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This week Orlando received two important recognitions that are both meaningful and encouraging as Americans begin making 2017 vacation plans.
First is the good news that one of the leading gay travel websites, GayCities.com , has named Orlando "City of the Year." We will be officially recognized on Dec. 12 in conjunction with the Community Marketing LGBT Tourism & Hospitality Conference, and Orlando will be featured on their popular website all month long. We are proud that our destination is so inclusive and welcoming to all, and want to ensure that our members also know that we offer LGBTQ vacation planning resources on VisitOrlando.com/LGBTQ.
We are also very pleased to share that TripAdvisor named Orlando as the No. 1 winter travel destination where Americans can save based on search interest and average weekly cost.
Congratulations to all of our members who work hard to create this amazing destination and make our visitors' experience special.
Close to 50 million Americans are expected to take to the roads next week, making it the busiest Thanksgiving for travel since 2007, according to AAA. Thankfully, many of these travelers are expected to arrive here, in Orlando. Our destination is continually ranked among the top places to spend the Thanksgiving holiday as recently noted by AAA and Reservations.com.
Traditionally a busy weekend for travel, Thanksgiving occupancy is already pacing ahead of 2015 and advance bookings are up nearly 4 percent over the same period last year. While AAA attributes the bump to lower gas prices and anticipates nearly 89 percent of these travelers will arrive by car, air travel is also expected to be on the rise this season.
Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the beginning of a holiday season full of events and specially-themed venues. There will be winter celebrations at the parks and plenty of good cheer throughout our many resorts and attractions as well as a host of exciting ways for our guests to ring in the New Year.
Travelers to the area will also be rewarded with a variety of Black Friday deals that include hotel savings and added amenities, restaurant offers and discount tickets to area attractions.
The strong Thanksgiving weekend predictors, coupled with all that Orlando has planned for the holiday season, gives us every reason to believe the fourth quarter will usher our destination into a prosperous new year.
Easily accessible and boasting a wide variety of experiences, Orlando offers a vacation for every taste and every budget. In fact, Forbes Magazine has just given families more reason than ever to head to our destination by ranking Orlando at the top of the 20 Most Affordable Cities for Family Travel. To create the Forbes ranking, SmartAsset looked at the costs of a three-day/three-night trip for four people to 48 of the largest U.S. cities. Including hotel, car rental, airfare and restaurants, Orlando came in as the best vacation value in the nation.
From luxury escapes to budget-friendly trips, our destination offers a wide selection of vacation options that allow visitors to tailor an experience that's right for them. They can chose between the convenient access of flying or welcome back the family road trip for even greater savings given the current drop in gas prices and the ease of getting here.
With seven of the world's top theme parks, a host of culinary options and weather just made for a day at the waterparks, our destination remains a favorite of traveling families. In addition, the area has just welcomed a host of brand new attractions, giving visitors plenty of reasons to take that long-anticipated trip to Orlando or return again to discover what's new.
Orlando has just been named the #1 meetings destination in the United States. According to Cvent, a leading event management company which sources nearly $10 billion annually in events around the globe, Orlando has again achieved the highest ranked spot on the Top 50 Meeting Destinations in the United States list. This repeat honor is a testament to the investment we, and our members, make to market, sell and create assets that make Orlando the ideal location for meetings and conventions.
Of the more than 5,000 U.S. cities that were evaluated, the leaders consistently made investments in infrastructure, featured hotel renovations and were committed to economic factors to make the destination more appealing. Cvent claims that "all of these cities can learn from multi-year leader Orlando that the only way to remain on top is to continue investing and innovating to remain competitive year after year." Following behind Orlando on the U.S. list were Chicago and Las Vegas.
With more than 118,000 hotel rooms, a host of resorts and special event venues, a top ranking by Cvent gathers the attention of countless meeting planners who rely on the endorsement when booking their next events. With superior accommodations and meeting sites, easy, convenient air service and a gold standard of hospitality it's easy to see why these meeting professionals love Orlando and continue consider us again and again.
When Cvent released its annual list of the most popular meeting hotels in the nation, 12 were Visit Orlando members! With a dozen top performers, Orlando had more mentions on the prestigious list than any other city in the United States. Cvent, a supplier network for professional meetings, spent the past year researching thousands of properties to arrive at what it considered the most popular. Whether for business or weddings, event venues or corporate gatherings, these hotels represent the tried-and-true favorites among the sites for many meeting and event planners.
While Orlando is known as the vacation capital of the world, we are also among the top meeting destinations. We are frequently recognized for our creative, unique and immersive experiences, and culture of hospitality has long been a hallmark of our destination. Already this year, the destination has welcomed a record number of meetings and conventions - making this one of the best first quarter starts in recent history. These visitors mean more jobs, greater exposure and a huge economic impact for our community.
Orlando's status as a destination of choice was once again confirmed when Forbes Travel Guide rated three Orlando hotels, two restaurants and three spas to its Global Star list. The honor is given to properties that meet the industry's most stringent hospitality standards. In total, more than 500 criteria are evaluated to determine a Star Rating, which means travelers can be assured these properties are among the finest in the world.
Returning to the Global Star list for 2016 are The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, Grande Lakes and the Villas of Grand Cypress. These luxury properties are joined this year by first-time recipient Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, all receiving four-star ratings. The Nine18 and Victoria & Albert's restaurants returned with four stars as did the Relâche Spa & Salon and The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Orlando, Grande Lakes. The Spa at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort appeared for the first time as a four-star winner.
Founded in 1958 by Mobil, the Forbes Travel Guide is the oldest travel guide in the United States and a global benchmark for luxury travel. Many of our leisure visitors and business travelers alike rely on the guide when searching for the world's most-preferred properties.
The Forbes Travel Guide ratings are among the latest awards our destination has received so far this year from other recognizable organizations. As we look to the future, Orlando's popularity will continue to rise and these properties, along with many other highly rated hotels and venues, provide more and more visitors to our area with diverse options for accommodations, superior services and unforgettable attractions.
As winter-weary Northerners endure the last cold blasts of the season, scores of sun-seekers are headed our way for what looks to be a record spring break. In fact, in a recent survey by Orbitz.com, Orlando was ranked the number one Spring Break Destination for 2016. According to the survey, this year's travelers are seeking relaxation, convenience and value, making Orlando the ideal choice for spring travel.
With seven of the world's top theme parks, Orlando has always been a family favorite, but in recent years the destination has expanded its appeal even more. From fine dining and outdoor adventure to festivals and weather just made for a day at the waterparks, there's something for everyone. To welcome this year's spring break travelers, our members are offering a host of hotel deals, attraction discounts and must-do activities that are detailed on VisitOrlando.com - adding even greater value to an already highly sought-after Orlando getaway.
The Orbitz ranking coincides with even more accolades from travel giant Trip Advisor, which just released the Top 20 Trending US Vacation Rental Markets. Not only did we make the list, Orlando showed a 53 percent increase in bookings from 2015 to 2016.
As we round out the week, temperatures are climbing and the skies are blue. It's the perfect time of year to welcome visitors to our home and introduce them to the many things there are to love about Orlando.
Early this week Expedia named Orlando the "Destination to Watch for 2016." This high praise from the leading online travel company comes as a result of an expansion in leisure services and activities. Long known for theme parks, Orlando is now also being looked at by travel-makers, like Expedia, as a "legitimate foodie destination, a city with actual luxury hotels and a year-round destination where families can have genuine fun..."
As we enter 2016, we are excited the travel industry is once again recognizing what we've long known: Orlando is a world-class destination with a wide variety of experiences and countless reasons to visit again and again.
Orlando's meteoric rise on the culinary scene comes on the heels of three consecutive years of garnering the most nominations of any Florida destination for the prestigious James Beard Foundation's Restaurant and Chef Award. In fact, five of our area chefs were recognized as semifinalists in the "Best Chefs in the South" category for 2015. Orlando was also named among the "10 Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2015" by Wine Enthusiast and The New York Times cited the destination's "surprising food scene" when it listed us as one of the "Top 52 Places to Visit in 2015."
Luxury hotels with expanded offerings for couples were another reason for the nod from the online travel giant. Coupled with the emergence of new attractions beyond our famous theme parks, the destination is poised to offer a greater variety of experiences than ever before. In fact, attractions like The Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts, Pointe Orlando and the Orlando Eye were given as examples of why Expedia claims Orlando is "worth a closer look."
For the third consecutive year, Orlando captured more nominations in the James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards-considered the Oscars of the culinary world-than any other Florida destination.
The five Orlando chefs named semifinalists in the "Best Chefs in the South" category are Kathleen Blake (The Rusty Spoon), Scott Hunnel (Victoria & Albert's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa), James and Julie Petrakis (The Ravenous Pig) and Hari Pulapaka (Cress).
This week's announcement comes on the heels of several prominent culinary accolades for our destination, including Wine Enthusiast naming Orlando one of the "Ten Best Wine Travel Destinations for 2015" and The New York Times highlighting Orlando's "surprising food scene" as a reason to choose Orlando as one of the "52 Places to Go in 2015." With an intriguing lineup of both original and world-famous restaurants set to open in 2015, Orlando is poised to expand even further as a culinary destination in 2015. Recognition like this helps broaden the appeal of our destination among leisure visitors and helps Orlando compete more aggressively in the strategically important convention market.
On behalf of Orlando's tourism community, we'd like to thank our passionate community of chefs for the role they serve in making memorable experiences for our visitors. Best of luck to Kathleen, Scott, James, Julie and Hari against our nation's top chefs in this year's James Beard Awards.
It's been said recently by those that do not live in Orlando, that our local dining scene was one of our best-kept secrets not yet on the national radar. If that's the case, then Orlando as a shopping destination may be one of our worst-kept secrets. Next to being the theme park capital of the world, our destination has fast become a place where millions of visitors from around the world come to shop. Following theme parks, our visitors tell us that shopping is the second-most-popular and appealing activity in Orlando.
After all, we offer everything from luxurious brands to one of the greatest collection of outlets anywhere on earth. Orlando visitors can just as easily find a plush version of their favorite character at our theme parks as they can stumble upon a unique piece of art in one of our distinctive neighborhoods. Plus, most of what makes Orlando such a great shopping destination can be found within a 15-mile radius of our tourism district. For many of our international visitors, shopping in Orlando offers them unique product and significant value from what they find in their home country.
More retail locations in close proximity to each other and great diversity of brands translates into Orlando's recognition as one of the most popular retail destinations in the nation. In fact, Fortune magazine recently ranked The Mall at Millenia No. 7 and Orlando Premium Outlets No. 8 on its list of The 10 Highest Sales-Generating Malls in the U.S. Being a very attractive shopping destination for visitors creates a better quality of life for those of us who live here and lessens our tax burden. That's something to be thankful for.