The year 2014 brought some of the most exciting announcements and new plans for the Orlando tourism industry. Topping the list was the record-breaking news in April of a total of 59 million visitors that came to Orlando in 2013 and the opening of various new attractions, hotels and resorts.
While 2014 numbers won’t be released until late spring, it’s expected that the upward trend will continue into the coming year. In 2014, the area saw record increases in Tourist Development Tax (TDT) in Orange County. For the first time ever, the County brought in more than $200 million in TDT receipts for fiscal year 2014 — a positive sign that Orlando will set another record for annual visitation.
In 2015, the key will be to continue that momentum and expand the Orlando brand domestically and globally, tap the next emerging markets and continue to give visitors reasons to continue coming back for more. Across all sectors, the goal for 2015 is to see continued growth and expansion in the destination.
Many upcoming attractions have been announced or have broken ground, and while none have openings set for 2015, there are plenty that opened in 2014, such as Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Orlando Resort and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. These new attractions will attract repeat visitors to the area, many of whom will get their first chance to experience them.
Development along I-Drive will also continue, with the groundbreaking of Skyplex and the opening of the $200 million I-Drive 360 project in the spring. The re-imagineering of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs will also continue construction, with the official opening in 2016.
It seems as though there is an announcement of a new restaurant in the tourism corridor every day in Orlando. In 2015, Mango’s, located in the heart of International Drive, will have a major impact on the dining and nightlife scene. Del Frisco’s will also return to the market next year with a new restaurant in the convention district.
The upcoming Disney Springs development at Downtown Disney will also add additional new dining to the destination. A few notable ones will be two waterfront restaurants — Morimoto Asia Pan-Asian restaurant from “Iron Chef” star Masaharu Morimoto, and The Boathouse, which will include steaks, chops, fresh seafood and a raw bar while also featuring boats from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
The new dining options that will be included with I-Drive 360 and the I-Shops development at International Drive and Sand Lake Road already is having a positive impact and will continue to in the future as more locations open.
The major headliner for sports development in Orlando will be Orlando City Soccer’s inaugural Major League Soccer (MLS) season and the reconstructed Citrus Bowl. Orlando City’s MLS debut will begin this year in March. Thousands of season tickets have already been sold to those who want to be part of a significant milestone in Orlando sports history.
The new 19,500-seat Orlando City Soccer stadium, which will be two blocks from the Amway Center and within walking distance of the downtown district, is expected to be completed for the 2016 season, while 2015 season games will be held at the newly reconstructed Citrus Bowl. These developments have all been made possible in large part due to Tourist Development Tax dollars generated by Orlando visitors.
IPW Comes to Orlando
U.S. Travel Association’s 47th annual IPW, the travel industry’s premier international marketplace, will take place in Orlando, May 30 to June 3. Last year, it drew roughly 1,400 travel buyers and 500 news media to the U.S.
It’s been five years since Orlando last hosted IPW. The destination has evolved a great deal since then, and through its partnership with Disney, SeaWorld and Universal, Visit Orlando plans to showcase the theme parks and all of Orlando to the world’s top international tour operators that sell travel to the U.S. by enabling them to experience firsthand the results of one of the most significant expansion periods in our local tourism community’s history.
Tourism Drives Economy
Having welcomed 59 million visitors in 2013, travel is an undisputed driver of Orlando’s economy. Tourism supports job growth, energizes our local communities and bridges cultural divides.
One in three of us in Orlando have a job because of tourism. We enjoy a quality of life usually reserved for residents of much larger metropolitan cities with greater tax burdens on its citizens. And we benefit from a local culture that’s not only known worldwide for its legendary customer service, but also excellent at making everyone feel welcome no matter where they are from or what language they speak.
As the official tourism association, we have set a goal of being the first destination in the United States to attract more than 60 million travelers. To achieve that, we must continue to develop innovative and breakthrough ways to market and sell the incredible amount of new development and expansion across Orlando. We also need to continue to partner with our colleagues at the national level to improve travel facilitation and expand initiatives like the visa waiver program, which increases security and removes barriers for travelers from countries that are allied with the United States.
As we begin this new year, I commend all of our local tourism professionals for their part in making Orlando an aspirational destination for visitors from around the world and I challenge us all to remain steadfast and committed toward our vision of becoming the most visited destination in the world.
– George Aguel, President & CEO of Visit Orlando