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An Oranges to Oranges Comparison
Anaheim and Orlando Share Tourism and
Meeting Destination Bent, Differ in Some Areas
By SANDI CAIN, August 2003

Anaheim and Orlando share much more than a county name.

The two cities on opposite coasts sprang from farmland and grew up around the Walt Disney Co.

Today, they are both vibrant meeting destinations in a highly competitive travel industry and share similarities in geographic size, number of annual visitors and resident demographics.

Orlando outranks Anaheim in number of total events, number of conventioneers, total hotel rooms and number of large trade shows. It has a bigger airport and lower taxes. It has a similar—if more erratic—climate.

“The biggest difference in the markets is Orlando is much more international,” said Bob Tucker, spokesman for the Disneyland Resort who once worked in Orlando.

But numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

“What Orange County (California) really has going for it is the temperate climate that eliminates the seasonal rate fluctuations,” said Brett Jarvis, partner in Laguna Beach-based International Site Alliance.

Jarvis also pointed to Anaheim’s relative smallness as a plus.

“It’s not as spread out as Orlando, making it easier to do off-site activities,” he said.

As the largest convention center on the West Coast—and currently among the top dozen in the nation—Anaheim hosted 11 of the nation’s largest trade shows last year.

But, in general, its groups are smaller than those headed to Orlando. Between August and December 2003, Anaheim had 84 meetings on the books, with an expected attendance of 247,000. Orlando has 46 groups scheduled for an expected attendance of 497,000.

The figures include meetings scheduled at hotels and convention centers as of July 31.

“Both destinations are great for meetings and conventions,” said Stan V. Butler, meeting planner for the Chicago-based Institute of Food Technologists.

Butler said his group alternates between Orlando and Anaheim and has no plans to change that arrangement.

Peter Yesawich, managing partner of marketing shop YPB&R in Orlando, named the city’s convention center, airport access, entertainment and shopping options, theme parks and a vast inventory of hotel rooms as selling points for Orlando.

“The only disadvantage is weather that’s inconsistent,” he said.

“In California, Orange County would have many of the same elements, though it gets higher marks on weather and probably lower marks on things like convention center size,” he said.

Here’s a look at key areas of comparison between Orlando and Anaheim:

Convention Center

Orlando is set to unveil a 1 million-square-foot expansion at its convention center that will bring its total space to 2.1 million square feet and make it the third-largest center in the country behind Chicago and Las Vegas.

The $748 million project is its fifth expansion since Orlando’s convention center first opened in 1978. Yesawich calls it a “nirvana for meeting planners.”

Anaheim’s last expansion opened in 2000, bringing the convention center’s total space to 1.6 million—the largest on the West Coast. The $180 million expansion also was the fifth for the Anaheim Convention Center, which debuted in 1967.

Orlando leads the nation in the total number of events hosted, while Anaheim ranks No. 14, according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research in Chicago.

And Orlando’s 3.5 million in meetings and convention attendance in 2002 far exceeded the 1 million figure reached in Anaheim last year.

But Orlando draws a heavier share of trade show business, a sector that has been shrinking since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and runs the risk that a couple of underperforming shows could put a serious damper on its economy.

Orlando also has a greater share of the corporate market than Anaheim—a market that has been thin at best since 2001.

Orlando ranked No. 2 in the U.S. among cities with the greatest number of “large” tradeshows in 2002, according to a study by industry publication Tradeshow Week. Orlando had 20 of the 200 biggest shows while Anaheim hosted 11 of them.

The study also found that last year’s tradeshows had fewer exhibitors, used less exhibition area and had fewer attendees. The downturn resulted in a 3.5% drop in economic impact for host cities, to $4.8 billion.

This year, Orlando’s biggest exhibition is the Super Show, an annual sporting goods show that draws upward of 80,000. In Anaheim, the annual National Association of Music Merchants is the biggest draw, with about 65,000 attendees.

Through June, Florida’s Orange County tourism tax revenue is about 5% behind 2002 at $49.6 million. Anaheim’s tourism industry has generated $56.2 million in the same period.


Greater Orlando has about 450 hotels, while California’s Orange County has about 470.

But Orlando’s room count sits at about 114,000, compared to OC’s 50,000 or so—about 20,000 in the Anaheim area.

Orlando is set to see 5,000 new rooms open this year; fewer than 500 are scheduled for a 2003 debut here. Up to 7,000 more hotel rooms are expected in Orlando by 2006; only about 2,500 are on the books for SoCal’s OC.

Hampering Orlando is a lack of rooms within shouting distance of its convention center.

Orlando Convention & Visitors Bureau President William C. Peeper said that has been a drawback for booking the expanded center, which also has been hurt by the sputtering economy.

Peeper said about 3,000 new hotel rooms that will connect directly to the expanded center have been delayed by the slow economy, leaving Orlando with two convention hotels in walking distance of the center.

“The infrastructure to support the building has been delayed,” Peeper said. “That’s a double whammy.”

During Anaheim’s evolution into a resort district, more hotels cropped up near the Convention Center; others expanded or remodeled.

As a result, there are now about 7,000 hotel rooms within a 1-mile radius of the Convention Center, something that meeting planners today say is a crucial factor for destination business.

Drive Market

In an era when conventions are smaller and more regional, Anaheim has an edge with the drive-in market, generally considered to be those people within a six-hour drive of the destination.

There are about 21 million people in Southern California’s drive market, according to San Diego-based CIC Research. The area reaches to Las Vegas and into Arizona.

For Orlando, the six-hour drive market doesn’t reach much beyond the Georgia border. Florida’s population is 14 million.

“That’s a tremendous competitive advantage for Anaheim,” Yesawich said.

Though most out-of-town conventioneers fly to their destination, there is anecdotal evidence that local attendees—and even sometimes planners—will choose to drive between Las Vegas, Orange County and even Phoenix.


Entertainment in the two Orange Counties is somewhat of a mirror image. Theme parks are a focal point in both markets.

Orlando and Anaheim each have Downtown Disney districts. Several Disney attractions have been exported from Walt Disney World to the Disneyland Resort, including the upcoming Tower of Terror at California Adventure.

In turn, California Adventure in Anaheim reportedly is set to export its popular “Soarin’ Over California” ride to Orlando.

In Orlando, the new high-end outlet Mall at Millennia highlights a recent spate of retail development, while shoppers here head to The Block at Orange, South Coast Plaza, Fashion Island and Shoppington MainPlace.

Yesawich said it’s easier for visitors to get around Orlando’s visitor zone, with most popular stops just a 10- to 15-minute drive.

Regardless of distance, nothing is a 10-minute drive in California these days. But transportation help comes from the Anaheim Trolley, which circles the Resort district, and the Anaheim Golf Shuttle.

Taxes and Cost

The cost of rental cars can be a big issue in today’s austere budgeting climate. Orlando’s average rental rates are the fourth highest in the U.S. at $47.74 per day.

In Anaheim, the average rental runs $40.29 per day, which ranks it No. 44, according to the Business Travel News.

Taxes are a different matter.

In much of Florida, sales and hotel taxes only add about 11% to a hotel bill, while in OC, those taxes are 16% to 23%. That’s a big chunk of change to a meeting planner looking at 1,000 or so hotel rooms.


Some planners say that Orlando has the edge at the airport, with a better variety of flights and lower average costs to Orlando than to John Wayne Airport. Orlando International saw 26.5 million passengers last year and has connections to 25 international destinations.

John Wayne handled 7.9 million passengers a year ago and has no international service.

Nevertheless, if you’re flying to Orlando, the only alternative airports are at the general aviation Kissimmee Gateway Airport or Orlando Executive Airport. Neither offers commercial service.

For Anaheim, a traveler can choose Long Beach, Los Angeles or Ontario rather than John Wayne.

International Visitors

Orlando and Anaheim draw heavily from the United Kingdom and Canada.

Orlando counts Brazil and Germany among its top performers, too, while Mexico and Japan have been natural draws for Anaheim.

But global economic slowness has brought fewer visitors to U.S. shores this year.

Year-to-date international arrivals were down 12% to 2.6 million in May compared to last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Among the biggest declines: Japan (38%) and Brazil (31%). In May, the most recent month for which figures have been released, the number of Canadian visitors was down 8.7%, while those from Mexico was up 2%.

Orlando, though, was the only one of the 15-largest ports of entry to post growth in May.

Selling the Site

Visitor bureaus—charged with promoting the destination—are faced with budget cuts.

“We’re down a little bit because TOT (transient occupancy taxes) is down,” said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. “It’s a reflection of the economy. TOT is down everywhere.”

That move was staved off by an agreement to provide half the funds to the bureau this year and the other half next year, “if TOT comes back,” Peeper said.

With hotels struggling to maintain occupancy—and profit—and a glut of convention space on the market due to new centers built in the late 1990s, convention and visitor bureaus find themselves in an increasingly competitive market.

“It’s gone from intense to brutal,” Peeper said.

Jim Kissinger, vice president of convention sales for the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, said the biggest challenge—even more than the economy—centers on other cities that offer space at reduced rates or free to get groups to book.

“It unlevels the whole playing field,” he said.

Anaheim bureau president Charles Ahlers was quick to point out that large groups still are booking, with 36 already set for 2004, compared to 38 large groups booked for all of 2003. About 1 million hotel nights were booked in the Anaheim area in 2002; this year, the count already sits at 963,303.

But Kissinger and Peeper agree that discounting by some cities is hurting the industry.

“There are limits to how far we’re willing to go to get a piece of business,” Peeper said.

Cities that give away convention center space aren’t looking at the overhead, he said.

“Where does the money for those concessions come from? You still have to pay for the lights, air conditioning and staff,” he said.

Kissinger echoed the sentiment.

“We have a great package,” he said. “We don’t want to get into (the giveaway) game.”

While Orlando struggles with an anemic corporate market and tradeshow attendance, Anaheim is faced with cutbacks at the state level that have cut into government meetings.

Even some association business—often the bread and butter of the convention industry—is down.

“Associations are doing their best to bring people (to their meetings), but they’re not getting participation at the same levels as before,” Ahlers said.

“Everyone is making a concerted effort to save money,” he said.

Sandi Cain is a freelance writer and contributor to the Orange County Business Journal and meetings industry publications. She specializes in hospitality, tourism and travel. Cain holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Kent State University in Ohio, where she majored in social studies. A former high school teacher, she has written for niche-market sports publications in the U.S., England and Australia and formerly worked in both the printing and high-tech industries. A Cleveland, Ohio native, Cain hasbeen a resident of Laguna Beach since the late ’70s. She enjoys travel, gardening, reading and spoiling her three cats.


Sandi Cain
Laguna Beach CA

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