Orlando has been maturing as a destination in the past decade, adding luxury resorts, high-end shopping, more meeting space and a growing list of activities people can’t experience anywhere else in the world.
Nowhere is that more noticeable than at Orlando International Airport, which sees the trends unfold with every wave of passengers coming through. Orlando International welcomed 45.5 million passengers in 2017, making it the busiest airport in Florida, said Carolyn Fennell, senior director of public affairs and community relations. It has traditionally swapped that title back and forth with Miami International, which logged in about 44.6 million last year. By comparison, Tampa International counted about 19.6 million.
To keep up with the pace of change of the destination, the airport trademarked a philosophy that blends its mission and customer service focus in a branding strategy called The Orlando Experience. It focuses on the kind of customer service visitors to Central Florida have come to expect across all venues.
“Orlando is the most visited destination in the country, so it is important as the gateway that we focus on building our existing customer service initiatives,” said Phil Brown, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA). “The support of our board and staff has been critical in helping us reach the next level. The result was Orlando International Airport’s recognition by J.D. Power as the top-rated mega airport in North America in 2017 for customer satisfaction.”
The airport is seeing increases in both domestic and international travel, said Vicki Jaramillo, senior director of air service development and marketing. Domestic travel was up 7.2 percent in 2017 and international was up 9.5 percent.
Orlando International counted 5.8 million international visitors in 2017, although that number includes only those arriving on direct flights. If they come in from New York or some other U.S. airport, they are counted as domestic. By comparison, Miami International logged in 21.5 million international passengers last year.
Through Orlando International, passengers have access to nearly 60 international destinations in 26 countries — and 19 of them have been added in the past three years.
“International visitors used to be 5 percent and are now 13 percent of our travel,” Jaramillo said. “The international visitor tends to stay longer and spend more, so the impact is higher of these particular markets.”
Orlando’s growth as a destination has been particularly important for attracting those international visitors, Jaramillo said. Travelers from some Latin American and other countries used to make a point of stopping in Miami before heading home so they could shop for high-end brands. The addition of more nonstop service to Latin American countries, including Brazil, and the opening of The Mall at Millenia in Orlando in 2002 helped keep them in Central Florida.
GOAA is in the middle of a multi-year $4.2 billion capital improvement plan to address the increased demand and the need for greater convenience for travelers. The expansion plans include:
• The South Airport Automated People Mover complex and six-story, 2,400-space Parking Garage C, which opened in November 2017 and is already helping to meet parking demands. Passengers can check in remotely, print boarding passes for participating airlines, and take the new people-mover train right to the Main Terminal.
• Construction on the Intermodal Terminal facility, which will serve Brightline train connections to West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. When Brightline arrives, Orlando International will be the only airport in the U.S. to have an on-airport hub for intercity rail.
• North Terminal improvements that include an expanded lobby, international arrivals facilities, an enhanced baggage system and new self-service kiosks.
• Site work that has begun on a new South Terminal complex with 19 gates. Phase I is expected to be completed in 2021.
• The addition of 15 new nonstop destinations since the beginning of this year, bringing the total offered at Orlando International to 139 – more than Tampa and Jacksonville combined.