Orlando, Florida, is jumping for joy. In 2017, over 72 million tourists came to the city, giving Orlando the title of “Most-Visited U.S. Destination.” Travelers always bring revenue, no matter where they go. Jobs abound: Remember that 1 in 11 people around the world work in hospitality. Add in the flights to the airport, rental cars, restaurants, and of course, the hotels, and the economic picture is rosy.
Let’s talk about the hotels. Nearly 10,000 new rooms–plus another 4,000 by Universal Orlando–contribute to 16 percent increase in one year…and 61 percent more than in 2012. Las Vegas barely edges out Orlando for the most hotel rooms in the world, by only 2,000.
Are all the eggs in a “theme park” basket?
Great, say the city’s leaders. Not so much, say residents and visitors. What about the fact that Orlando’s traffic is among the world’s worst? Then there’s the sky-high vehicle crash rate, a combination of congestion and constant tourism…visitors don’t know where they’re going or how to handle their rental cars.
How about attendance at the main attractions? It’s up, up, up. Disney World hosted 56 million fans, eager to pay $140 each for a day pass during peak season. Universal Studios welcomed nearly 11 million visitors at $124 a day. Because of the crowds, a “fast-pass” is recommended (maybe necessary) to avoid spending the day in long lines…an extra expense, of course.
I present all these numbers to frame these questions: When is it enough? When does a city say, “Stop”…??? When does it become too much of a hassle to travel to an amusement park, instead of going to a destination with authentic experiences? There are plenty of places for a family to enjoy time together for a fraction of an Orlando vacation.
Is Orlando overly optimistic?
There’s only so much physical space in Orlando. Theme parks aren’t expanding to accommodate the growing throngs. There’s not going to be a Magic Kingdom 2 or 3. Transportation methods lag. Construction is constant. Locals grow fatigued with non-stop visitors who get in their way. In fact, locals are pushed out for new developments. In a world where over-tourism has become a significant problem, Orlando sees no end in sight.
“Orlando’s record-setting visitation affirms the city as a leader in the U.S. travel industry,” says Roger Dow, President of the U.S. Travel Association. “The success in Orlando is great, not just for this iconic destination, but for travel as a whole.” Really, Roger? That’s not what the experts say. Worldwide tourism is up 7 percent…but down 4 percent in the United States. That’s equal to $4.6 billion and 40,000 jobs.
Tourism in the United States is on a steady decline. White House policies, mass shootings, invasive TSA screenings, and natural disasters cause foreign visitors to spend their vacation dollars elsewhere. Travel trends indicate that Asia is the next place to go. Despite Orlando and its attractions drawing great numbers, Disney only comes up #12 on the World’s Most-Visited Tourist Attractions list. (Number 1? The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul…and it’s free.) New York City and Washington DC also rank above the Magic Kingdom.
Orlando can be proud of its success during the current U.S. slump in worldwide tourism. But should it keep trying to get bigger? Does that make it better?
More thoughts on travel: