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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.
As Orlando packs up the jack-o-lanterns and wraps up two months of Halloween festivities, I'd like to share results from a successful new campaign we undertook this year to drive more demand to visit us during this period.
The Halloween industry has had an incredible rise in consumer popularity, doubling in size in the last decade and generating an estimated $8.4 billion in retail spending. Realizing that Orlando has a competitive advantage over other destinations with the quantity - and quality - of Halloween events we offer, this year Visit Orlando launched a new campaign laying claim to Orlando as the "World's Halloween Capital."
Through several creative media stories and unique social media campaigns, we created a point-of-difference for our destination. These efforts generated more than 160 million new consumer impressions for Orlando in news media and online. We secured stories in national outlets such as the New York Times , FOX news, and the Weather Channel among others.
The feedback and results from this campaign were a "screaming success" and uniquely positioned Orlando again as no other destination in the country. We look forward to expanding it even more next year.
Thanks to a stellar September, Orlando's fall season is shaping up nicely. With spectacular year-over-year growth, September was our strongest one since 1996. It began with the FSU/Ole Miss match-up that extended the Labor Day holiday by another day and brought a 16.4 percent rise in Average Daily Rate for the final weekend of summer travel.
In addition, we are happy to report that the Orange County Convention Center had an extremely strong showing during the first month of autumn. Not only was citywide attendance at the Center up an astounding 85 percent compared to last year, Orlando hosted eight groups with more than 10,000 attendees each, including Graph Expo which brought 21,000 attendees to our community. During September, occupancy on I-Drive rose 9 percent over last year.
The early start to Halloween, numerous fall events and a very successful Magical Dining Month helped generate interest in our destination. In addition, Visit Orlando's increased marketing efforts, particularly in the Atlanta region and throughout Florida, is showing promise to help our autumn visitation.
Fueling excitement for Orlando's culinary scene, WalletHub just named our destination "Best Foodie City." Among 150 major U.S. metro areas, Orlando was top on the list, which ranked everything from food festivals to the accessibility of high-quality restaurants.
In total, a record 96 restaurants participated - 19 for the first time - and a who's who of acclaimed chefs gave area food-lovers plenty to explore during this month-long celebration. Driving the buzz behind this year's event was the just-revealed Visit Orlando app, which let diners easily search menus, pull up directions and book their own culinary experiences.
Best of all, Magical Dining Month allowed guests to dine for a cause. A dollar from every meal will go to support The Russell Home for Atypical Children, the first non-profit in the nation to care for special needs children and "child-like" adults in a caring, forever home.
The Best Foodie City award and the success of this year's Magical Dining Month confirm what we already know: Orlando's dining scene has never tasted so good and there's much to be discovered by simply exploring our destination in our own backyard.
This coveted designation came on the heels of Magical Dining Month, which helped Visit Orlando capture more of the attention of the Florida market while creating even more excitement for our community. Initial reports suggest a record number of diners turned out for the event in September. Taking notice was an impressive list of media outlets and tastemakers. Enthusiasm surrounding Magical Dining was impossible to miss with coverage in print, on television and nearly every social media channel.
From adult-size scares to kid-friendly frights, Orlando is now the "Halloween Capital of the World" with more than 130 events spread out over a two-month celebration. There are haunted houses with cinematic-worthy effects and ghoulish parties, and not so scary ones, for kids of all ages. In fact, we are planning to host one of the nation's largest horror conventions, Spooky Empire. All in all, Orlando has created a Halloween experience with a scale and sophistication like nowhere else - giving travelers every reason to come and making what used to be child's play a serious destination draw.
We know that visitors come to enjoy our world-class theme parks and attractions, but fall kicks off a season where guests also experience more events than at any other time of the year. It all begins with Halloween where zombie walks and spooky forests, trick or treating and even a fright-filled ballet make the Orlando experience even bigger and better. This is also the time of year where we welcome many world-class food festivals - which lead up to Orlando's premier holiday events.
While many destinations have settled into off-peak periods, our stellar seasonal events provide travelers with an even greater incentive to visit and explore all that is new. Social media channels, blogs and publicity efforts showcase the excitement and bring the story to life. So whether it's the highest percentage of adults-only travelers that we will see all year or families who are looking to treat the kids to a Halloween like no other, there are plenty of reasons we can expect this fall season to be nothing short of spectacular.
The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) plans to relocate its global headquarters to Orlando. Beginning in 2017, the largest trade association for the $39 billion worldwide attractions industry intends to move from its current location in Alexandria, Virginia, to our community.
With the leadership support of Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, the IAAPA board of directors agreed that moving their international headquarters to Orlando will make it easier for members from around the world to connect with each other as well as with industry suppliers and innovators. As the theme park capital of the world, Orlando is the epicenter of tourism activity and creativity, and we are proud to welcome the IAAPA team and know they will feel right at home.
In addition to being the new home for IAAPA, Orlando will also continue to play host to the organization's annual conference and trade show. The agreement to hold the expo here has now been extended through 2030; five years beyond our current agreement. In total, Orlando will serve as host of this event for 20 years! Each year the convention draws more than 30,000 tourism-related attendees and since the early 2000s has generated over $1 billion in economic impact.
As we headed into Labor Day, those of us in the tourism industry had every reason to be optimistic. Not only was airport passenger traffic and convention center attendance on the rise, but tourist tax collections this summer were also nearly two percent higher than last year, putting the destination on pace for record collections. While it's true that occupancy levels have softened when compared to 2015's banner performance, they remain higher than every other year since 1998 and average daily rates are at an all-time peak as well.
Coming on the heels of this good news we entered the final weekend of summer travel and Labor Day gave us much to be excited about. Not only did occupancy climb 5.8 percent over last year, but demand for room nights also rose by 7.3 percent. Plus, with Orlando playing host to the sellout FSU/Ole Miss showdown, the destination extended the impact of the weekend with the additional demand for Monday night stays, resulting in a 16.4 percent rise in ADR.
All in all, it was a great way to cap off our summer and usher in the high-paced fall and holiday seasons. All indicators are pointing to a healthy end to 2016 with Halloween, the winter holidays and New Year's just around the corner. As temperatures drop, enthusiasm is on the rise for Orlando's new attractions, extensive convention line up and exciting winter-themed events - all of them reasons for us to anticipate another positive fourth quarter.
As our industry turns our attention toward the second half of 2016, there are some bright spots on the horizon. Tourist tax collections, convention center attendance and airport passenger traffic are all higher than last year. In addition, several indicators are suggesting improved performance in the fall that will continue throughout 2017. For example, Orlando's advanced bookings for the remainder of the year are pacing ahead of where we found ourselves at this same time last year, and the latest lodging forecasts for 2017 predict room-night demand will grow 3 percent and ADR will rise by 3.6 percent.
While the remainder of the year is strong on the convention side, Orlando's convention commitments for 2017 are also pacing ahead of last year.
After an unprecedented period of six straight years of growth, it is true that our industry has seen occupancy levels and room-night demand slow in 2016. However, while these levels may appear soft, it is only when they're compared to 2015's remarkably high levels. In fact, beyond that one stellar year, this year's occupancies are the highest since 1998 when we had substantially less hotel rooms in the region.
So while market conditions appear to have softened a bit, our industry remains quite healthy and the outlook for the destination is positive. With pleasant fall temps on the way, a host of new attractions and event venues plus a robust convention calendar, Orlando continues to be the gold standard for hospitality and a destination of choice for leisure and convention travelers.
With more than 40 percent of our region's leisure visitation coming from Florida residents, the Sunshine State is a key focus for the Visit Orlando team this fall. We have several programs in place to grow Orlando's leadership role in this important market - including the popular Magical Dining Month, which appeals to Florida residents. You have undoubtedly seen Magical Dining Month in the news this week through our aggressive publicity and promotional efforts. As our top destination-wide culinary event, Magical Dining Month lets diners enjoy the best our community has to offer at a significant savings, and showcases our own Visit Orlando member restaurants. And now - for the first time ever - we have incorporated the new Visit Orlando App into the experience, which allows foodies to browse restaurant and menu options of interest to them personally, read restaurant reviews and book a table.
This Florida focus also includes a new Turnpike presence that expands Visit Orlando's footprint throughout the entire state - reaching the 23 million in-state visitors and residents who travel this busy highway each year. Motorists along the state's most popular roadway - and the nation's third most heavily traveled toll road - that stop at one of the plazas will be greeted with a significant Orlando presence, including our visitor booth, can't-miss signage, and interactive kiosks to explore the destination and interact with member businesses.
In this fast-changing world, it is our goal at Visit Orlando to continually connect the destination with visitors in fresh, innovative and creative ways.