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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.
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.
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.
Next week, Orlando's tourism community prepares to host the 8th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress, Sept. 27-30, at the Orange County Convention Center. And while our local convention industry is healthy and thriving, the arrival of the most comprehensive international healthcare conference and trade show in the industry may be just what the doctor ordered for continued growth.
Orlando's hospitals offer some of the best health care in the world. Combine these facilities and the experts that work in them with the second-largest convention center in the nation and everything else that makes Orlando the No. 1 meeting destination in the U.S., and it's no surprise that medical conventions represent an appealing growth segment for our destination.
As Visit Orlando continues to open new markets and grow overall visitation beyond the record-breaking 62 million visitors in 2014, medical conventions are a targeted approach to leveraging tourism for the economic prosperity and quality of life for our residents.
As we wind down the work week and prepare for good times with friends and family over the extended holiday weekend, Orlando's tourism community is preparing for one of its biggest weekends ever.
AAA estimated that roughly 42 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles this weekend, marking the busiest Fourth of July holiday since 2007. On top of that, U.S. Travel Association is estimating that these travelers will spend nearly $16 billion during their trips this holiday, up almost two percent from 2014. This is great news for Orlando's tourism economy. In fact, Visit Orlando's resident economist, Daryl Cronk (Senior Director of Market Research and Insights), is reporting that our advance hotel bookings for the extended weekend are running five to eight percent ahead of last year each day July 2-5. Orlando International Airport alone expects to see 435,000 passengers this weekend.
Talk about fireworks! The first half of 2015 saw incoming airline traffic, hotel demand and tourist development tax all pace ahead of last year's record performance. And it's clear that the start of July is continuing that trend. Orlando is the most visited destination in the U.S. and the most popular family destination in the world. Visit Orlando works hard everyday to ensure that our destination is well positioned to benefit at times like this, and we're looking forward to seeing how tourism continues to benefit our community as the remainder of 2015 unfolds.
Visit Orlando proudly announced Tuesday, June 11 at the U.S. Travel Association's International Pow Wow in Las Vegas that visitation to Orlando set another record in 2012 by surpassing 57 million visitors. And to keep the momentum going, Orlando's attractions continue expansion plans in 2013 with an estimated $5 billion in capital investment improvements and additions across Orlando's tourism industry.
Among the expansions: the doubling of Fantasyland, making it the largest ever expansion of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort's opening of Transformers: The Ride - 3D as well as the addition of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley and the recent opening of SeaWorld Orlando's Antarctica, Empire of the Penguins.
To ensure the destination can easily handle the increase in visitation, Orlando International Airport has laid out a plan to spend $2.1 billion on improvements through 2018. This would include a new 16 gate terminal and people mover, as well as self-service kiosks for international travelers, which have more than doubled over the past 10 years.
Other local attractions catching the expansion-bug include: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex's $100 million Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction, LEGOLAND Florida's Quest for Chima , and Fun Spot America's 10 acre expansion complete with two new roller coasters and a 250 foot SkyCoaster.
Today, Visit Orlando announced that it was another record-breaking year in 2011 with final 2011 visitation numbers revealing that Orlando welcomed 55.1 million visitors, up 7.2% from last year's record setting 51.4 million and 1.5% over the previous forecast of 54.3 million visitors. Total domestic visitation (business & leisure) accounted for 51.3 million visitors, a 7.5% increase over 2010 and a record for any U.S. destination; international travel totaled 3.8 million, an increase of 3.5% from 2010. Orlando is the first destination in the country to welcome more than 55 million visitors and remains the most visited destination in the U.S.
"This is tremendously positive news for the destination. We have seen a strong rebound in our visitation numbers over the past two years led by increases in domestic and international travel and we continue to be optimistic about the future of the destination," said Paul Tang, Chairman of Visit Orlando. "We are known worldwide as the top family destination and we continue to be a top choice for inspiring meetings. Breaking the 55 million total visitation mark shows the strength of the Orlando brand."
Canada continues to be Orlando's number one international market breaking the 1 million visitor mark for the first time, an increase of 5.7%, followed by the United Kingdom (767,000).
Additional visitation information includes:
• Visitation from Canada, Orlando's top international feeder market, was up 5.7% to 1,015,000 travelers in 2011 compared to 960,000 in 2010
• Domestic leisure visitation was up 8.3% to 41.4 million, representing 75% of all visitors
• Overnight leisure visitation was 28.3 million, up 9.8%
• Overnight convention-group meeting visitation was 3.3 million, up 2.7%
• Hotel room occupancy was up 5.8% to 67.6%
While 2011's final visitation numbers are not in, many in the travel and tourism industry have seen a marked increase in their businesses. On Friday, February 24 at the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality, Visit Orlando hosted its first Hot Topics session for 2012.
The session focused on the current economic climate and how 2012 and beyond is shaping up. UCF economics professor Dr. Sean Snaith provided attendees with an entertaining synopsis of the economy's recovery, while Visit Orlando's Director of Research, Daryl Cronk provided context for the industry's quick turnaround from the recession. In all, more than 100 member partners participated in the event that was sponsored by Corporate Ambassador TAM.
Travel & Tourism is by far Orlando's number one industry, but it also is one our nations top industries. Nearly 360,000 Central Floridians are employed by the industry with visitor spending topping a staggering $28 billion annually.