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Exporting Smiles/Importing Dollars

Orlando tourism numbers are up again. No surprise!

More than 66 million visitors in 2015 with a $60 billion plus economic impact. More than 400,000 jobs, about 37 percent of all jobs in the region, sustained by the tourism economy.

Visitors arrive with great expectations and leave with fond memories.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the state exports manufactured goods, machinery, chemicals, transportation equipment, gold, phosphates, computers, electronics and a long list of other goods and services. Our largest markets are Canada, Brazil and Mexico in that order. Florida’s exports totaled just over $53 billion in 2015.

But Orlando exported much more than that in smiles.

tourism4According to Tourism Economics, an international tourism analysis company, travel is the country’s largest service export and the second largest industry export after transportation equipment.

Our No. 1 Export

In Central Florida, we are running a trade surplus. Tourism is our No. 1 export, and Orlando plays a significant role in that surplus.

Tourism expansion in Orlando is strengthening as the region sees annual increases in visitation as well as per visitor spending. In 2014, tourism in Orlando generated $4.8 billion in state and local taxes. Visitor spending streams to residents as well, with tourism related employment growth surpassing overall job growth for all other industries in Central Florida.

While tourism is considered by many economic analysts and industry operatives to be Orlando’s No. 1 export, some purists question whether it’s an export at all. Classically, exports are goods and services sold or exchanged overseas. Globalization tends to blur boarders, so exports can be classified as foreign or domestic.

toursim3Adam also said, “Visitor spending is coming into Orlando from customers that do not live in the region; strictly speaking it’s an export and one that has tremendous economic power for job creation and tax revenue.”

Not only is tourism our biggest export, driving economic health and vitality, visitor spending brings with it unique benefits in addition to job creation and increased tax revenue. The strength of tourism exports helps produce a region with a higher quality of life for all residents and greater emphasis on environment and natural places.

Sacks says strong tourism exports means Orlando is not just a good place to visit, but a great place to live. “Strong visitor spending in Orlando results in residents enjoying the amenities and cultural experiences that grow from tourism exports,” he said. “Attractions, museums, sports complexes and performing arts centers all have a catalytic effect, raising the quality of life for everyone.”

It’s Sustainable!

And tourism exports are unique as they are largely renewable, sustainable and encourage environmental conservation in a business friendly environment. Unlike resources such as phosphate or limestone, tourism exports are a renewable resource; the smiles and memories exported domestically and abroad are infinite as long as the visitor industry manages their assets.

If not overused, exploited or allowed to degrade, tourism exports are sustainable. According to Sacks, the visitor industry does not consume the region’s natural resources.

tourism1And with all of this economic might in play, policy decisions about the tourism export must be made with thoughtful consideration recognizing the importance of promoting the region while giving specific attention and care to its reputation.

“Destination marketing is critically important to tourism exports,” said Sacks. “Orlando’s brand must be carefully crafted, protected and robustly funded for it to compete in a crowded market.”

With good governance, smiles will continue to be Orlando’s #1 export. u

The Flight That Built Us

By George Aguel, President & CEO of Visit Orlando

More than 50 years ago, Walter Elias Disney flew over Orlando in a twin-engine plane. Looking out the window he saw miles of citrus groves, palmetto trees and a scattering of blue lakes that dotted the flat landscape. But what struck the theme park founder most was a swath of concrete that cut through the countryside. It was the beginnings of Florida’s Turnpike, and it was headed straight for the strip of asphalt that was the newly built Interstate 4 that a few miles to the west linked to Interstate 75 and its travelers to the north. It was this view that would one day give way to the arrival of carloads of visitors and the creation of the Orlando we know today. Based on that glimpse of the two intersecting roadways, Walt Disney World would make its home in the small town that back then had just under 90,000 residents. Soon, more theme parks would follow — the most visited of any theme parks in America — and Central Florida would be changed forever.

Back in those days, oranges and ranching were the big exports and tourism in the area amounted to a handful of roadside attractions where guests could sample gator bites and enjoy the winter foliage. In contrast, last year Orlando welcomed 66 million visitors. As the area’s biggest export, that tourism brought $60 billion in economic impact in 2015 — a dramatic shift from our early beginnings that has not only reshaped Orlando but also the lives of Central Floridians.

As Orlando’s number one export, the tourism trade brings domestic and international dollars to the area. Where there were once citrus trees and farms, now there are hotels and restaurants, shopping malls and sporting stadiums. All of which have led to Orlando being the most visited tourism destination in the country, creating jobs and tax revenue in an industry that is both sustainable and profitable.

More than half a century in the past, Walt Disney looked out of that twin-engine plane and saw more then just palmetto scrubs and citrus groves, he saw the future. And from where we sit today, that future has never looked so bright.

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