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How Visit Orlando’s new CEO plans to bring Orlando’s tourism back

Casandra Metaj named new CEO and president

ORLANDO, Fla. – Visit Orlando is starting a new year with a new campaign and new CEO and President Casandra Metaj.

“My priority is all about recovery, recovery, recovery,” Metaj said Tuesday.

She will have her work cut out for her as the Central Florida tourism industry continues to slowly rebound from the April pandemic closures.

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CURRENT TOURISM DATA

This comes one day after the Orange County Comptroller’s office released December’s tourism development tax dollar collection. The county collecting $10,592,000 which is a 59% decrease from the December 2019, according to the data. However, it was the eighth consecutive month that collections increased from the devastating hit Orlando’s tourism took in April.

“Although the steady monthly increases in collections are positive news, $10,592,000 is still less than we have collected in and pre-pandemic month since September 2010. And, it is less than we have collected in any December since 2005,” said Orange County comptroller Phil Diamond Monday.

Visit Orlando also released data that showed hotel occupancy was the highest since the pandemic began the week after Christmas in December at 50.1%. It was even higher on New Year’s Eve with 63.4% of the hotels booked that night.

“We are still well below prior year levels,” said Daryl Cronk, senior director of market research at Visit Orlando. “We averaged 50% occupancy for that period. Last year we were close to 90% and on New Year’s Eve, we would see levels in mid-90s so generally pretty full.”

According to Visit Orlando, the holiday period also brought “the highest average daily rates for destination hotels since the pandemic began, $111.99 for the week of Dec. 27, resulting in the first week to average more than $100 since the beginning of March.”

NEW CAMPAIGN

However, the holiday boost is expected to come back down during the slower, off-season months between Christmas and Easter.

It’s why Visit Orlando is launching a new campaign called “The Wonder Remains” targeting in key markets out-of-state for the first time since the pandemic began.

“For a while Visit Orlando, was focused on local staycations,” Matej said. “But this is the first campaign that we are launching that is going outside of Florida.”

Visit Orlando is also targeting new states that they are seeing more families traveling from, like Texas.

“As far as origin markets, we are staring to notice, Texas and we think that’s partly because of the parks are open here and in California remain closed,” Cronk said.

Matej said the new campaign will be a full include TV, radio, magazine ads and target states like Georgia, Alabama and the southeast.

“Research shows that the desire to travel is increasing so we want to capture and captivate that,” Matej said. “It also invites those people that are ready to travel and informs them that Orlando is open and a safe place to work.”

Matej also said part of the campaign focuses on safety and credits the partnerships from the airport, theme parks, hotels and restaurants for promoting safety.

“Part of our messaging to potential visitors is that they have a shared responsibility so when they do come, there is a mask protocol and there are things they need to follow to stay safe,” she added.

LOOKING TOWARDS SPRING AND SUMMER

For the short term, Matej said her goal during these slow winter months is to sustain and keep the current shows scheduled at the Orange County Convention Center and see if there are any opportunities to relocate shows from cities still shut down to Orange County.

“There are opportunities to relocate some of that business,” she said.

Then the goal is to look towards the Spring Break and summer seasons, the busiest seasons for Orlando’s tourism and seasons also devastated by the shutdown last year. The lowest tourism development tax collection was reported in April with only a 12% average occupancy in the hotels, according to Visit Orlando.

“We know there are still going to be short term difficult weeks, but our focus right now is making sure spring and summer are strong for our community,” Metaj said. “There is a lot of key markets showing interest in Visit Orlando and we know that because they are coming to our website.”

LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

As for long-term goals, Metaj believes it will take some time. Research shows many visitors are still only traveling within a 250 mile radius of their homes and without the international travelers, it will take months maybe even years for a full recovery.

“When we talk to industry economists for a full recovery we are looking at 2023,” Matej said. “It’s a step approach, right now we have a lot of staycation and drive-in markets, and we are seeing research that people far away have that pent up demand, but probably thinking from a global standpoint, it will be 2023.”


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