Cruises?

Few industries are more excited about the prospect of normalized relations with Cuba than the cruise industry, which has been planning for years for the opening of trade between the United States and the largest island nation in the Caribbean. Days after President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would begin re-establishing diplomatic and commercial ties with Cuba, Arnold Donald, CEO of Miami-based Carnival, called Cuba a "tremendous opportunity." "There is a lot of pent-up demand to visit Cuba," Donald told analysts during Carnival's fiscal year-end earnings call in December. "It would allow us some very fuel-efficient itineraries, also just some new itineraries for those who love to go to the Caribbean." Donald says there are about 11 ports in Cuba that can accommodate ships owned by Carnival, the world's largest cruise operator, though there are some size restrictions — particularly in Havana.

Fast Facts

Foreign (non-Canadian) tourists spend less per person but stay longer than domestic tourists.

Domestic tourists spend more each day, on average, on food and shopping than on either transportation or lodging.

The leading source of domestic tourists for Florida is Georgia (10% of the total), but fewer than a third of all domestic tourists come from Southern states. Nearly one in 10 tourists comes from New York.

Among the leading sources of international tourists, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela combined send fewer people to Florida than Canada.


Communities across the Florida Panhandle are reporting record tourism numbers, as fears of any lingering economic damage from the 2010 BP oil spill continue to fade. Visitation rose by nearly 7% during Bay County's 2013-14 fiscal year, according to the Panama City News Herald, while travel to neighboring Gulf and Franklin counties jumped 10% and 6%, respectively. Farther west, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties saw annual hotel-tax collections jump between 7.5% and 31%, according to the Northwest Florida Daily News. And communities continue to cash recovery checks from BP: Pensacola, for instance, has been awarded roughly $4 million to launch a ferry service linking the city's downtown with Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens, which is expected to begin in March 2017. "We've had record-breaking years every year since 2010, which was the year of the oil spill," Bay County Tourist Development Director Dan Rowe told the News Herald in November.

Disney's Wristbands

After more than five years of development and testing, Walt Disney World says its billion-dollar "MyMagic+" program began contributing t o profit growth during t he second half of 2014. The program, one of the biggest projects at Disney World since t he resort's fourth theme park opened in 1998, includes microchip-embedded wristbands that function as all-in-one park tickets, hotel room keys and credit cards and a ride reservation system that allows visitors to book ride times weeks in advance. MyMagic+ has taken several years longer to implement than Disney anticipated, but Disney says 50% of its customers are now using the system. The primary goal, Disney says, is to get visitors planning more details of their trips in advance.

Against the Current

SeaWorld Entertainment ousted its chief executive and laid off more than 300 workers in December, as the Orlando-based theme park operator struggled to stabilize its business amid intense competition and negative publicity surrounding its captive killerwhale program. Jim Atchison had been president and CEO of SeaWorld since 2009, when it was sold off by beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev. But SeaWorld announced that Atchison would step down Jan. 15, with Chairman David D'Alessandro taking over as interim CEO. Attendance at SeaWorld's U.S. parks, which include SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, fell 4.7% during the first nine months of 2014, from 18.9 million to 18 million. The company has been trying to quell an anti-captivity backlash that began in 2010 when a trainer was killed by a killer whale and intensified in 2013 with the release of Blackfish, a critical documentary.


A controversial new gun range catering to tourists and billing itself as central Florida's "first and only automatic adrenaline attraction" opened just before Christmas south of Disney World in Kissimmee. Machine Gun America allows customers — including children as young as 13, as long as they are supervised by a parent or guardian — to fire everything from machine guns to classic handguns amid themes ranging from the Old West to a Zombie apocalypse. Packages begin at $99. Customers get a "bullet hole-ridden target" as a souvenir.

More Cruising

Virgin Group, the investment group owned by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, plans to launch a new south Florida-based cruise line, making it the first major new entrant to the cruise industry since Walt Disney began cruising in the 1990s. Branson's company is partnering with investment firm Bain Capital to launch Virgin Cruises, which plans to begin by designing two new ships. The company has not yet disclosed when Virgin Cruises will begin sailing, "for competitive reasons." The company's first hire was CEO Tom McAlpin, a former president of Disney Cruise Line who was part of Disney Cruise Line's founding management team. McAlpin, who left Disney in 2009, had most recently been CEO of The World, Residences at Sea, a condocruise ship based in Fort Lauderdale.


A 154-room hotel called the Playa Largo Resort & Spa is scheduled to open this summer in Key Largo, making it the first new full-service resort to be built on the Upper Keys island in 20 years. Construction of the resort, which spreads across 14.5 waterfront acres, began in early 2014. Playa Largo is a joint venture of Hollywood-based developer Prime Hospitality Group and operator Shaner Hotel Group of State College, Pa. The two companies are also partnering on a 145-room hotel to be built as part of International Speedway's One Daytona mixed-use project in Daytona Beach. That hotel is projected to open in 2016.

Tags: Travel & Tourism

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