September 24, 2022

Business Florida 2022 - The Regions

East Central

Brevard • Lake • Orange • Osceola • Seminole • Sumter • Volusia

| 11/8/2021

Tourism

Tourism has been a prominent driver of East Central Florida’s economy pretty much from the moment Walt Disney World came to town 50 years ago. And every year since the park first opened here in 1971, Disney’s footprint and the crowds that are drawn as a result have swelled. In 2019, one year before the pandemic struck, Orlando logged a record 76 million visitors. A year later, as COVID-19 spread across the region, visitor counts plummeted by more than half to a total of 35.3 million in 2020. Ouch! Tourist attractions all across the region that had been overflowing with visitors the year before suddenly found themselves empty. And with no prospect of filling these spaces up again any time soon, there was nothing for the big three — Walt Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld — to do except shut down operations in March 2020 … but not for long. Universal Orlando and SeaWorld reopened in June with added safety protocols, and all four of Walt Disney World’s theme parks were up and running on a limited basis in July.

A little more than a year later, operations at all three parks are moving toward normal and some new attractions are coming back on line. Sea World Orlando’s long-anticipated Ice Breaker, its first new coaster since Mako debuted in 2016, is on target to open in February 2022 featuring a 93-foot tall spike banked at 100 degrees. At Universal Islands of Adventure, VelociCoaster is finally open in Jurassic World and, after an eight-month pause, construction has resumed on the resort’s highly anticipated fourth theme park — Epic Universe.

And with a monumental anniversary to celebrate in 2021, Walt Disney World is pulling out all the stops for its return to normalcy. In typical fashion, the park is not releasing many details except to say that “The World’s Most Magical Celebration” — aka, its 50th anniversary — will kick off on October 1, 2021, and last for 18 months.

While Orlando typically gets the bulk of tourist attention in Florida’s East Central region, some uniquely Florida attractions along this region’s Atlantic coast that were temporarily closed during the height of the pandemic have reopened to visitors. At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Brevard County, all main attractions, including the IMAX Theater, Shuttle Launch Experience and Universe Theater, are open, however, face coverings are still required in all indoor locations.

Just up the coast in Volusia County, is Daytona Beach. Attractions here include the iconic beach itself, on which limited numbers of cars can drive during certain hours and in specified areas for a fee; there is no cost for pedestrians or bicyclists to access the beach and as long as you’re outside, no masks required. Over at Daytona International Speedway, famous for NASCAR’s Daytona 500 race, limits on the number of spectators due to fears about the spread of COVID-19 are beginning to ease. In late August 2021, for the first time in a year, fans were welcomed back on the field for pre-race ceremonies ahead of the Coke Zero Sugar 400. Indoors, however, face masks remain mandatory.

KEY PLAYERS:Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Merritt Island; SeaWorld Orlando, Orlando; Universal Orlando Resorts, Orlando; Walt Disney World, Orlando

Fueling the Business of Tourism
There’s more to Orlando’s tourist industry than the coasters tourists ride and the cartoon characters visitors come to meet. There’s a whole industry behind the scenes here that sustains the magic and keeps the hotel rooms occupied. And that industry is growing by leaps and bounds.

In July 2021, Disney announced plans to relocate its Parks, Experiences and Products division from California to Florida, creating a regional “campus” in Orlando’s Lake Nona community to house cast members, Imagineers and other Disney employees who will bring with them professional experience in digital technology, finance, communications, human resources, product development and more. In all, more than 2,000 high-wage jobs are expected over the next 18 months.

Also joining this region: Sonesta International Hotels’ new corporate office in the Landmark Center One building overlooking Lake Eola in downtown Orlando. Recently recognized as the eighth largest hotel company following its acquisition of Red Lion Hotels Corporation in March 2021, Sonesta plans to employ 100 at its new property.

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