Summer is looking up for Orlando tourism industry
According to Sara Clarke’s recent artcile in the Orlando Sentinel, signs point toward a good summer for Orlando’s primary industry, as hotels look to fill more rooms and theme parks are riding on a wave of pent-up demand.
With Memorial Day weekend the unofficial start of the summer travel season, Orlando is expected to be one of the top spots on travelers’ minds.
“We’re doing great compared to the rest of the country,” said Abraham Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. “The hospitality and tourism industries are recovering and are seeing some good times – I wouldn’t say the best of times.”
Pizam attributes the positive momentum to people giving into their desire for a vacation even though the overall economy is still struggling.
“Those who can afford … will dig into their savings and spend money in order to get away from all the bad news,” Pizam said. “The question that is the most important one: Is that sustainable?”
For this summer, at least, that appears to be the case.
Orbitz.com said in April that Orlando ranked top on its list of most popular summer travel destinations for 2011, ahead of cities such as Las Vegas, Seattle, Los Angeles and Denver.
SeaWorld Orlando said last week that it is expecting attendance growth this summer, while Universal Studios is awaiting the release of the final movie installment of the Harry Potter series in July, which could bump attendance at its already wildly popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Disney officials expressed more caution, saying recently that hotel bookings through the end of June are slightly behind those of last year, although they said their rooms are commanding higher rates than a year ago.
Tourism businesses will have to battle the continuingly sluggish economy and high gas prices to make this summer a success story.
With gas averaging $3.79 a gallon nationwide on Sunday, the federal U.S. Energy Information Administration has said it thinks prices have peaked. Still, the cost of a gallon of gasoline remains about a dollar higher than at this time a year ago – something that could have a psychological effect on travelers.
Orlando’s hoteliers say they’ve got their eye on gas prices but aren’t sounding the alarm yet.
“We’re monitoring the situation, but we’re not as concerned as it relates to gas pricing at this point,” said Richard Maladecki, president of the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association.
One concern Orlando won’t have to deal with this year: the threat of oil on Florida’s shores. Leading into last summer season, tourism officials still had their eye on the millions of gallons of crude oil that had poured into the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in April.
This year, Maladecki said, hoteliers are expecting to see a continuation of the positive performance they reported during the first three months. In March, hotels recorded their best occupancy rate in years and slightly higher prices.
“We’re seeing our advanced bookings at a considerably higher pace than they were last year at this time,” said John Brost, general manager of Mystic Dunes Resort & Golf Club. “Still not up to the 2007 years, but significantly better.”
For Orlando’s tourism market, looking past Memorial Day and into the summer isn’t an easy task. While many in the industry are feeling good about the upcoming leisure season, travelers are still planning their vacations with relatively short notice, making projections difficult.
“It’s still a very short-term-booking market,” said Gary Sain, president and chief executive officer of Visit Orlando, the local visitors’ bureau. “I think as we get into it, we’ll have a little bit of a better understanding.”
Happy (US) Memorial Day!
Bill Cowie President
Orlando office 407 396 9914
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