The Sunshine State shatters tourism numbers, hosts a world record, and makes way for the tallest roller coaster on the globe.
Tourism, a $70 billion industry in Florida employing 1.1 million residents, is hot indeed for the Sunshine State. According to preliminary estimates by VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation, 2014 brought 98.9 million visitors, an increase of 5.1 percent from 2013. This marks the fourth consecutive record year for tourism in the state.
“Anyone would be happy to see their business grow year over year. But it is absolutely amazing when an entire industry keeps beating record numbers, while adding jobs and supporting the rest of the state’s economy,” said Andrew Hertz, chair of the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors.
The state’s hospitality mat greeted 11.5 million overseas visitors and 3.8 million Canadians.
And the good news continues. Orlando claimed its own record in 2014 with more than 62 million visitors, making it the most popular destination in the country. Visitation grew 5 percent, local revenue hit $60 billion and a record 32 million room nights were sold in Orange County.
“The travel and tourism industry is the largest generator of jobs and economic impact for our region,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.
Orange County bed tax revenue supported construction of Orlando’s Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts and the Orlando Citrus Bowl renovation. Last year, the revenue topped $200 million.
On top of it all, quite literally, a world record was also broken in late April atop the new 400-foot observation wheel, known as The Orlando Eye. Nik Wallenda, daredevil and member of the famous Sarasota Wallenda circus family, walked untethered on the spinning attraction, wet from rain that morning, making his feat all the more impressive.
NBC’s Today Show broadcast the event live.
Located on the famed 11.1-mile International Drive, The Orlando Eye is seeing huge growth in one of Orlando’s long-standing tourist areas. I-Drive 360 is a new $200 million entertainment complex that features Madame Tussauds (opened in early May), SEA LIFE aquarium and restaurants, clubs and shops. Future plans in the area include the iSquare mega-mall and hotel.
And the popular I-Drive will also be featuring a $300 million SKYPLEX indoor entertainment complex being developed by Wallack Holdings that includes the Skyscraper, the world’s tallest roller coaster at 570 feet scheduled to open in 2016 and the 450-foot drop ride called SkyFall.
Plans were announced in early May for an adjacent 350-room hotel and a restaurant to be located atop the Skyscraper, certain to offer a bird’s-eye view for patrons.
One of the state’s premier tourist destinations turned 100 with a splash. The Miami Beach centennial celebration held on South Beach fittingly lasted 100 hours from March 22 to 26 and included concerts, fashion shows, tennis exhibitions and weddings. But on “America’s Riviera” the party won’t stop officially until Oct. 31. The economic impact of events such as Art Basel, Auto Show, Art Deco Weekend and SOBE Wine and Food Festival is so large it’s difficult to quantify.
And while the previous century was cause for celebration, city leaders are looking to the future with the groundbreaking later this year of the new Miami Beach Convention Center expansion. The $592-million project is expected to generate $2.5 billion over 30 years. An additional 70,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space, a new 5.8-acre park with a veterans’ memorial plaza and 900 onsite parking spaces on the roof of the building are all planned.
And the oldest city in the United States is having its own birthday in late summer. St. Augustine turns 450 and its celebration is planned Sept. 4 to 8, including music and street festivals and a re-enactment of Pedro Menendez’s momentous landing at the Mission Nombre de Dios.
It’s not only Florida’s theme parks that draw visitors, but the state’s natural beauty scores big as well. More than 10.6 million visited national parks in Florida in 2014, according to a report released in April by the National Park Service (NPS). They spent almost $628 million, generating 9,758 jobs and a cumulative economic benefit of $909.9 million.
“Visitors come to have a great experience, and end up having an economic benefit to the communities they visit,” said NPS Regional Director Stan Austin.
National parks in Florida include Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Canaveral National Seashore, Castillo De San Marcos National Monument, De Soto National Memorial, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park, Fort Caroline National Memorial, Fort Matanzas National Monument, Gulf Islands National Seashore and Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
CRUISE INDUSTRY FORECAST: SMOOTH SAILING
Tallahassee-based Florida TaxWatch forecasts more growth for Florida’s cruise industry, already the nation’s largest.
In 2013, more than 9 million cruise passengers sailed through state seaports, generating $7.3 billion in direct spending. The cruise industry supported 140,408 jobs statewide, more than half of U.S.-based cruise line employment.
Florida is home to three of the world’s most visited cruise ports: PortMiami, Port Everglades and Port Canaveral, which is expected to become the world’s busiest cruise port by the end of the decade. It is also home of the two largest cruise ships in the world: Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas.
BRICKS AND LEGOS
The colorful 5-story, $26 million LEGOLAND Florida Hotel in Winter Haven’s Polk County celebrated its grand opening on May 15. The 152-room hotel has more than 2,000 Lego models and more than two million Lego bricks. Located adjacent to the Legoland Florida Resort theme park that opened in 2011, it offers guests early morning access to the park. Kids can choose from four designs: pirate, adventure, kingdom and LEGO friends.
Building blocks and fun for kids and adults alike.
THEME PARK 411
King Kong will be roaring back at Universal Orlando in summer 2016. Universal announced that Kong, the eighth wonder of the world, will be residing at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The new ride will be based on the 2005 film Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Universal also announced a partnership with video game maker Nintendo for a new attraction.
And Universal’s Volcano Bay water park, located on 50 acres south of its Cabana Bay resort, will open in fall 2016.
The multiyear and multimillion-dollar transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs is in full gear. The 600-seat waterfront Boathouse restaurant opened in mid-April at The Landing, one of four neighborhoods that will comprise the shopping, dining and entertainment area of Downtown Disney more than doubling the number of venues from 70 to nearly 150.
BED TIME IN PANAMA CITY
Voters in Panama City are reaping rewards from their approval of a 5 percent bed tax levied in 2015. In the first quarter, the bed tax provided the Panama City Community Development Corporation a total of $351,399. Mayor Greg Brudnicki has expressed excitement to see future numbers. The bed tax is charged to guests staying in any of the more than 1,500 hotel rooms in Panama City.