Florida travel up thanks to Canada, Brazil ... Four Seasons Orlando breaks ground
They really mean it.
With the world economy seemingly staggering from one crisis to another, the folks at Visit Florida this week were able to announce that, following a tough couple years, tourism is up a solid 4.6 per cent in the first nine months of this year. In 2010, the first three quarters found 61,736,000 visits. This year, that number was 64,564,000.
Domestic visits are up 3.1 per cent, which is great, especially when you consider 85 per cent of all visits are from Americans. But the real polish comes from Canada and Brazil. Canadian numbers for the first nine months of 2011 were 2,643,000 - up 7.7 per cent. Overseas numbers jumped - leapt actually - a whopping 16.9 per cent to 6,751,000.
Officials said visits from Brazil were up by a third, thanks to a strong middle class and a booming economy. Usually, UK visitors rank only behind Canadians. But, so far this year, Brazil is outpacing the UK, which has slapped high exit taxes on travelers to North America and other regions as a way to help their beleaguered chequebook.
Florida Pandhandle beaches, which suffered from the BP oil spill or feelings that they MIGHT be affected, have bounded back nicely, officials sayd. Bed-tax revenue in Panama City was up 20 per cent in the first three quarters of this year.
St. Petersburg/Clearwater, always a fave among Toronto folks, was expecting a 1 to 2 per cent hike in visits this year but instead is running 8 per cent ahead of last year.
Among other factors? The opening of the hugely successful Harry Potter exhibit at Universal Studios Orlando (see photo). It's so successful that they're building another one in southern California and expanding the Florida version. No kidding.
As encouraging as the numbers are, tourism types say they still haven't reached pre-recession levels. So get down there and do your part already.
Speaking of Florida (we love a good segueway), the folks at Four Seasons Hotels broke ground this week on their first-ever property INSIDE Walt Disney World. The 444-room hotel, part of Disney's Golden Oak residential subdivision, will include a rooftop restaurant with views of the Magic Kingdom (great for fireworks, no doubt), plus a 14,000 square-foot spa, three pools, a lazy river and event/meeting space.
It's the first Orlando property for Four Seasons, which is based, of course, here in Toronto.
NEW HOTELS IN DETROIT AND SAN FRANCISCO, PLUS AN ANNIVERSARY IN GEORGIA
Detroit is getting its first-ever downtown boutique hotel; a sure sign of economic improvement in the Motor City. The first Aloft hotel in the state of Michigan is slated to go into the David Whitney Building in Grand Circus Park downtown. Aloft, part of the worldwide Starwood chain that also includes Westin and Sheraton and W Hotels, is partnering with Daniel Burnham design on what's billed as a hotel with 108 rental apartments. Look for an opening in July, 2014.
Detroit's monthly occupancy rate hit 64.5 per cent in October, the highest level since a 68.7 per cent mark in 2000, according to STR, a Tennessee-based hotel information company.
A firm called TravelClick is said to have projected Detroi's hotel scene as the second busiest in the U.S. for next year, based on advanced booking figures. And that's certainly good news for Motown.
Out in San Francisco, meanwhile, they announced the Inn at the Presidio, a Waterford Hotels project that will be in the middle of an urban park. The Presidio is an old military outpost in the city of San Francisco and they'll be using the old bachelor's office quarters as the building for the hotel, slated to open in April 2012.
The drawings look pretty spiffy. If it's anything like the one they built across the bay in Marin County - the lovely Cavallo Point - it should be a smash success. The Inn at the Presidio is promising historic buildings, miles of trails, abundant wildlife and "stunning" bay and Golden Gate Bridge vistas, with the city of San Francisco's charms right outside the gates.
Probably the sort of place you'll want to have a car, or at least cab money, as it's not exactly in the centre of town. But it's only a short distance to some great neighbourhoods, including Geary St. and downtown, and it's close to Golden Gate Park and to the bay itself.
Finally, I see they're celebrating 125 years of history at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel in Georgia. It's a truly wonderful property; very historic and quiet and serene, with a great location on the inland waterway and just a couple blocks from the beach. Terrific golf is nearby, as well as wonderful food both on property at the hotel restaurants and across the bay at some of the local barbeque joints. Try the Georgia Pig, for sure.
AIR CANADA TO ST. KITTS
Air Canada begins direct service to the lovely island of St. Kitts starting next Friday, Dec. 23. I haven't been but I hear good things about the golf and the Marriott Resort and Royal Beach Casino....