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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.
You've no doubt seen people dashing about town, eyes glued to phones, as they search for Pokémon Go characters. From SeaWorld Orlando to Fun Spot America, these digital creatures are popping up everywhere alongside real-world objects in this viral mobile game - showcasing the success of augmented reality technology.
Given the immense popularity of the game, Visit Orlando's digital marketing and membership team immediately began brainstorming how we could amplify the destination experience for our visitors, residents and members. Visit Orlando is pleased to share that we've launched a website which identifies locations that alerts gamers to hot spots in our destination's major theme parks, as well as tourism areas that do not require admission.
The Pokémon Go trend is just one of the ways Visit Orlando continuously leverages new technology to promote our destination.
Visit Orlando announced a new all-time record for the destination. In 2015, 66.1 million people visited Orlando, growing 5.5 percent from 2014 and solidifying Orlando's position as the most visited destination in the nation. Visitation to Orlando more than doubled over the past 20 years, growing from 32.4 million in 1995.
"Reaching more than 66 million visitors to Orlando is an amazing accomplishment for our tourism community," said Visit Orlando President and CEO George Aguel. "This new milestone and rapid growth over the past two decades is a result of having a tourism industry and community partners that are focused on growth and investment, dedication to the needs of our visitors and the global marketing and sales efforts of our Visit Orlando team and member companies."
Last week's senseless attacks in Paris were tragic and our thoughts and prayers go out to the French people and everyone affected by this terrorism. But unfortunately, this event has resulted in several of our nation's Congressional lawmakers re-examining the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for potential security gaps. It's important during times like this to communicate a better understanding of the VWP, without resorting to a quick overreaction that dismisses the facts about this important program.
The truth is that the VWP not only facilitates inbound travel to the United States but also protects our homeland by requiring pre-screening of travelers who are pre-approved through the program. It also enables greater information sharing through enhanced international partnerships with law enforcement and intelligence services and making passports more secure for participating countries. You can send an email to your Senators and Representative to let them know that now is the time to defend this tried and true security program and champion policies such as the VWP that keep travel safe and secure.
By the way, we would like to remind you that now is also the time to register for Visit Orlando's Annual Meeting and Luncheon, presented by Emirates, on Dec. 8. Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich will deliver a powerful keynote presentation along with other opportunities to reflect on the great year for tourism we've had in Central Florida. We hope to see you there.
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.
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, there's not a lot of time to register for Visit Orlando's Annual Meeting and luncheon on Dec. 8 at Rosen's Shingle Creek Resort. As a destination, our entire tourism community pulled together this year to achieve what all indications suggest will be another historic, record-breaking year for our community. As a friend of tourism you won't want to miss the recap of 2015 and "look ahead" at what's in store for 2016.
If you haven't heard, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has accepted our invitation to share his outlook on next year's economy and Presidential race, as well as the resulting effects on our businesses community. Our local business and Central Florida community leaders alike will surely find this very special keynote presentation fascinating.
Please join Visit Orlando's Chairman of our Board of Directors Peter Kacheris for what promises to be a memorable event. Click here for registration information.
George Aguel, CEO of Visit Orlando, was one of the founders who formed the Meetings Mean Business Coalition in 2009. It was founded soon after the financial crisis impacted our industry like never before, to showcase the value that business meetings, travel and events bring to the U.S. economy. We can never forget those years and how important it is that our local tourism community in Orlando doesn't rest on its laurels when it comes to spreading the good word that, like the travel industry, the meetings industry supports millions of U.S. jobs and generates billions of dollars in annual economic impact. Our own destination is a major recipient of this business, having achieved the status of being recognized as the No. 1 destination for meetings and No. 2 for major trade shows. This segment of our tourism business represents nearly $7 billion in economic impact to our community.
Those of us in tourism recognize and appreciate that these conferences and events serve as platforms for professional development and training, as well as for networking and the strengthening of sustainable business relationships, ever so important in today's highly competitive marketplace. But that's not the case for everyone. During the height of the recession seven years ago, many companies made across-the-board cuts, including canceling meetings and restricting travel for their employees. Ironically, according to Oxford Economics, companies that invested more in business travel during the economic downturn grew the fastest.
So, despite the fact that we're closing in on what appears to be another year of record-setting growth for tourism in Orlando, we want to encourage all of the leaders in our community to be champions for the value of conferences, trade shows and client events.
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.