|By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 25, 2011--Metro Orlando took a bite out of the Big Apple on Tuesday when the City Beautiful announced it had become the first U.S. travel destination to draw more than 50 million visitors in a single year.
With a record-breaking visitor tally of 51.5 million in 2010, Orlando easily beat New York City in the unofficial race to the 50 million mark. New York announced earlier this year that it was host last year to an estimated 48.7 million people, making it the only other U.S. city to approach the 50 million milestone.
"What great news to lead the entire nation," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said during a midday news conference. "Last year, everybody was still talking doom and gloom and [saying] it might be three or four years before the tourism economy comes back."
Orlando's tourist-based economy rebounded faster than expected: Last year's visitor count was up 10.5 percent from 2009.
New York, which said it doesn't consider Orlando a rival, acknowledged the city's accomplishment Tuesday. "If these numbers are true for Orlando, I'm proud of them," said George Fertitta, chief executive officer of NYC & Co., New York's destination-marketing organization. "It's good for the entire travel industry."
New York set a goal back in 2007 to reach 50 million visitors by 2012, and Fertitta said that's now well within reach.
In its official statement Tuesday, New York did take issue with Orlando's head count, noting that it includes visitors to areas outside city limits.
"Visit Orlando counts travelers to three counties and 36 different cities and towns in the greater Orlando area," Fertitta said. "That's almost like us counting pilgrims to Woodstock in New York City's total."
Woodstock, however, is 105 miles -- or a two-hour drive -- from New York City, according to Mapquest.com, while Walt Disney World -- which straddles two counties -- is 16 miles, or 22 minutes by car, from downtown Orlando.
From Orlando's point of view, the not-so-intense rivalry started in January 2010, when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his city had surpassed Orlando as the nation's No. 1 tourist destination, based on 2009 visitor counts. Media from the New York area called Orlando's marketing agency to see what it thought of coming in second.
But Orlando didn't cede the crown: Its visitor count at that point was an estimate, and when the final numbers emerged a few months later, they outstripped New York's by a million visitors.
The competition is rife with issues: Each destination has its own way of counting visitors, for starters, and comparisons aren't always on an even playing field.
Orlando relies on numbers provided by the research firm D.K. Shifflet & Associates and the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel & Tourism Industries. Its count includes all overnight visitors and any day-trippers who travel more than 50 miles to visit.
New York also counts day-trippers, as long as they're not commuters. But its visitors have to be in the city to see an attraction, likely ruling out a lot of business travelers.
The two destinations can both revel in one thing: When it comes to topping the 50 million mark, no other U.S. city comes even close: Chicago, for example, ranked third in 2009 with fewer than 40 million visitors.
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