Orlando still top U.S. destination

Posted at 7:05 AM, May 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-03 07:08:33-04

It’s a crowded world after all — at least in Orlando’s hotels and theme parks.

Tourism officials announced Monday that the number of visitors coming to Orlando last year jumped 5.5 percent to more than 66 million visitors.

That figure sets a record for tourists in Orlando and helps the central Florida city hang onto its bragging rights as the top tourist destination in the United States for the second year in a row.

The head of Orlando’s tourist marketing bureau says a combination of factors contributed to the increase, including momentum from new theme park rides that had opened the previous year, such as Universal Studios’ Harry Potter ride, Diagon Alley, and Walt Disney World’s revamped Fantasyland.


But Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel also credited a new marketing campaign aimed at pulling on tourists’ heartstrings. Visit Orlando’s “Neverending Story” campaign encouraged Orlando visitors to share stories about their visits, as well as photos, and they were posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“What makes this destination unique is that when you come here, you get a personal, memorable experience that you don’t typically get from visiting other destinations,” Aguel said. “People really make memories of a lifetime when they come here. It’s very emotional and we make an emotional connection and we sort of tapped into that.”

More than 10 million visitors came to Orlando for conventions or business meetings, Aguel said, and the tax collected on hotels and motels in 2015 was $230 million.

There were about 5.5 million international visitors and 60.5 million domestic tourists.

Canadians and Brazilians continued to be Orlando’s top source of visitors from outside the United States, despite a weak currency in Canada and an economic slowdown in Brazil, Aguel said. Visit Orlando is waiting to release the exact breakdown of international visitors until the National Travel & Tourism Office releases comparable figures in early summer. Nonetheless, Aguel said, “We are very confident in the overall mix, as it is based on airline data and input from industry experts.”

Visit Orlando uses airline data, hotel room occupancy, and national tourism figures, among other data points, to calculate the number of visitors.

Increases in the number of flights between Orlando and Brazil in 2015, as well as a wide variety of pricing options for hotels, helped offset the economic concerns in Brazil.

“We do know Brazilians are very passionate about Orlando,” Aguel said. “The airlines did a very good job of promoting the airfare opportunities, that they had the increased capability. Back here, we have such an enormous amount of properties at so many price points.”