The approaching Orlando tourism renaissance
Published: April 11, 2010 at 11:10 PM
A few miles away, at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, the much anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter will soon celebrate its grand opening. Developed by Universal Creative (the organization behind the groundbreaking ‘Amazing Adventures of Spider Man’ and ‘Men in Black: Alien Attack’) it seems a certainty that the attractions based upon the world’s most successful film franchise will be extraordinary additions to the popular theme park.
These two developments – the Peabody and Potter – are among a wave of expansive resorts and state-of-the-art attractions that have or will soon become a part of the Orlando tourist industry. This level of investment and innovation seem a harbinger of an approaching renaissance within Central Florida tourism.
This perfect storm (of sorts) is not lost upon Orlando tourism veterans. On March 30th, Orlando hotelier Harris Rosen addressed a breakfast gathering of the Central Florida chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. Having been on the opening management teams of the Walt Disney World Contemporary and Polynesian resorts, Mr. Rosen has more than 40 years of experience in the Orlando tourism industry. During a question and answer period following his speech Mr. Rosen was asked for his assessment on the future of Orlando tourism. Mr. Rosen responded, “In my heart of hearts, I am certain Central Florida tourism is going to come back with a vengeance.”
Clearly Mr. Rosen’s assertion already has some momentum. The Peabody is not the only resort project that has or will be built in Orlando. Over the past five years Hilton has opened three sizable properties – including the expansive Hilton at Bonnet Creek. The internationally famous Four Seasons Hotels, Inc. had enough confidence in the future of Central Florida tourism to have purchased 298 acres on Walt Disney World property. The company intends to use the property to open a luxury golf resort. Meanwhile Walt Disney World is now moving to complete its own Pop Century Resort, even as the company continues to seek financing for a retail, entertainment and resort development on the western edge of its property.
As the community of hotels grows so too has activity related to the region’s theme parks. In 2011, less than a year after Universal Orlando opens the ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter,’ Walt Disney World will celebrate its 40th anniversary. In the fall of that year Disney Hollywood Studios will unveil Star Tours II – a revamped version of the original attraction using high definition 3D images and improved motion simulator technology. By 2013 Walt Disney World will welcome guests to the new Fantasyland -- the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom. It seems likely that the new addition will boast some of the interactive technology being developed as a part of Disney’s top secret, billion dollar “NextGen” project.
Of course, when it comes to investment in Central Florida’s theme parks Disney and Universal are not alone. This past January, Merlin Entertainment announced its intention to open a Florida edition of the Legoland franchise by the end of 2011. What’s more Merlin’s parent company, the Blackstone Group, was confident enough in Central Florida tourism to buy Busch Entertainment – the owner of Orlando’s Sea World, Aquatica and Discovery Cove parks.
While Central Florida is no stranger to sizable hotel and attraction development, the level of investment described herein is certainly exceptional. Considering the economic uncertainty that has gripped the nation (and indeed the planet) it is noteworthy that substantial quantities of corporate dollars continue to flow into Orlando’s tourist industry
Orlando tourism’s renaissance has begun. Over the next thirty-six months Central Florida will (once again) be home to something extraordinary.