City Spotlight: Orlando

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Orlando is the Self-Proclaimed and Undisputed Theme Park Capital of the World

by Asif Lakhani

Nestled approximately in the center of the state of Florida, Orlando is home to both Walt Disney World, which features a handful of parks within itself, and Universal Studios, where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been enchanting fans for nearly a decade. Other major theme park attractions in Orlando include SeaWorld and LEGOLAND.

So, it should come as no surprise that Orlando was the first U.S. city to exceed 70 million visitors in 2017, according to the city’s tourism bureau, Visit Orlando. Those numbers were enough for Orlando to be ranked fourth on the list of top travel destinations (behind Shanghai, Beijing, and Paris) worldwide, according to a report from the World Travel and Tourism Council published just a year ago.

During a call with reporters in September 2018 regarding Florida tourism numbers, then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott said, “Every 65 to 75 tourists is another Florida job,” according to Orlando Weekly. Tourism makes up the largest portion of Orlando’s payroll and consumer spending numbers, according to the Orlando Data Center.

To date, Orlando has 450 hotels with a total of 120,000 guest rooms, according to Visit Orlando. And there is steady growth on the horizon still.

LEGOLAND has announced it will open the Pirate Island Hotel, equipped with pirate-themed accommodations, in the spring of 2020. The new hotel will be the third on-site accommodation at LEGOLAND, according to the press release. It is slated to have 150 rooms, a pool and deck, LEGO models, and unique character experiences.

Elsewhere, Universal recently announced plans to open both hotels in its Endless Summer Resort development by 2020, as well. The Surfside Inn and Suites, scheduled to open in July 2019, is designed with the surf lifestyle in mind. The second hotel, the Dockside Inn and Suites, opens in May 2020 and boasts of an “escape to the perfect sunset” on the Universal Orlando website. Each hotel features standard rooms for as low as $85/night and two-bedroom suites for up to six adults beginning at $131/night. Universal estimates that the two hotels combined will add an additional 2,050 rooms to the central Florida tourism behemoth of Orlando.

Hotels and resorts aren’t the only attractions to be found in Orlando, however. In fact, the city is home to one of the best virtual reality (VR) experiences in America today. Nomadic is a VR arcade that claims to “blur the line” between reality and fantasy for all experience levels. Although the company is based in California, its first stateside gaming experiences can only be found in Orlando for now and at very affordable prices ($20-$25 per experience).

Other Orlando attractions include the NASA Kennedy Space Center, where rocket launches and rare artifacts can be viewed by the general public with the cost of admission. The center opened in the 1960s and was an instant sensation. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the building is that it receives no tax money to operate despite being affiliated with NASA. It relies completely on “visitor-generated revenue,” according to its website.

And Florida’s natural geography enables a tourism industry unique to itself. The Boggy Creek Airboat rides have been operating for 25 years and allow passengers to experience the wetlands, gators, and sunrises or sunsets in a one-of-a-kind way. Gatorland is another attraction where gators and crocodiles, synonymous with Florida culture, are on full display.

Orlando’s scenic views, competitive hotel rates, and accessibility (two major airports) make it an attractive destination for business travel and conferences annually. And AAHOA is proud to visit the city for its annual convention, AAHOACON, in 2020. Although the itinerary has yet to be determined, there will be no shortage of things to do, places to see, or venues to congregate in once AAHOA Members arrive.

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