To Joshua Wallack, Central Florida’s tourism industry is like a big bowl of beef stew.
“Disney and Universal are the meat and potatoes,” he says, “but you need all the other flavors, big and small, to make the stew delicious. Everyone is important.”
Wallack should know. His entrepreneurial vision is shaping the future of I-Drive – and spicing up Orlando’s entertainment scene.
In an industry dominated by giants, it can be difficult to build something sustainable in the shadow of juggernauts. But that is exactly what Wallack — the chief operating officer of Mango’s Tropical Café and managing principal of Skyplex — is setting out to accomplish.
His tourism-focused real estate development company, Wallack Holdings LLC, started as a family business. Now, it is a multimillion-dollar venture that is about to give Orlando the world’s tallest roller-coaster (the 501-foot Skyscraper polercoaster), a 450-foot Skyfall drop tower, 600-foot Skyfly zip line and 450-room hotel.
Likewise, John Arie Sr. and his family also have made a big name for themselves on I-Drive, building a substantial business from humble beginnings. Arie is the owner and CEO of Fun Spot America, a family amusement park that grew out the Lil’ 500 neighborhood go-kart track in Maitland. Today, Fun Spot boasts more than 30 acres of rides and entertainment, with more than 550 employees.
To Arie, being an entrepreneur means “overcoming hurdles, having a vision, a good work ethic and being willing to sacrifice to develop the culture of his brand. An entrepreneur is able to attract and keep talented people that he believes in and who believe in him.”
Wallack defines the concept as being a “leader with the ability to follow through to the end game.”
Both men see parts of themselves in those definitions, citing vision, tenacity and the ability to make adjustments “on the ground” as part of their entrepreneurial spirit. They are exceptions to the rule in an industry run by major corporations, and both think there is plenty of room for new entrepreneurs on the Central Florida tourism horizon.
According to Arie, today’s tourism entrepreneurs should focus on appealing to basic human emotion. “People want to have fun together and spend time together,” he said. “They want a meaningful experience.”
Wallack echoes that sentiment, adding that clarity of vision is also key. “People are hampered by fears that limit their scope of work and their scope of life,” he said. “Entrepreneurs learn to get over that stuff and know there is nothing they can’t accomplish if they work through their fears and doubts.”
While Arie acknowledges that “challenges always exist,” he still sees room for new visionaries to make a major impact on Central Florida’s tourism future. “It would be harder today than when I started in the 90s,” he said. “Someone would have to be at the right place at the right time and be willing to take that courageous first step.”
That time, Wallack says, could be right now, as a tectonic shift in the way people engage with business has started a snowball of failing retailers. To that end, he points to how more and more empty buildings could spell trouble for the commercial real estate market. As a result, there will be more opportunity for others to come in and reinvent how those empty spaces can, once again, be profitable — and, in Orlando, that often means catering to tourists.
“You can’t just sell things to people anymore,” Wallack said. “They want something that is much more experiential. This could be a revolution for entrepreneurs.”
President & CEO of Visit Orlando
BUILDING THE LEGACY
Creative Entrepreneurship Defines Orlando
With all the tourism-fueled growth of recent decades, it can be hard to remember a time when Orlando was not America’s most visited destination or the Theme Park Capital of the World. The days of Central Florida’s economy being driven by anything other than tourism seem like ancient history.
In reality, we are a relatively new arrival on the scene. Across America, numerous other locales had established themselves as prime vacation spots well before Orlando got into the game.
So, how did we go from zero to 60 so fast? And how can we, as a community, grow that momentum in the years to come? In short: creative entrepreneurship.
The genesis of modern-day Orlando can be traced to Walt Disney taking a calculated risk on placing a major theme park in the Central Florida wilderness. Today, that spirit of entrepreneurship lives on — not only as well-established entities like Disney, Universal and Sea World continue to bring forth incredible innovations, but also with the arrival of new leaders building on Orlando’s legacy as a world-class destination.
Two such entrepreneurs (Skyplex’s Joshua Wallack and Fun Spot America’s John Arie Sr.) are featured on the accompanying page. Through efforts such as theirs, International Drive is undergoing a renaissance that’s expanded the view of the entire corridor as a destination in and of itself.
Throughout Central Florida’s tourism industry, a high level of creativity defines the most successful ventures, big or small. The energy generated by some of the world’s leading entertainment brands creates business opportunities across all sectors of our increasingly dynamic economy — and that is where entrepreneurs stand to gain. As history shows, the visionaries of today will forge our tomorrow.