|By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 09, 2012--Central Florida's hospitality industry is headed for a growth spurt this year, with thousands of new rooms set to hit the market.
Several hotel projects are slated to open this year, resulting in the addition of more than 2,650 rooms, according to Visit Orlando, the local tourism-marketing agency. All of that new inventory is expected to stunt occupancy rates in the Orlando area.
Despite a projected 1 percent increase in demand, Orlando's average occupancy is expected to slip 0.2 percent this year, says Smith Travel Research, which tracks hotels nationwide. The area's average daily room rate is expected to increase 3.2 percent, while revenue per available room, a key industry measure, is forecast to rise 3.1 percent.
Most of the gains in room inventory will come from the opening of Art of Animation, Walt Disney World's new "value-priced" resort, with 1,120 family suites and 864 standard rooms.
The first of the hotel's four phases -- a "Finding Nemo"-themed wing of family suites -- is scheduled to debut May 31, followed by "Cars"-themed suites at the end of July, "Lion King"-themed suites at the end of September, and "Little Mermaid"-themed rooms by the end of the year.
Drury Inns, a hotel chain with roots in the Midwest, is building its first Orlando-area hotel at the busy intersection of Sand Lake Road and Interstate 4, a block from International Drive. An Embassy Suites is going up east of Disney World near State Road 535 and U.S. Highway 192. And the Ramada Orlando International Drive Lakefront is adding a 12-story tower to its hotel near Wet 'n Wild.
The plethora of hotel rooms, combined with relatively sluggish convention business, has some travel experts predicting Orlando will be a budget-friendly destination in 2012.
"Orlando is one of the more aggressive battlegrounds for deals, domestically," said Gabe Saglie, senior editor of Travelzoo, which has Orlando as a top five destination worldwide for deals this year. "The pricing has been very aggressive, and we expect that to be the case as we head into 2012."
Scott Smith, a faculty member in the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management, said he'll be watching the downtown hotel market this year, given lingering effects of the NBA lockout and the potential boon of a new minor-league hockey team. A number of developers are eyeing hotel projects in the city center, including Starwood, which has announced plans to redevelop the former Orlando Utilities Commission building near Lake Lucerne, and the Orlando Magic, which may include a hotel in a proposed development near the new Amway Center.
"There's a lot of volatility for downtown," he said. "If there's going to be a hotel story, I think that's going to be it."
Orlando's convention industry expects a boost in total attendance this year. The Orange County Convention Center has so far booked 114 events for 2012, compared with 173 total events last year. The giant center's projected attendance: 1.4 million people, a 16 percent increase from 2011.
"I think we're in great shape. We have a lot of new shows coming in," said Tom Ackert, the center's executive director. "2012 may be a real banner year for us."
Among the new shows: NPE, the International Plastics Showcase, slated for April. That trade show, held in Chicago for decades, is expected to attract 49,000 people in its first Orlando year. Ackert said the exhibition, which requires the installation of heavy machinery, could encourage other industrial-oriented shows to consider Orlando.
The once-mammoth International Builders' Show returns in February. Once capable of drawing more than 100,000 people, it was slammed by the housing slump and expects about half that number this year.
Also on tap for the center this year: the NBA All-Star Jam Session, which may draw thousands of basketball fans in February when the NBA All-Star Game is in town. The American Psychological Association, with 13,000 medical professionals, and International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers, which is moving to Orlando from Las Vegas, are both scheduled for August -- usually a slow time for conventions.
As with medical groups, the cigar aficionados are a coveted crowd. "The folks who attend cigar shows are not going to be conservative spenders," Ackert said.
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