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Orlando Basking in Spotlight with 1,600 Travel Buyers from 70 Countries
 in Town for the Travel Industry Association of America's
 International Pow Wow
By Beth Kassab, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

May 5, 2006 - Forget Super Bowl ads or even an opportunity for product placement in the year's summer blockbuster.

Beginning Saturday, Orlando's top tourism officials are staging the biggest commercial for the local market in the past five years. It's live. It's international. And it's five days long.

As an estimated 1,600 travel buyers from 70 countries and more than 200 international journalists descend on Orlando for the Travel Industry Association of America's International Pow Wow, the city will showcase itself at a time when both local hotel occupancy rates and international visitors are on the decline.

"There's no better way to sell a product than to let people see it, touch it and feel it," said Bill Peeper, executive director of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Orlando will show off its standard goods with food and entertainment catered on separate nights by SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World.

But it's also pushing its entertainment, dining and luxury shopping offerings. International media are required to attend a kickoff brunch Sunday morning at the upscale Mall at Millenia.

The city will be showing off a different side than when it last hosted Pow Wow in 2001, said Roger Dow, chief executive officer of the Travel Industry Association of America.

"The number of first-class restaurants and shopping has really changed," Dow said. "There's going to be a great big message: While we have the parks and the attractions, it's not the same Orlando you remember five or 10 years ago."

But Orlando won't be the only destination making a hard pitch. More than 1,000 U.S. cities and attractions will be attempting to influence Asian, European and other international buyers who sell vacation packages overseas. The choices of those buyers dramatically impact where tourists in other countries choose to spend their money.

The U.S. market share of international visitors is at an all-time low, dropping 35 percent since 1992 with a cost of $286 billion in lost revenue overall, according to statistics from the Travel Industry Association.

Las Vegas, Orlando's closest rival, will be scouting the competition as well as trying to close sales.

Erika Yowell, spokeswoman for the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, said she's not surprised Orlando is trying to increase its profile among adult tourists looking for nightlife, golf and spa treatments -- staples of the Western rival.

"That only makes sense," Yowell said. "Las Vegas would do the same thing."

She said her city maintains a "friendly competition" with Orlando but will be just as ready to show off itself when it hosts Pow Wow in 2008.

"We'll take that opportunity for sure," she said.

Dow said the Gulf states aren't waiting until their turn. Mississippi and Louisiana lured some international journalists for tours of areas affected by Hurricane Katrina before the conference officially begins on Sunday.

They're attempting to show people that New Orleans and other areas are operating and that tourists should not be wary of planning a trip there.

"They're saying, 'Since you're coming to Orlando, stop in and we'll show you firsthand and talk about what we're doing,' " Dow said.

Hands down, though, the host city typically expects to reap a hefty chunk of the business at Pow Wow, he said. About $4 billion worth of transactions are projected to take place with Florida capturing about $400 million, he said.

That's good news for Orlando where international visitors have not returned to the pre-9-11 pace of growth and local hotel occupancy has hovered around 70 percent in recent months and is declining.

And the larger goal, Peeper said, is to calm concerns that the U.S. has become a difficult country for foreign visitors to enter as security has tightened.

"As a country we're losing market share to the rest of the world," Peeper said. "The thing you can do is show that the people of the United States are much different than the stereotypes that are out there right now in the political arena."

Beth Kassab can be reached at 407-420-5448 or bkassab@orlandosentinel.com.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com.


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