Orlando Sentinel Jim Stratton and Jason Garcia column [Orlando Sentinel :: ]
(Orlando Sentinel (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 27--Talk to local tourism officials for any length of time and you'll almost certainly hear about how a rising tide lifts all boats and that any competition they face is from other tourist Meccas around the country or world.
So it's interesting that Seminole County is throwing an elbow in its latest marketing effort. It arrived at the Sentinel last week -- a cardboard box containing a letter and a small stuffed alligator resting on a bed of paper grass.
The release talked up the county's outdoor activities -- trails, river cruises, airboat rides -- and built on its slogan: "Florida's Natural Choice."
But it also took a gentle swipe at the area's tourist districts, pointing out that it had plenty of hotels, too. Cheaper hotels.
"With new hotels and newly renovated properties," the release stated, "we offer outstanding accommodations for, on average, one-third less than our Orlando counterparts."
Ouch. Maybe the alligator was included to send a message: Careful, we bite.
Occupancy highest since 2005
Following last week's news that hotel occupancy in March was strong and that room rates were up a bit from last year, Visit Orlando has pulled together information from the first three months of the year to show that Central Florida also had a fine first quarter.
Occupancy during the quarter rose to 79.3 percent, up 3.4 percentage points from the same time last year. What's more, the occupancy rate for the first quarter was at its highest level since 2005 -- well before the recession hit.
Meanwhile, the average daily room rate climbed by almost 5 percent, to $116.45.
Going back to 2010, first-quarter occupancy rates have risen steadily each year, from 66.8 percent in 2010 to 74.2 percent in 2012 to 79.3 percent this year.
Little reaction to Rosen proposal
Hotelier Harris Rosen's suggestion last week that I-Drive form its own security patrol -- and his comment that the tourist district merits more attention from law enforcement because of the tax money it generates -- drew little reaction from colleagues during a meeting of the I-Drive district advisory board.
Contacted after the meeting, only two of Rosen's four fellow board members responded -- Chairwoman Sibille Pritchard and new Vice Chairwoman Susan Godorov. Both essentially said they were waiting for district staff members to finish a review of how other tourist areas handle security before weighing in.
Disney donates to Scott campaign
After being conspicuously absent from Florida Gov. Rick Scott's list of campaign contributors, Walt Disney World has donated directly to the Republican governor's re-election campaign.
State records show that Disney wrote a pair of $3,000 checks to Scott's re-election campaign. The donations came from a pair of Disney subsidiaries: Magic Kingdom Inc. and Disney Vacation Development Inc.
Neither Universal nor SeaWorld has yet contributed to Scott's re-election campaign, though SeaWorld has given $15,000 this cycle to Let's Get to Work, the political committee that is paying for television ads promoting Scott and attacking his likely Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist.
More earnings reports coming
Comcast Corp. became the first of Orlando's three big theme-park owners to report first-quarter earnings last week, disclosing that attendance was flat because of the later Easter but that per-visitor spending at its parks in Florida and California grew.
Next up: Walt Disney Co., which will report earnings for the period, which is the second quarter of its fiscal year, after the markets close on May 6. That's a week from Tuesday.
Disney executives said in early February that quarterly reservations in its U.S. hotels were running 7 percent ahead of last year's pace and at rates that were up 2 percent. But they also warned investors of the Easter impact: Disney said the shift would move about $45 million worth of operating income out of its fiscal second quarter and into the third.
SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. will follow eight days later, reporting after the markets close on May 14. SeaWorld has already disclosed that attendance across its 11 U.S. parks tumbled 13 percent during the period, although about 80 percent of that decline appears to have been due to the later Easter plus a quirk in SeaWorld's fiscal calendar.
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