Congratulations to Visit Orlando’s own George Aguel for being named the i4 Business Tourism Leader of the Year — and what a year it was … for our entire industry! Here are five additional leaders who also stand out for their significant contributions to tourism in 2018.
Executive Vice President
Tishman Hotel Corporation, and Chair of Visit Orlando
This summer, Tishman Hotel Corporation acquired three Orlando-area hotel properties, adding to its already impressive portfolio. Tishman’s EVP, Don Engfer, is responsible for many of the company’s assets, including the 2,270-room Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, which just broke ground on a 14-story, 349-room tower that will open in 2020. Always a strong advocate for the destination, Engfer is completing a two-year term as chairman of the Visit Orlando board of directors.
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority
Orange County Convention Center
After 33 years at the Orange County Convention Center, Kathie Canning — a member of the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame — retired as executive director of the nation’s second-largest convention facility. Canning’s legacy came to fruition this year with a green light to begin the center’s $605 million capital improvement plan, a project that will add more than 200,000 square feet for exhibits and meetings, as well as multipurpose seating for up to 20,000 people, a large ballroom and an enclosed walkway between the North and South Concourses.
Orlando’s entertainment and retail landscape continues to evolve and grow with the help of community pillars such as Unicorp’s Chuck Whittall, the commercial real estate developer behind Orlando StarFlyer (which launched this summer as the world’s tallest swing ride) and ICON Orlando (tallest observational wheel on America’s East Coast). Look for more developments in the future, too, as Whittall has announced plans to add a drop tower ride, a powered zipline and the world’s tallest double slingshot at the ICON Orlando 360 entertainment complex on I-Drive.
DR. ABRAHAM PIZAM
Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central Florida
Since its inception, UCF’s award-winning Rosen College of Hospitality Management has been responsible for educating some of the industry’s top achievers. The world-class hospitality program was founded by Dr. Abraham Pizam, who retired from the dean’s position this summer after 35 years of service. Pizam was inducted into the Central Florida Hospitality Hall of Fame in November for his dedication to the field, and after a sabbatical, he plans to continue his commitment to education by returning to the classroom as a professor.
REFLECTIONS ON 2018
Another great year for tourism in Orlando
It’s an honor to be included among the outstanding business leaders featured in this month’s edition of i4 Business — but we all recognize that our success is also the result of practicing our profession in a dynamic industry.
In my position, I’m proud to represent a destination that continues to evolve and grow, not only as an outstanding place to live, work and play, but also as a place that offers more every year for leisure and business travelers. As 2018 comes to a close, it’s only fitting to reflect on a few of our many accomplishments.
We started the year by celebrating a record 72 million visitors in 2017 — and more good news kept coming, with strong monthly performances in key areas such as hotel occupancy, air passenger traffic and revenue from tourist development taxes.
Our lodging sector responded to increased demand by adding more than 2,700 hotel rooms, a trend that will continue next year, too, when another 4,900 rooms are slated to come online. By January 2020, we expect the Orlando market to have more than 128,000 hotel rooms — a 50 percent increase from 1996.
Our theme parks also had much to celebrate, with the launch of several new attractions and experiences. Most notably, Walt Disney World Resort debuted its Toy Story Land, Universal Orlando Resort launched the Fast & Furious – Supercharged attraction, and SeaWorld Orlando opened its Infinity Falls river ride.
On the convention front, Orlando was once again named Cvent’s top meetings destination, and the Orange County Convention Center recorded one of its best years for attendance.
Overall, 2018 has been spectacular in many ways for America’s most-visited destination, and we expect that momentum to carry us well into 2019. Here’s to another great year, Orlando!