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Who Will Win the Crown?
Orlando Expects to Remain Top U.S. Travel Destination

By Sara K. Clarke and Jason Garcia, Orlando SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 06, 2013--Orlando's primary tourism rival in the U.S. -- New York City -- said last week it attracted a record 52 million visitors in 2012, falling short of Orlando's expected tally for last year.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the visitor count was an all-time high for the Big Apple and a 2.1 percent increase from 2011. An estimated 41 million domestic visitors came to the city, along with 11 million international visitors.

Orlando, meanwhile, expects its 2012 visitor count to total about 56.4 million, though the area's main tourism-marketing agency, Visit Orlando, won't release an official number until later in the year. In 2011, the Orlando area attracted nearly 55.2 million travelers, topping New York, according to statistics from Visit Orlando.

The two cities have maintained a bit of a rivalry over the years, with New York preemptively declaring itself the No. 1 tourist destination in the U.S. in January 2010. Orlando's visitor count for that year, when it emerged a few months later, outstripped New York's by a million people.

I-Drive Live update at luncheon

Developers are scheduled to give an update next week on two major projects planned for the International Drive tourism corridor.

Chuck Whittall, president and chief executive officer of Unicorp National Developments, is scheduled to speak at the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon Jan. 17 about I-Drive Live, which is being built south of Sand Lake Road on the site of the former Mercado dining-and-entertainment complex.

Whittall will also discuss redevelopment plans for the nearby Wyndham Orlando Resort, on the southeast corner of International Drive and Sand Lake. Renovations are already underway at the hotel, which will downsize from 1,052 rooms to 613 while adding retail and restaurants along the property's perimeter. Work on the hotel is slated to be finished by the end of 2013, according to the hotel's management.

The chamber luncheon will be in the Wyndham Orlando Resort, 8001 International Drive, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Cost is $40 for chamber members, $55 for non-members. To register, contact by Jan. 14.

Lobbying state lawmakers

The state's tourism industry has set March 13 for its annual "Florida Tourism Day," the event during which industry executives descend on the state Capitol for a concentrated lobbying blitz.

The primary purpose of Tourism Day -- which will happen during the second week of the Florida Legislature's two-month session -- is to persuade lawmakers to continue funneling tens of millions of tax dollars into travel advertising.

The issue has resonated with the Republican-controlled Legislature in recent years; lawmakers have more than doubled the budget of Visit Florida, the state's tourism-promotion agency, even as they curtailed spending in many other areas.

Organizers appear confident again this year. They have prepared "elevator speeches" for tourism leaders to give while roaming the Capitol that include a line supporting Gov. Rick Scott's proposal for another $54 million for tourism promotion in the 2013-14 fiscal year -- even though the governor hasn't yet revealed his recommended budget. or 407-420-5664 or 40-420-5414


(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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