Skift Take

It will be interesting to see if the Brand USA campaign to attract foreign visitors really kicks in at theme park turnstiles.

Travel to Orlando is expected to increase slightly in 2013, driven by Americans’ growing desire to get away for a while and by solid growth in the number of international visitors.

Visit Orlando, the area’s main tourism-marketing agency, expects about 57.3 million people to visit the area this year on vacation or business, which would be 1 percent higher than its still-unofficial estimate for 2012 — and a fourth consecutive annual record. After falling to 46.6 million in 2009, the latter part of the Great Recession, Orlando’s annual visitor count set records in 2010 and 2011 and is expected to do so a third time when the 2012 figure is confirmed.

The agency projects a 4.4 percent increase in international travelers this year, to 4.1 million. Even the number of U.S. visitors, initially expected to decline slightly, is now forecast by the bureau to rise 0.7 percent.

The slightly rosier picture is due to job growth across the country and signs that travelers are feeling more economically stable, said Danielle Courtenay, Visit Orlando’s chief marketing officer. Courtenay also noted that Orlando the tourist destination has several debuts this year, ranging from SeaWorld Orlando’s penguin-filled Antarctica “land” and Universal Orlando’s Transformers ride to Fun Spot’s addition of two roller coasters and a “skycoaster” at its amusement park on International Drive.

“It’s going to be an unprecedented expansion year for the destination,” Courtenay said. “… All of our research shows one of the drivers of intent to travel is to see something new.”

Michael Terry, an instructor in the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said U.S. consumer sentiment could be a concern; after rebounding at the end of 2011, it was uneven last year.

But the federal government’s new Brand USA campaign, designed to promote the U.S. as a vacation and business destination, is a plus for Orlando, which already considers itself the nation’s No. 1 travel destination.

“That is going to help us a great deal from an international point of view,” Terry said of the new federal program.

Projects on tap at Orlando International Airport this year include the addition of a “cell-phone” waiting lot on the north side of the main terminal, a $58 million refurbishment of the automated trams carrying passengers to Airsides 1 and 3, and the installation of new kiosks to help speed the processing of international passengers.

The airport also continues planning for construction of an automated people mover and ground-transportation center to accommodate proposed rail projects.

Southwest Airlines, by far OIA’s busiest carrier, says it is making progress with its integration of AirTran Airways, the Orlando-based airline it acquired in 2011. Chief executive Gary Kelly said the two carriers expect to have fully integrated networks for code sharing by early April, allowing both airlines to sell seats on each other’s flights.

Southwest plans to convert only eight more AirTran jets to Southwest colors and layout this year but intends to finish the process in 2014.

Expectations are modest for the cruise industry in 2013. Miami-based Carnival Corp., the dominant player, disappointed analysts last month when it predicted yields (the amount of money it makes per cruise passenger) would grow only between 1 percent and 2 percent this year.

The silver lining locally is that the Caribbean, the destination of Florida-based ships, appears to be the healthiest major market right now. Carnival said the Caribbean “looks strong right now”; it is booking early 2013 cruises at higher prices than a year ago, though occupancy is lagging a bit.

A healthy Caribbean would be welcome news for the Walt Disney Co., which will have three of its four cruise ships in the region much of the year. Its two newest ships, the 4,000-passenger Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, will both spend the year sailing out of Port Canaveral, an hour’s drive east of Orlando, while the 2,700-passenger Disney Wonder recently moved to Miami, where it will remain through May. ___


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Tags: orlando, tourism

Photo credit: Visit Orlando expects a record number of visitors in 2013 to venues such as Walt Disney World in Orlando (above). Leonardo DaSilva /

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