If there is one industry that defines Central Florida, it’s tourism.
With the Orlando area being an incredibly popular place to visit, it makes sense that local Winter Park authorities are doing their best to keep up with changing trends and develop tourism initiatives to help bring outside visitors into the city during their trips.
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One such authority is the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, which has been working over the last year to research and produce information on those who make stops in the city. And the information, said Chamber President Betsy Gardner Eckbert, was surprising.
“We started data collection last summer of visitors we received at the welcome center here in Winter Park, and we were really surprised to learn that the second biggest group of people we received here is international visitors,” Gardner Eckbert said. “Our first biggest group is local visitors of course, and then we were shocked to see that the second biggest group was international visitors — ahead of other Florida origins and other U.S. origins.”
While locals made up 36% of visitors, the international pool of visitors accounted for 26%. Of those, 53% came from the United Kingdom.
That discovery led Gardner Eckbert and her staff to look into what was bringing in so many from UK, and they didn’t have to look far.
According to Gardner Eckbert, there are 14 direct flights from the UK into Orlando Sanford International Airport and Orlando International Airport — which is bringing about 500,000 visitors in each year.
Another factor: weather.
“We think it also has to do with how miserable the weather is in the United Kingdom — I lived there for five years, I can vouch for that,” Gardner Eckbert said. “British travelers are looking for guaranteed sun and they know they can reliably find that in Florida.
“The other thing that they’ve been able to do is find some purchasing power here,” she said. “So not only can they get guaranteed sun, they can get a great water-based vacation — whether it’s at a water park or they can be close to the ocean,” she said.
So the next question is, how does the city bring in more folks and not just get them to visit but also get them to spend money?
The first big initiative the chamber has put on is its 35 Degrees campaign, which offers special discounts and deals at eateries and shops along Park Avenue. The name itself is a fun play on temperature conversion — 35 degrees Celsius equates to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
So far, the campaign has been a huge boost to the city, Gardner Eckbert said, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
“We’ve driven over a half-million digital impressions to website traffic with that campaign,” she said. “We’ve had significant numbers of click-throughs online, and then anecdotally we’ve heard from a lot of retailers that they’ve seen traffic increase as a result of that campaign.”
Another initiative for bringing in more tourism comes with a partnership with Virgin Holidays — a leading transatlantic tour operator out of the UK.
As a part of the partnership, Winter Park is featured in the company’s guide, “Ready, Steady, Go,” which launched July 1.
“They (vacationers) are looking to eat like a native, drink like a native, experience things in Central Florida like a native,” Gardner Eckbert said. “And that’s were Winter Park has huge value.”