AP NEWS

Hotel arms race in Orlando’s convention industry

December 8, 2018

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Airports Council had one major requirement when trying to pin down a location for its annual conventions recently: 50,000 square feet of meeting space.

In years past, the requirement eliminated the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando.

“They were coming to Orlando either way because the conference goes all over the state,” said Tallahassee-based Karen Crawford of CMC & Associates, a consulting firm that helps business groups locate and book venues for conventions. “But they could never have gone to Grand Cypress because it simply wasn’t big enough.”

However, a recently launched $32 million renovation of the property will double its meeting space to that 50,000-square-foot threshold by next fall.

The result? The Council will hold its 2020 convention at the 1,500-acre property.

Hotels across Central Florida have been doing what they can to compete for added convention dollars by expanding meeting space capacity. It’s an effort to fight for a share of the growing tourism market, which last year saw 1.53 million visitors to Orange County Convention Center, a 5 percent increase over the year before.

Renaissance Hotel, for instance, recently announced a 30,000-square-foot expansion to its SeaWorld location. The project would bring its total meeting space to 215,000 square feet.

That’s just one of the roughly 35 hotel expansion projects in Central Florida, with many of those including additional meeting space.

The Orange County Convention Center’s expected $500 million addition, planned for completion by 2021, indicates that the region’s tourism industry has hope for continued growth.

That growth will create opportunity for other hotels, Crawford said.

“Clearly, the convention center and adjacent hotels are always going to do well,” she said. “But when you start moving over to other parts of town, where you can be close enough to go to Disney but you are not on a Disney property . it’s secluded enough that you feel like you’re in your own little world.”

Meanwhile, the Grand Cypress’ addition will mean two adjacent 25,000-square-foot ballrooms, both of which will be used by the National Airport Council.

Constructions crews broke ground on the project in mid-October.

The Florida Airports Council’s convention last year in Tampa contributed about $1.1 million to the local economy, according to the Destination Marketing Association Inc. data.

The new room will give operators more flexibility when large conventions take up the location’s existing meeting space, hotel general manager Paul Joseph said.

“There are so many people going after the same types of business,” he said. “To be competitive, you have to have the meeting space.”

Orlando’s tourism numbers grow each year, with the region last year drawing a record 72 million visitors.

However, industry experts say there is a stark difference between families that travel together and business travelers.

Convention visitors tend to spend big on meals and other services because they are using corporate expense accounts, said Deborah Breiter Terry, a professor of UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality.

“They are not coming here to eat at a Chick-Fil-A,” she said.

That’s one reason the region has seen dozens of new projects advance.

A strengthening economy has also encouraged developers, said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando.

“The large number of rooms expected over the next 12 to 18 months can be attributed to several years of high occupancy rates and average daily rates,” he said. Those are “the kind of stats that attract the attention of hotel developers.”

The most recent numbers released by the industry tracker STR show that average daily room rates reached an October record of $128.09 per night for Orlando, which generally reflects consumer demand for hotel rooms.

When Crawford was seeking an Orlando location for the Florida Airports Council, she knew the group was not interested in some of the larger hotels because it would likely mean sharing space with other conventions.

So the Grand Cypress’ growth came at an opportune time for the conference, which on average draws about 750 people.

“They wanted to be the big fish in that hotel,” she said.

___

Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

AP RADIO
Update hourly