- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

ORLANDO, Fla. - It wasn’t so long ago that fine dining for Orlando visitors meant the $9.99 all-you-can-eat buffet at Shoney’s and that luxury accommodations meant chocolate on pillows at the mom-and-pop motels stretching along the tourist strip of Route 192.

In the past decade or so, however, luxury hotels, stores and restaurants have proliferated in this tourist haven, so local officials are tailoring a new message for visitors interested in spas and restaurants conceived by celebrity chefs.

The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau introduced an $8 million marketing campaign last month to compete with such cities as New York and Las Vegas in attracting visitors who want an upscale experience for a romantic getaway, a girls-only weekend of spas and shopping, or a golf vacation.

The bureau in past years limited its marketing efforts to families, a segment that will continue to be targeted because it comprises 45 percent of Orlando’s domestic leisure visitors.

“The good thing about a higher-income market group is that they travel more in general, they visit Orlando more frequently, and they spend more money,” says Jose Estorino, the bureau’s senior vice president of marketing. “The more we present different product offerings and different vacation experiences, the hope is that we would get that incremental trip and put Orlando into consideration for those other kinds of vacations.”

As little as five years ago, a visitor could count on one hand the number of luxury hotels in Orlando, excluding resorts at Walt Disney World. However, in the past several years, the Ritz-Carlton and three luxury resorts at Universal Orlando have opened, bringing the number of luxury establishments to more than a dozen.

Restaurants conceived by celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse (Emeril’s Orlando) and Roy Yamaguchi (Roy’s Restaurant) are cooking up white chocolate creme brulee and blackened ahi. Shoppers can purchase Jimmy Choo shoes and Cartier watches.

Shopping at the Mall at Millenia, home to Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores, tourist Suzanne Burks says she was surprised at the high-end stores found in the theme-park capital.

“When you go out of town, it’s nice to see nice restaurants and shops, close to your style of living,” says Mrs. Burks, of suburban Detroit, who was staying at the Ritz-Carlton with her husband and two daughters. “You know, we have a certain style of living at home. We don’t want to rough it.”

Orlando tourism officials hope the marketing campaign helps spread the word, especially because a large share of Orlando tourists earn significantly more than the national real median household income of more than $43,000. Almost two-thirds of domestic leisure visitors to Orlando earn more than $50,000 a year, and almost two-fifths earn more than $75,000 a year, according to bureau research.

The marketing campaign includes a 30-second television spot showing a series of still images of golfers, swimmers in a shimmering pool, a roller coaster and a couple on a beach, emphasizing the aesthetic pleasures of a vacation. The spot, which has a tagline “Orlando — Sensational,” will run on ESPN, CNN, CNBC and the Golf Channel.

Advertising inserts in Golf Digest, Food & Wine, Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure will highlight Orlando’s luxury spots.

Mrs. Burks and her family usually vacation in Naples and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., because of their luxury shops and hotels. She plans to add Orlando to the list of destinations for the luxury-minded.

“I guess I just never would have thought about it for Orlando,” she says.

Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau: Visit www.orlandoinfo.com or call 407/363-5872. For information on spas, high-end shopping and other luxury offerings, click on Lavish in Luxury.

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