Creating an Unforgettable Destination | Partnering to Build the World’s Vacation Spot
Sometimes our proximity can dull us to just how remarkable this area is and the industry that gives it worldwide renown. Like a janitor in the Louvre, we can forget we are home to the most creative and innovative venues from theme parks to landmark resorts and sporting events, all placed in an incredible environment that is inviting year-round. These amenities, along with beaches and cruise ships, are so compelling that they draw people from around the world, not once, but repeatedly. It is a formula other states and nations look on with envy and admiration.
What is more, this constellation of destinations and amenities, which includes shopping, fine dining and entertainment, golf and now tennis meccas, are places locals are able to enjoy every week. Others save for a lifetime to experience what we enjoy regularly.
The key to this domestic and international magnetism is that the attractions and resorts are the very definition of “world class.” What is more, not satisfied with being the industry’s gold standard, they are in a relentless pursuit to make each successive tourist’s visit unique and memorable. Painting over the existing canvas, these imagination factories add fabulous new, capitally intensive, experiences like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or Disney’s New Fantasyland. In addition, iconic brands like the Waldorf Astoria want to make this area the vacation location for their discriminating business clientele.
A Jewel In the Crown
One of the seasoned voices within the tourism and hospitality industry is Peter Kacheris. A 30-year industry veteran, Kacheris served with Marriott and as complex general manager of the 2,265-room Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, before becoming the managing director for the Waldorf Astoria Orlando and the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.
The Waldorf Astoria Orlando, which Kacheris opened in 2009, is connected by a conference center to the Hilton Bonnet Creek that shares its property. It was the first for the brand outside of New York, and today there are over 20 worldwide. When he was named director, Ted Ratcliff, senior vice president, commented, “Peter brings an unrivaled management background to this landmark project. His knowledge and relationships in Central Florida are important assets as we introduce one of our company’s most anticipated resort destinations.”
One could describe the culture Kacheris has produced at the Waldorf and Hilton as “casual elegance.” Though the service and staff are legendary in producing that signature and memorable experience, they are places people come not just to work but to relax and play. Of course, running a resort complex of this size and being involved in many of the tourism and hospitality industry’s efforts in the region must be taxing, but his passion and satisfaction of being in the job he was destined for seems to shine through.
“I started, in the industry when I was young because I loved to travel and to work with people. The industry has been good to me. I hopped on with Marriott in 1978 and it was like riding a rocket. When I started, there were 30 hotels and we were opening 23 new hotels a year. I was at the right place at the right time and I like being in the industry of being around people who are having the greatest times of their lives,” he said. “Being in an office 9 to 5 isn’t for me. We’ll have a party on the property tonight and I’ll just go out to visit with people.”
Investments That Keep Paying
When plans were being made to build downtown Orlando venues like the Amway Center, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, Orlando City Soccer’s stadium or the makeover of the Citrus Bowl, using funds from the Tourist Development Tax was hotly debated. The 6 percent tax is charged on short-term rentals, mostly hotel and motel rooms and used finance shared amenities, and promotes the area internationally by organizations like Visit Orlando. It has generated nearly $3 billion since being instituted in 1978.
The economic prudence of how those funds have been directed has been confirmed in countless ways. Not only with the success of the Orange County Convention Center, but the fact that Orlando City Soccer’s leadership chose to privately finance the stadium themselves. Orlando City Owner Flávio Augusto da Silva and President Phil Rawlins recently announced the stadium, originally envisioned as a city-owned venue, will now be owned and operated privately by Orlando City.
“This is a big signal in how we believe in this city, how we believe in this community, how we believe in these people, this marketplace and these fans,” Augusto da Silva said.
Kacheris, from his position as former president of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association and as current chair of Visit
Orlando, has been a keen observer and active participant in these transformational efforts.
“I recently told Mayor Jacobs, ‘You won the lotto.’ Everything we have tried to do has worked, beyond our expectations,” he beamed. “Mayor Dyer had this vision for what downtown Orlando could be 12 years ago, when no one wanted to go down there. I said to him, ‘Your vision has worked; all these pieces you put together have come into reality.’ As the president of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association in 2005 when we started talking about these downtown venues, it was quite exciting; it was just fun to watch how it all works,” Kacheris said.
Keeping the First Thing First
One of the strengths of the Central Florida market is that though Marriott competes with Hilton and Disney with Universal, they all share a common purpose, which produces an amazing synergy.
“The nice thing about working in the hospitality industry in Orlando is that most leaders here are seasoned veterans,” Kacheris explained. “All of the large brands come from corporate cultures that emphasize serving and giving back to the communities we are in, so we see each other quite a bit and even socialize together.
“Without exception, all of us believe our first mission is to sell Orlando, to convince people that this is the greatest place on the planet to visit. Once we get people here, then it is up to us individually to sell our particular product. We understand that each of us offers specific amenities and we compete, but we understand that.
“I loved the charm and friendliness of Atlanta when I worked there. Chicago, downtown Chicago, was just wonderfully vibrant. But Orlando has such a unique culture and there is such a sense of collaborative purpose. When Hurricane Katrina hit, our association donated 10,000 to 12,000 pounds of hygiene and toiletry products for the victims. We flew in to Baton Rouge and I was privileged to represent not our brand, but the industry in the area, and it was amazing.”
In order to sustain the momentum the region has produced, Kacheris shared his views. “First and foremost, we have to maintain our position as a family-friendly environment, to make it a place you’re comfortable bringing your family. For instance you wouldn’t want to incorporate casino gambling in Orlando. Also, to continue to have the parks investing in their infrastructure, they are recreating themselves every few years, so people come back multiple times.”
“We have to make the infrastructure investments and ensure national and international airline travel is open, convenient and second to none. Of course, we have to continue to fund our collective efforts to advertise our destination. We are severely underspent compared to our competitors; in the case of Las Vegas, it is 10 to 1. Finally, we have to target the international customers since they stay longer and spend more; every international carrier that makes us a direct connect has a $75 to $100 million economic impact.