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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.
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.
A record-breaking number of attendees at Visit Orlando's "Business of Travel & Tourism Luncheon" were the first to hear of a groundbreaking technology that will forever change the way our guests experience travel. Visitors to the destination now have access to the Visit Orlando Destination APP, which uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality allowing them to explore, play and earn savings in a way never seen before. With WayBlazer's IBM Watson-enabled technology, this innovative APP lets visitors share experiences, purchase tickets and even ask questions in their own words. It's like having a personal Orlando expert concierge on hand 24/7. Here's how it works.
Based on a user's conversational language, the technology offers individualized recommendations of Orlando experiences that match that traveler's preferences - using real-time data to create the best possible encounters. For example, the APP considers weather conditions when advising outdoor activities and restaurant suggestions take into account the hours of operation, neighborhood and multiple third-source endorsements. Want a venue with live music? It does that. What about experiences designed for the members of a specific group? It does that too. The "Around Me" feature uses the mobile device's GPS to locate and learn about relevant dining and entertainment options in the vicinity. Plus, there's even a game that lets players unlock Orlando deals by capturing "Magical Orbs" and a selfie scavenger hunt to further engage them in the fun.
At the luncheon, keynote speaker and technology pioneer Terry Jones helped attendees understand the role innovation has played in travel and the advancements that have led to this revolutionary way to experience Orlando. It was a remarkable event that showcased why Orlando is at the forefront of the tourism landscape and will continue to be the destination of choice for years to come. If you haven't already, download it and experience it yourself.
Each year more than 20 million travelers who travel Florida's most popular tourist motorway stop at a Florida Turnpike Service Plaza. While they may come for snacks, meals and quick pit stops, what they will also find are Visit Orlando informational booths and interactive kiosks in seven of the eight Turnpike service plazas. Beginning this week, the travel plazas, on what has long been considered the main vehicular artery from north to south Florida, will feature direct access to destination information, visitor services and products.
Motorists who drive one of our state's most traveled highways will now be met with a variety of user-friendly services that will create top-of-mind awareness for Orlando and provide convenient access to accommodation, attraction and other products to Orlando's many popular tourism sites. These services will include friendly and knowledgeable destination experts in the Fort Drum, West Palm and Fort Pierce plazas, as well as interactive, self-serve kiosks at the Okahumpka, Turkey Lake, Canoe Creek and Pompano plazas.
The touch-screen kiosks will digitally connect travelers to accommodations, attraction deals and destination information they are looking for to enhance their Central Florida experience - serving as a virtual concierge for all they need and want to know. In addition, TV monitors located throughout the plazas will provide additional up-to-date highlights and visitor information.
These information booths and kiosks will allow Visit Orlando to connect more closely with travelers in a convenient, informative and interactive way. And because of the popularity of the Florida Turnpike, the destination will be able to reach those within our own backyard and those beyond Orlando as well.
With Brazilians facing a strong U.S. dollar that reduces the value of their money when traveling to our destination, Visit Orlando is applying strong marketing pressure against Brazil to ensure we maintain our fair share of this important source market for visitors. As these loyal fans of ours are making travel plans for next year, Visit Orlando's global marketing efforts are in full force.
Brazilian magazine Pais&Filhos , the Brazilian version of Parents Magazine, featured 58 pages of Orlando coverage in its biannual Fashion edition in October. Plus, six pages of Orlando editorial is appearing in each of the magazine's October, November and December issues, not to mention additional exposure for our destination on the magazine's YouTube Channel, Instagram and Facebook. Our consumer marketing efforts range from traditional advertising on television and print to breakthrough strategies with Instagram, a video series with popular Caras Magazine and the country's Masterchef Junior television program.
Of all Brazilians who travel to America, 40 percent of them come to Orlando. This makes Orlando the most visited destination in the U.S. for Brazilians. While 2015 has been another great year for tourism in our community, Visit Orlando is hard at work to ensure that visitors from around the world will choose to spend their vacation time with us in 2016.
Even senior executives in control of significant annual convention budgets have emotional moments. That's why we knew we were on the right track when this week Visit Orlando decided to unveil new brand creative for the meetings and conventions market at IMEX America, the leading tradeshow in the meeting and convention industry.
Titled "Share Orlando," the campaign taps into the emotions of meeting and event professionals. It showcases stories inspired by authentic social media posts through the eyes of the convention attendee or meeting planner. And it reflects that there is simply no other destination where extraordinary experiences occur in such creative and innovative backdrops the way they do in Orlando, named 2015's No. 1 meetings destination.
IMEX America was the ideal forum for Visit Orlando to roll out this new initiative. The show attracted a record 3,000 buyers from 54 countries. Our Convention Sales team incorporated the new brand positioning in one-on-one meetings and presentations, exciting and inspiring meeting professionals to imagine themselves in Orlando experiencing unforgettable group events that will live on in the memories of attendees long after the conference is over. This was just the beginning of how we will be leveraging this new meeting and convention brand across many marketing and sales platforms to reinforce our leading position in this industry.
The results are in and consumers are saying that Visit Orlando's new brand campaign is doing exactly what it was designed to do. An independent, third-party firm recently evaluated the effectiveness of our new television commercial against proven industry benchmarks.
Members of our target audience residing in cities such as New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Miami said that they felt Visit Orlando's new ad broke through the clutter of other advertising. It also portrayed Orlando as a place for families and created a desire to visit, they added.
Maybe best of all in this age of an endless number of barriers to quality time with family and a propensity for people to influence others through social media, consumers are saying that Visit Orlando's new ad does a great job of building a sense of togetherness, communicating the importance of making memories and reminding so many of our millions of visitors that they have unforgettable, heartwarming stories they can't help but share.
Last week, Visit Orlando representatives spent time in Brazil, Orlando's No. 1 overseas market, visiting with the principals and executives of several of our most important tour operators, travel agents and airline partners. As you might expect, there continues to be concerns about the current political climate and its effects on the Brazilian economy, but there was also optimism about the prospects for an improving economy before too long. Most important of all, there was a high level of excitement for the desire the Brazilian people have to visit Orlando, even if more may need to place a greater emphasis on value during their time in our destination.
We should be proud of the fact that Orlando is an iconic destination to Brazilians. Our Brazilian friends understand that, in comparison to other U.S. destinations, Orlando represents a great value for the experience they are provided. They remain very interested in all of the new development underway throughout our tourism community that will enhance our visitors' time with us and the overall diversity of options available for their enjoyment.
Visit Orlando, along with its members and partners, remains committed to the importance of the Brazil market to our destination. Together we will continue to dedicate the necessary resources to ensure we demonstrate that commitment, beginning right now with the launch of our new and exciting brand campaign. Visit Orlando's marketing efforts are designed to reinforce the priceless value of the cherished memories made across our destination, and aimed at strengthening our leading position in Brazil. Brazilian visitors have historically stayed longer and spent more money in Orlando than the average visitor and will long remain a very attractive segment for our destination. So, remember, when you run into one of our Brazilian tourists, be sure to greet them with "Bem-vindo" or "Welcome" in Portuguese.
Most stories have a beginning and an end. For Visit Orlando's new global marketing campaign, the start took place officially this week in New York City. The Big Apple is the largest source of out-of-state visitation to Orlando, or in other words, the ideal market to launch our new campaign in a very significant way. From digital video boards in iconic locations such as Times Square and Madison Square Garden, to wrapping double-decker buses and taxi cabs, on-air interviews and in-cinema advertising, Visit Orlando is reaching millions of New Yorkers with the promise that they can experience the vacation of a lifetime in our destination.
The new approach to connect with consumers in an emotional way as only Orlando can is also in other major markets such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami and Tampa, as well as our destination's No. 1 overseas market, Brazil. Additional key countries for international visitors - Colombia, Canada and the United Kingdom - will see the new campaign in the coming weeks.
All of these fully integrated campaigns encourage consumers to share their Orlando stories in English, Spanish or Portuguese on OrlandoStories.com. Even better yet, this story has no set end. Inspired by the lifetime of memories that our visitors make and will make in our destination, the campaign is titled "Never Ending Story." It's a movement that we hope will carry forward for years and live in the hearts and minds of our visitors forever.
Partnership Marketing and Wild Florida Airboats recently returned from Canada, where they attended the Wiarton Willie Groundhog Day Festival. Just as Punxsutawney Phil does in PA, Wiarton Willie the groundhog emerges from his lair to forecast the end of winter to the cheers of thousands of onlookers and national media. Visit Orlando hosted a massive warming zone with tropical temps, a daybreak fireworks demonstration and live alligators from Wild Florida. An estimated 9,000 people stopped by the tent over a two-day period. National media covering the event included CTV, Global TV, Weather Network and CP24.