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June 13, 2014updated Jul 31, 2015

Orlando Ups Its “Love” Game For Elite Travelers

By Chris Boyle

 For elite travelers, a few years back, a trip to Orlando probably meant either the obligatory right of passage baking in the sun while waiting on a long line at an amusement park or coming to a convention.  Times change.


August marks the opening of the Four Seasons, joining The Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf Astoria, Disney’s Grand Floridian, The Portofino Hotel at Universal Studios and 25 properties Five Star Alliance categorizes as luxury.


Visit Orlando officials in New York to announce a partnership with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) said the growth in five star hotels has driven high-end experiences.   While average visitor spend is about $1,000 (private jet travelers spend $69,000 excluding fuel and landing fees), Sea World now offers the chance to swim with the dolphins, Disney has private tours at its safari theme park and Universal Studios offers private guide options that enable you to get to the front of the line and repeat the ride. VIP experiences can set visitors back thousands of dollars in one fell swoop, so not for the masses.


Last month USTA announced it had selected Lake Nona, a 7,000-acre master planned community near Orlando International Airport, operated by developer Tavistock Group (think Isleworth in Florida, Harmony Cove in Jamaica, Atlanta’s St. Regis) as the site for a national tennis facility.


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With a reported cost of $60 million, the 63-acre facility with over 100 courts will open in the fourth quarter of 2016.  There will be at least two hotels and a conference center.  USTA Executive Director and COO Gordon Smith said the campus will be the “home of American tennis and will serve as both a training ground to “develop the next number one” player as well as coaching and performance programs at all levels (there will be short courts for youngsters), various tournaments from club level to league and collegiate, and possibly professional tournaments in the future.


With 59 million visitors per year, Smith said “visitation” was a key reason USTA selected Orlando as it gives tennis  the highest possible profile.  He said the complex will be an “energizing facility for the sport.”


At the same time Visit Orlando President and CEO George Aguel (below) said his bureau is going to leverage the facility by becoming “exclusive global tourism partner of the U.S. Open” beginning this year.


Aguel noted the relationship with tennis taps into an affluent, high-travel audience.  The partnership gives the Central Florida destination access to year-round marketing programs reaching USTA’s 750,000 members.  Moreover, Orlando will be highly visible during the U.S. Open, reaching television audiences in over 200 countries and on-site engagement to the 700,000 consumers who attend the New York tournament each year. Aguel pointed that a pre-event program for children draws 35,000 attendees and the tennis relationship is synergistic with Orlando’s core audience of excited kids.


Smith said that Tavistock Group plans more sports oriented development in Lake Nona and Aguel pointed out the community already is host to a group of top medical facilities, including leading pediatric care hospital Nemours, opened in 2012, and University of Central Florida’s health sciences and research centers.


For elite travelers, Orlando’s offerings are expanding beyond VIP theme park enjoyment.  Later this year the $386 million Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts will debut featuring a 2,700-seat main hall that will be the setting for Broadway theatre style productions and a 1,700-seat acoustic hall that will host ballet, operas and orchestral performances.


Visit Orlando appropriately chose Todd English’s Cava Restaurant in the Big Apple to announce its promotional tie-up with USTA.  The chef’s Bluezoo at the Disney complex offers a gourmand escape to spinning teacups. And while fine dining and Orlando may not typically find their way into the same sentence, city officials were busy rattling off a list of James Beard nominated chefs who now call the theme park capital of the world home.  Local product Hari Pulapaka’s Cress Restaurant recently grabbed the top Zagat rating, and there are over 50 restaurants rated 25 or higher for Food and over 30 establishments with a rating of 25 or more for Décor.


While the USTA facility may be a bit in the future, over 25,000 attendees are expected when the National Business Aviation Association’s annual convention returns to Orlando October 21-23.  The conference draws private jet users and business aviation professionals from all 50 states and over 90 countries, and one thing is clear, there’s certainly more for elite travelers to love year round in Central Florida.

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