|By Sara K. Clarke and Jason Garcia, The
Orlando Sentinel, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 09, 2012--Central Florida's tourism industry hopes to build on the record crowds of the past two years to make 2012 its best year yet.
Orlando, the first U.S. travel market to draw more than 50 million visitors annually, expects 55 million to drop in this year, according to Visit Orlando, its tourism-marketing agency. That would be 1.3 percent more than 2011's estimated head count.
The number of international travelers -- who tend to stay longer and spend more than domestic visitors -- is forecast to increase 1.4 percent this year, to 3.8 million.
Canada and South America are among the promising international feeder markets in 2012, said Gary Sain, Visit Orlando's president and chief executive officer. He said Visit Orlando is "cautiously optimistic that we will build on the success of '11."
While leisure travel rebounded quickly from the 2007-09 recession, corporate travel has been slower to return to business as usual. Sain said he expects 2012 to be a rebuilding year, with more companies and industries booking conventions, trade shows and meetings.
"If you're a company, you really can't cut anymore, and it's going to be about building revenue," he said. "And how you do that is face-to-face meetings."
The ongoing merger of two of Orlando International Airport's busiest carriers, Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways, should bring noticeable change in 2012.
Although Dallas-based Southwest closed on its acquisition of Orlando-based AirTran last May, the two airlines have continued to operate separately as they await federal regulators' approval to fly as a single carrier. That could occur early this year.
Southwest is already negotiating labor agreements with the unions that represent both airlines' workers, in preparation for combining seniority systems. Once the airlines receive a single operating certificate, Southwest will begin to gradually transition the AirTran fleet to the Southwest paint scheme and convert AirTran's airport operations to the Southwest brand.
When Southwest and AirTran merge their daily operations, it will reduce the competition for travelers' business in and out of Orlando. Southwest is already OIA's busiest carrier, while AirTran is No. 3. Together, they will control more than one-third of the airport's passenger traffic.
Already there are signs the merger will result in fewer seats on Orlando routes. Analysts at Rodman & Renshaw reviewed Southwest's flight schedule last fall and determined it was planning to cut AirTran's overall offerings 14 percent during the second quarter of 2012. And Orlando is among the cities absorbing the most second-quarter cuts, as measured by seats, the firm said.
A spokeswoman for Southwest said that Orlando will "continue to be a main focus" for the airline in coming years.
A year ago, the cruise industry was more upbeat than at anytime since the global financial crisis. Then came political turmoil in the Mideast, the sovereign-debt crisis in Europe, and higher fuel prices.
As a result, expectations are more tempered for 2012.
The good news for Central Florida is that the Caribbean cruise market appears to be holding up better than others. Miami-based Carnival Corp. says first-quarter pricing in the Caribbean for its North American brands -- including Carnival Cruise Lines, which has three ships at Port Canaveral -- is higher than a year ago with higher occupancy rates, versus higher pricing but lower occupancies for allother itineraries.
Such trends help explain how Disney Cruise Line is choosing to deploy its fleet, which grows to four ships this spring with the addition of the Disney Fantasy. It's the second of two 4,000-passenger ships the Walt Disney Co. has built at a combined cost of more than $1.8 billion.
The Fantasy will replace the 2,700-passenger Disney Magic at Port Canaveral. But instead of sending the Magic to Europe, as once expected, Disney will keep the ship in the U.S. to split its time between New York and Galveston, Texas.
Analysts expect big things from the Fantasy, after the Disney Dream's debut exceeded most expectations last year. Nomura Securities projects the Dream and Fantasy will generate more than $500 million in revenue during Disney's current fiscal year, which ends around Sept. 30. And the Fantasy doesn't launch until March 31.
(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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