What's New?

Scroll down for interesting developments from the world of marketing and communications, and the travel industry, as well as updates from Vicki Johnson Communications.

Clients in the News

Super 78 Partners with China Dinosaur Land for Mido Dino

Animation World Network, 2-May-2012

 

 Super 78 Studios is producing an animated feature for release in both the U.S. and China in late 2013. China Dinosaur Land, one of China’s largest and most popular theme parks, has partnered with the LA-based creative design and production company to co-produce the film while developing the concept for an attraction that will be built in the park. 

 

Mido Dino is a family animated feature in a magical world where dinosaurs and humans live together. 

 

“Working with Super 78 we’re confident we can establish Mido Dino as a well-known, international brand,” said Horus Tsai, creative producer, Changzhou Dinosaur Land. 

 

Tsai said that in addition to the film and theme park attraction, his organization is also looking to extend the Mido Dino franchise through the creation of a TV series as well as pursue mobile game platforms, stage performances, and other potential branded products.

 

“We’ve enjoyed our partnership with China Dinosaur Land and admire the innovative strategy they’re using to optimize their creative investment by simultaneously developing a film and attraction,” said Brent Young, chief creative officer for Super 78.  

 

In addition to a film and theme park attraction, development of a Mido Dino interactive game and children's book are also in the works.

 

“It’s very refreshing to work with a partner who thinks big picture and explores multiple platforms they can consider to fully leverage their story,” said Dina Benadon, Super 78 CEO, and vice chair of the Producers Guild of America’s New Media Council. “This is something the Producers Guild of America has been actively promoting and I really believe this is the wave of the future for our industry.”

American Ads: Tourism Dip Prompts U.S. to Release First Ever Marketing Campaign

Daily Mail (UK), 2-May-2012

 

The U.S. has never had to rely on advertising to encourage
visitors to its many iconic sites.

 

But in the 10 years since the 9/11 terror attacks its tourism sector has lost out to other destinations, thanks to complicated visa procedures and heightened security.

 

Now, in a bid to encourage more visitors from the U.K.,Canada and Japan, the U.S. is releasing its first ever set of print, web and video adverts to showcase the best the country has to offer for foreign visitors.

 

Brand USA, a partnership of government agencies and private companies, hopes to give prospective visitors a taste of America's landscape, population and culture.

 

Brand USA is also working with government agencies to reduce wait times for visas and make other changes to encourage more international visitors.

 

It's the first time that the U.S. has marketed itself as a tourist destination to people living in other countries.

 

While tourism has increased globally over the last decade, the U.S. slice of those travellers has fallen, due to paperwork needed to enter the country and heightened security, which puts holidaymakers off.

 

So bad has the dip in tourism been that the 10 years after the attacks are often referred to as the 'lost decade' as the U.S. lost out to other countries.

 

Japan, Canada and the U.K. were chosen as the first targets for the tourism campaign as there are minimal travel restrictions in place for their nationals.

 

The print adverts will feature shots of various U.S. spots including New Orleans' French Quarter and the Redwood Preserve in California with the tag line 'Discover this land like never before'.

 

And the videos will use a soundtrack of the song 'Land of Dreams', with lyrics written and sung by Roseanne Cash, the daughter of country music icon Johnny Cash.

 

Brand USA also hopes to extend its advertising campaign out to Brazil and South Korea, as well as other big-spending markets.

 

Brand USA is also working with government agencies to reduce wait times for visas and make other changes to encourage more international visitors.

 

Just a few months ago, for example, the wait for a Chinese tourist to the United States was about 180 days; now it is less than a week.

 

The group is operating with funds set aside two years ago under the federal Travel Promotion Act.  

U.S. Tourism Campaign Launches For First Time in Canada, Japan and the U.K.

Associated Press, 1-May-2012

 

NEW YORK -- How do you sell Times Square and the Grand Canyon? The Carolinas and California?

 

Residents of Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom are getting a taste Tuesday of the United States' first-ever marketing campaign aimed at boosting tourism.

 

The print, web and video ads released Tuesday were created by Brand USA, a partnership of government agencies and private companies. The consortium was developed to act like the tourism ministries of countries such as Ireland, Italy or Israel.

 

It's the first time that the U.S. has marketed itself as a tourist destination to people living in other countries.

 

While tourism has increased globally over the last decade, the U.S. slice of those travelers has fallen, due in large part to complicated visa procedures and heightened security that followed the Sept. 11 attacks.

 

The U.S. had a 17 percent slice of the global tourism spending in 2000, but that has fallen to just over 11 percent today. About 6 percent of tourists globally last year came to the U.S. – that's behind France.

 

The 10 years after the attacks are often referred to as the "lost decade" for U.S. tourism, because new procedures drove millions of international travelers to other countries. Many European countries have reaped the benefit of the U.S. tightened restrictions. More Chinese tourists, for example, now go to France each year than the U.S.

 

The average overseas visitor to the United States spends $4,000 per trip, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

 

Japan, Canada and the U.K. were chosen as the first round of targets because the top-spending tourists in the U.S. come from those countries, which also have relatively light U.S. travel restrictions. Canadians, the top international spenders within American borders, spent $24 billion last year.

 

A few weeks from now, the ads will spread to Brazil and South Korea. A handful of other markets will follow. Brand USA plans to spend about $12.3 million on advertising in the next three months.

 

"Dollars are tight today and we want to be very thoughtful about where and when we spend them," said Stephen J. Cloobeck, the chairman of Brand USA and CEO of Diamond Resorts International. "But we're doing we're doing all this with a smile and a sign that says `Welcome to the United States.'"

 

The print ads feature shots of various U.S. spots including New Orleans' French Quarter and the Redwood Preserve in California with the tag line

 

"Discover this land like never before." The video ads' soundtrack features a song called "Land of Dreams," with lyrics and music singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, the daughter of country music icon Johnny Cash.

 

Brand USA is also working with government agencies to reduce wait times for visas and make other changes to encourage more international visitors. Last year, for example, the wait for a Chinese tourist to secure a visa for travel the United States was about 6 months; now it is less than a week.

 

The group is operating with funds set aside two years ago under the federal Travel Promotion Act.

First-ever U.S. Travel and Tourism Campaign Launches

Hotel Management, 26-April-2012

 

At the International Pow Wow Brand USA unveiled the first-ever marketing campaign aimed at boosting global inbound travel to the United States.

With the tag line “Discover this land, like never before,” the campaign showcases the diversity of travel and tourism opportunities in the United States.

Rosanne Cash, daughter of Grammy award-winning singer / songwriter Johnny Cash, has composed an original song, “Land of Dreams,” for the campaign. Advertisements feature Cash playing the song under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, accompanied by musicians from around the world. Brand USA will extend invitations to musical artists from around the world to come perform their music in their favorite U.S. cities and towns, profiling their trips and favorite things about the USA online and through social media. "Land of Dreams" is available for free download at DiscoverAmerica.com.

Brand USA created the campaign in partnership with JWT, the organization’s agency of record. The first wave of advertising launches May 1 in the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada, with a budget of $12.3 million for the first three months. A second wave will follow in Brazil and South Korea, with several other markets to follow.

Brand USA was created as a result of the U.S. Travel Promotion Act, federal legislation passed in March 2010 which established a public-private partnership between the travel industry and the U.S. government dedicated to increasing international visitation to the U.S. through marketing and promotional efforts to drive job creation and spur economic growth. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the average overseas visitor to the United States spends $4,000 per trip, and 35 incremental overseas visitors supports one new U.S. job.

Ad of the Day: Brand USA

AdWeek, 25-April-2012

 

It's a daunting client to have—the United States of America. And yet, undaunted, JWT this week unveiled the first comprehensive tourism marketing campaign for the U.S. aimed at overseas visitors. And the results are … about what you'd expect.

 

Which isn't to say, bad. Trying to capture a nation of America's size, complexity and diversity in a 60-second TV spot is an impossible task. Naturally, you're going to end up with imagery and themes you've seen hundreds of times before—America quickly turned to Americana, and wrapped in the gauze of unreality common to tourism spots everywhere.

 

Still, given its run of the land, the campaign does deliver impressive images. New York. New Orleans. The mountains, the valleys, the fields and beaches. And then, beyond the images, you've got the music—a universal language for any overseas advertising. Here, it's Rosanne Cash, the daughter of Johnny Cash, singing an original song, "Land of Dreams," with backup from a host of musicians literally from all over the world. The spot is nicely shot and produced, and like all tourism commercials, all its edges are rounded and contours softened. Perfectly mirroring the desires of the target, it offers a vacation from reality—just on a bigger scale. The patriotism is familiar, too—from non-tourism ads. It's like an anthemic

 

American truck or beer commercial, just without the trucks or the beer.

The campaign—produced for Brand USA, a public-private partnership between the travel industry and the U.S. government dedicated to increasing international visits to the U.S.—also includes print and out of home, digital and social efforts. The tagline is: "Discover this land, like never before."

 

JWT says it began the project by trying to understand the existing perceptions of the U.S. around the world—though of course, only the positive ones. The things foreigners love about America—the diversity, pop culture, optimistic spirit and larger-than-life presence—laid the groundwork for the positioning.

 

"For more than 200 years, people have been coming to America, but we have never officially invited the world to visit," says JWT CEO Bob Jeffrey. "We developed a powerful message that taps into people's emotions, reminding them what they love most about America … and inviting them to see it, hear it and feel it in a new way."

 

I'm not sure about new. Rather, it leans on everything tried and true. After all, that's what tourism advertising is about—leading with your strengths. It's no time for surprises.

U.S. Launches First Global Marketing Campaign

Japan Today, 25-April-2012

 

LOS ANGELES — Brand USA, the new tourism marketing entity responsible for promoting the United States to world visitors, has unveiled the USA’s first-ever comprehensive marketing campaign at International Pow Wow, the largest U.S. travel trade show held this week in Los Angeles. The campaign showcases the diversity of experiences available in the United States in a fresh and unexpected light, inviting visitors to “Discover this land, like never before.”

 

“Our goal is nothing short of rekindling the world’s love affair with the USA – the place, the spirit and the dream,” said Brand USA CEO Jim Evans. “We want to spread America’s message of welcome around the world and invite travelers to experience the limitless possibilities the United States has to offer. So we asked ourselves, ‘how can we best speak to multiple countries, across countless languages and cultures?’ We found the answer lay in the only truly universal language—music.”

 

Rosanne Cash, daughter of American music legend Johnny Cash and Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter, has composed an original song, “Land of Dreams,” to serve as the heart of the campaign. Initial advertisements feature Cash playing the song under New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, accompanied by musicians from around the world.

 

As part of its marketing efforts, Brand USA will extend invitations to musical artists from around the world to come perform their music in their favorite U.S. cities and towns, profiling their trips and favorite things about the USA online and through social media. “Land of Dreams” is available for free download at DiscoverAmerica.com.

 

Brand USA, which created the campaign in partnership with JWT, the organization’s agency of record, will employ a fully integrated marketing strategy, using a mix of 60-, 20- and 15-second television spots, as well as digital, billboard and print advertisements and a robust online presence and social media strategy to reach potential visitors. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages will showcase country specific promotions and engagements and the newly re-launched website DiscoverAmerica.com will act as visitors’ information portal for trip planning.

 

“Other countries around the world have prioritized tourism efforts for years, yet in the 236 years since the United States of America was founded, this country has never had a nationally coordinated effort dedicated to inviting travelers to come visit us,” said Stephen J Cloobeck, Chairman of Brand USA’s Board of Directors. “That changes today. This new campaign will tap into an incredibly valuable economic resource – the millions of visitors who want to experience all that our great country has to offer.”

 

The first wave of advertising launches in-market May 1 in the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada, with a budget of $12.3 million for the first three months. A second wave will follow in Brazil and South Korea, with several other markets to follow.

 

Brand USA was created as a result of the U.S. Travel Promotion Act, federal legislation passed in March 2010 which established a public-private partnership between the travel industry and the U.S. government dedicated to increasing international visitation to the U.S. through marketing and promotional efforts to drive job creation and spur economic growth. According to the U.S. Travel Association, the average overseas visitor to the United States spends $4,000 per trip, and 35 incremental overseas visitors supports one new U.S. job.

CNN Headline News (Transcript)

24-April-2012 (6:42 a.m.)

Rosanne Cash will be the face and voice of America in a new tourism campaign  that people will see around the world. "Land of Dreams, land of dreams come and find your land of dreams..."  Cash wrote the song "Land of Dreams."  The $12 million marketing campaign with tv, internet and billboard ads begins next month in Japan, Canada and the UK. And you know, Natasha, they want those foreign visitors. They spend a lot of money when they get here, about $4,000 on average. >> Oh, my goodness. All right, patricia wu, thanks so much! 

To Attract Tourists, America Gets A Theme Song

Forbes.com, 24-April-2012

 

Let’s play word association: I say travel, and you say…

 

“Revenue generator” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet according to U.S. Travel Association, overseas visitors to America spend an average of $4,300 each, enough revenue to create one new American job per every 37 visitors. Travel is in the top 10 industries in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

 

So when America’s share of the world travel market falls, that’s money lost. Since 1992, that share has fallen by nearly one-third, from 9.4 percent to 6.4 percent last year.

 

 

One possible explanation: a public relations deficit. Whereas seemingly every other country has some kind of government-sanctioned tourism promotion board, “In the 236 years since the United States of America was founded, this country has never had a nationally coordinated effort dedicated to inviting travelers to come visit us,” said Stephen J. Cloobeck. He’s chairman of Brand USA, a public-private partnership between the travel industry, created under the U.S. Travel Promotion Act of 2010.

 

To that end, Brand USA is launching the first-ever ad campaign for travel to the United States. Its commercials (like the video above) are filled with heart-tugging images: beaches and bayous, the arches of Utah, a fin-tailed convertible cruising a neon-lit street, a girl running through a field of goldenrod, a New Orleans brass band and a biker heading toward the Golden Gate.

 

Grammy-winner Rosanne Cash (her dad was Johnny, and you can’t get more American than that), wrote and sings the commercials’ theme song called “Land of Dreams,” from a perch overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge, surrounded by a multicultural band of musicians (you can’t get more American than that, either).

 

Brand USA’s CEO, Jim Evans, says “Our goal is nothing short of rekindling the world’s love affair with the USA.” The ad campaign is produced in conjunction with marketing communications firm JWT.

 

Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan (markets No. 1, 3 and 4 respectively for inbound visitors) will see the ads first, a series of digital, print, TV and billboards, beginning May 1. Total cost: around $12.3 million. A second wave is planned for Brazil and South Korea, with more to come. (Rounding out the top 10 countries for inbound travelers are Mexico, Germany, France, China and Australia.)

 

The ads lead to a spiffy and very helpful website, discoveramerica.com, which profiles some 250 locations and experiences nationwide, along with practical information on transportation, accommodation, visa requirements, money and more.

 

Brand USA has a projected annual budget of up to $200 million, which, it is quick to point out, is not funded by American taxpayers. Rather, it’s a combination of private sector investment and the fee that’s assessed on foreign visitors coming from countries that don’t require visas to enter the United States.

 

The ad campaign was announced, appropriately enough, at International Pow Wow, the convention taking place this week in Los Angeles. During this three-day trade show, over 1,000 travel organizations from across America meet with – and hopefully sell to – travel buyers from over 70 countries. The U.S. Travel Association, which sponsors Pow Wow, calls it the largest generator of travel to the United States.

Brand USA Launches America's First Global Tourism Campaign

International Business Times, 25-April-2012

 

It's hard to believe that the United States has never had a
unified marketing effort for tourism -- but that's about to change. Brand USA,
the organization formed by Congress to market the United States to world
visitors, unveiled America's first-ever comprehensive marking campaign on
Monday during a press conference in Los Angeles at International Pow Wow, the
largest U.S. travel trade show.

 

The campaign aims to showcase the diversity of experiences
available in the U.S. in a "fresh and unexpected light," inviting
visitors to "Discover this land, like never before."

 

"Our goal is nothing short of rekindling the world's love affair with the USA -- the place, the spirit and the dream," said Brand USA CEO Jim Evans. "We want to spread America's message of welcome around the world and invite travelers to experience the limitless possibilities the United States has to offer. So we asked ourselves, 'how can we best speak to multiple countries, across countless languages and cultures?' We found the answer lay in the only truly universal language -- music."

 

The Brand USA team enlisted Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, daughter of American music legend Johnny Cash, to compose an original song, "Land of Dreams," to serve as the heart of the campaign. Cash is the first of what Brand USA hopes will be many musical artists to work on the campaign. The organization will extend invitations to musicians from across the globe to perform in their favorite U.S. cities and towns, profiling their trips online and through social media.

 

What is Brand USA?

Brand USA was formerly known by the clunkier name
Corporation for Travel Promotion. It's governed by an 11-member board of
directors appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

 

In November, the board unveiled its logo, which features the
letters

 

"USA" composed of multicolor dots with the Web
address "DiscoverAmerica.com" underneath. The logo plays down any
hint of patriotism and is meant to represent what Brand USA calls "the
United States of Awesome Possibilities."

 

According to Brand USA, the logo was created to be
"fresh, welcoming and inclusive." It's supposed to represent both the
diversity of the people and the land.

 

The US gained a reputation over the past decade for being
unwelcoming. Omitting all nationalistic plugs, the newly-formed tourism board
aims to invite the world's visitors with open arms to help lift the nation of
out the economic doldrums.

 

Inviting the World

 

Americans are viewed as arrogant and brash, having never
actively asked tourists to come visit. Stephen J. Cloobeck, Chairman of Brand
USA's Board of Directors, said that's about to change.

 

"Other countries around the world have prioritized
tourism efforts for years, yet in the 236 years since the United States of
America was founded, this country has never had a nationally coordinated effort
dedicated to inviting travelers to come visit us," he said. "That
changes today. This new campaign will tap into an incredibly valuable economic
resource -- the millions of visitors who want to experience all that our great
country has to offer."

 

Brand USA will use a mix of 60-, 20-, and 15-second
television spots, as well as digital, billboard, and print advertisements and a
robust online strategy to reach potential visitors. DiscoverAmerica.com will
act as visitor's information portal, providing vital tips for trip planning.

 

The first wave of advertising will begin May 1 in Canada,
Japan, and the United Kingdom. A second wave will follow in Brazil and South
Korea, with additional markets added later in 2012.

 

The United States trails France as the world's premier
tourist destination, but the government hopes it's taking steps toward stealing
the title.

 

Washington tapped into the tourism industry as a relatively
fast way to propel the economy out of its post-recession woes.

 

Tourism accounts for 2.8 percent of the gross domestic
product and about 7.5 million jobs. Foreign travelers to the U.S. spend, on
average, $4,000 per trip, and each 35 incremental visitors results in a new
job, Brand USA claims, citing U.S. Travel Association data.

 

The new initiative to draw international visitors will not
be easy. The application process for a U.S. visa is enough to scare many
foreign tourists away, but the government plans to tackle this with a new visa
waiver scheme for most Western European nations, Japan, and Australia.

 

With international travel on the rise, the U.S. is betting
that a relaxed entry process and a $12.5 million campaign can "rekindle
the world's love affair with the USA."

U.S, Travel Industry, Rosanne Cash Launch "First" Discover America Ad Campaign

Huffington Post, 23-April-2012

 

The industry group responsible for drawing tourists to the United States, Brand USA, has launched a $12.3-million campaign that invites visitors to "Discover America."

 

A centerpiece of the multimedia marketing effort is a Rosanne Cash song called "Land of Dreams" that also features David Hidalgo, Steve Berlin and Bebel Gilberto.

 

A music video for the track features visuals of wilderness landscapes, as well as Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco and New York's Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, Central Park, Times Square and still-under-construction One World Trade Center.

 

The push is an effort to tap into the growing global travel market, which one trade group says employs as many as 25 percent of people in some countries.

 

In January, President Obama called tourism "the number one service we export" while speaking about the U.S. from Walt Disney World.

 

"We want to spread America's message of welcome around the world and invite travelers to experience the limitless possibilities the United States has to offer," said the leader of the new effort, Brand USA CEO Jim Evans, in a press release. A $14 charge on all incoming international visitors finances the program, according to the Los Angeles Times.

 

Walt Disney Company, Marriott and Best Western have all chipped in $1 million each in financing as well, Bloomberg reports.

 

The campaign will also feature TV spots, billboards, magazine ads and online videos, appearing first in Canada, Japan and the UK, with Brazil and South Korea to follow.

Brand USA Launches America's First Global Tourism Campaign

International Business Times, 25-April-2012

 

It's hard to believe that the United States has never had a unified marketing effort for tourism -- but that's about to change. Brand USA, the organization formed by Congress to market the United States to world visitors, unveiled America's first-ever comprehensive marking campaign on Monday during a press conference in Los Angeles at International Pow Wow, the largest U.S. travel trade show.

 

The campaign aims to showcase the diversity of experiences available in the U.S. in a "fresh and unexpected light," inviting visitors to "Discover this land, like never before."

 

"Our goal is nothing short of rekindling the world's love affair with the USA -- the place, the spirit and the dream," said Brand USA CEO Jim Evans. "We want to spread America's message of welcome around the world and invite travelers to experience the limitless possibilities the United States has to offer. So we asked ourselves, 'how can we best speak to multiple countries, across countless languages and cultures?' We found the answer lay in the only truly universal language -- music."

 

The Brand USA team enlisted Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash, daughter of American music legend Johnny Cash, to compose an original song, "Land of Dreams," to serve as the heart of the campaign. Cash is the first of what Brand USA hopes will be many musical artists to work on the campaign. The organization will extend invitations to musicians from across the globe to perform in their favorite U.S. cities and towns, profiling their trips online and through social media.

 

What is Brand USA?

Brand USA was formerly known by the clunkier name Corporation for Travel Promotion. It's governed by an 11-member board of directors appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

 

In November, the board unveiled its logo, which features the letters

"USA" composed of multicolor dots with the Web address "DiscoverAmerica.com" underneath. The logo plays down any hint of patriotism and is meant to represent what Brand USA calls "the United States of Awesome Possibilities."

 

According to Brand USA, the logo was created to be "fresh, welcoming and inclusive." It's supposed to represent both the diversity of the people and the land.

 

The US gained a reputation over the past decade for being unwelcoming. Omitting all nationalistic plugs, the newly-formed tourism board aims to invite the world's visitors with open arms to help lift the nation of out the economic doldrums.

 

Inviting the World

Americans are viewed as arrogant and brash, having never actively asked tourists to come visit. Stephen J. Cloobeck, Chairman of Brand USA's Board of Directors, said that's about to change.

 

"Other countries around the world have prioritized tourism efforts for years, yet in the 236 years since the United States of America was founded, this country has never had a nationally coordinated effort dedicated to inviting travelers to come visit us," he said. "That changes today. This new campaign will tap into an incredibly valuable economic resource -- the millions of visitors who want to experience all that our great country has to offer."

 

Brand USA will use a mix of 60-, 20-, and 15-second television spots, as well as digital, billboard, and print advertisements and a robust online strategy to reach potential visitors. DiscoverAmerica.com will act as visitor's information portal, providing vital tips for trip planning.

 

The first wave of advertising will begin May 1 in Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom. A second wave will follow in Brazil and South Korea, with additional markets added later in 2012.

 

The United States trails France as the world's premier tourist destination, but the government hopes it's taking steps toward stealing the title.

Washington tapped into the tourism industry as a relatively fast way to propel the economy out of its post-recession woes.

 

Tourism accounts for 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product and about 7.5 million jobs. Foreign travelers to the U.S. spend, on average, $4,000 per trip, and each 35 incremental visitors results in a new job, Brand USA claims, citing U.S. Travel Association data.

 

The new initiative to draw international visitors will not be easy. The application process for a U.S. visa is enough to scare many foreign tourists away, but the government plans to tackle this with a new visa waiver scheme for most Western European nations, Japan, and Australia.

With international travel on the rise, the U.S. is betting that a relaxed entry process and a $12.5 million campaign can "rekindle the world's love affair with the USA."

U.S, Travel Industry, Rosanne Cash Launch "First" Discover America Ad Campaign

Huffington Post, 23-April-2012

 

The industry group responsible for drawing tourists to the United States, Brand USA, has launched a $12.3-million campaign that invites visitors to "Discover America."

 

A centerpiece of the multimedia marketing effort is a Rosanne Cash song called "Land of Dreams" that also features David Hidalgo, Steve Berlin and Bebel Gilberto.

 

A music video for the track features visuals of wilderness landscapes, as well as Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco and New York's Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, Central Park, Times Square and still-under-construction One World Trade Center.

 

The push is an effort to tap into the growing global travel market, which one trade group says employs as many as 25 percent of people in some countries.

 

In January, President Obama called tourism "the number one service we export" while speaking about the U.S. from Walt Disney World.

 

"We want to spread America’s message of welcome around the world and invite travelers to experience the limitless possibilities the United States has to offer," said the leader of the new effort, Brand USA CEO Jim Evans, in a press release. A $14 charge on all incoming international visitors finances the program, according to theLos Angeles Times.

 

Walt Disney Company, Marriott and Best Western have all chipped in $1 million each in financing as well, Bloomberg reports.

 

The campaign will also feature TV spots, billboards, magazine ads and online videos, appearing first in Canada, Japan and the UK, with Brazil and South Korea to follow.

New Campaign Puts Out USA's Welcome Mat to Foreign Visitors

USA Today, 23-April-2012

 

"Land of Dreams," a jaunty anthem by country singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash (Johnny's daughter), is part of a stepped-up effort to woo international travelers to the USA - and get them to visit more than such iconic destinations as Las Vegas, Orlando and New York.

 

Brand USA was created two years ago as a public-private partnership to market U.S. tourism, initially in Canada, England, and Japan and later in such countries as Brazil, China, France, Germany, India and South Korea. Its $12.5 million campaign, unveiled today at the International Pow Wow travel trade show in Los Angeles with ads launching May 1, is aimed at " rekindling the world's love affair with the USA – the place, the spirit and the dream," says Brand USA CEO Jim Evans.

 

That romance has flagged in recent years: Though nearly 62 million international visitors contributed more than $153 billion to the U.S. economy last year and overall tourism spending increased 8.1%, the USA's share of the total travel market had dropped from 17.2% in 2000 to an estimated 11.6% in 2010, notes U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a recent opinion piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

 

After Sept. 11, the U.S. Travel Association's Geoff Freeman told the New York Times, "the perception formed around the world that America was not as welcoming as it once was, that there was difficulty in accessing the visa, and the entry process through customs was inefficient."

 

"Interest is high and has largely remained high but there has been the perception that 'America isn't interested in me so I won't go,' " Freeman told the paper. " 'Go away' was the message we were sending."

 

The centerpiece of the campaign will be Cash's upbeat song and music video, which goes beyond racial diversity to showcase scenes of young women wearing headscarves on a city street and two men snuggling on a New Orleans streetcar.

 

Locations include such well-known spots as Monument Valley and the redwoods of Northern California, along with one that seems designed to raise eyebrows, if not hackles: a water skier carving turns in front of an iceberg.

 

Initial advertisements will feature Cash playing the tune under New York's Brooklyn Bridge, accompanied by musicians from around the world. As part of its marketing efforts, Brand USA will invite musical artists from around the world to perform their music in their favorite U.S. cities and towns, profiling their trips and favorite things about the USA online and through social media.

 

No Red, White and Blue in New U.S. Tourism Campaign

Toronto Star, 23-April-2012

 

Canadians think they know the United States. A new campaign hopes to prove us wrong.

 

A new tourism campaign — the first-ever mass effort by the U.S. government to boost its number of visitors — was unveiled here Monday, complete with a soft-sell original song from Roseanne Cash called “Land of Dreams.”

 

The campaign is distinctive for including world musicians and a sea of multicultural faces. And there’s no American flags or bald eagles or other “standard” American shots to be seen, a fact noted by a few American reporters in the audience at Monday’s unveiling.

 

Officials with Brand USA, the wide-ranging group formed at the request of President Barack Obama to sell a new image of the U.S. to the world, said it was intentional.

Speaking in front of an ad showing an African American playing the saxophone on the street with the words “Discover this land, like never before,” Brand USA chairman Stephen Cloobeck said the campaign “is not your basic, red, white and blue out of the box kind of thing.”

 

“Almost everyone thinks they know America,” said Brand USA chief marketing officer Chris Perkins. “But they kinda don’t. We want to show America as never before; a land of endless possibilities and experiential travel.”

 

As much as some folks around the globe like to complain about American policies, officials said many people in the world still admire the United States.

 

“Our goal is nothing short of rekindling the world’s love affair with the USA — the place, the spirit and the dream,” said Brand USA chief executive Jim Evans. “We want to spread America’s message of welcome around the world and invite travelers to experience the limitless possibilities the United States has to offer.”

 

“Other countries around the world have prioritized tourism efforts for years, yet in the 236 years since the United States of America was founded, this country has never had a nationally coordinated effort dedicated to inviting travelers to come visit us,” said Stephen Cloobeck, chairman of the Brand USA board. “That changes today.”

 

Cloobeck said his group will “set the new gold standard” for tourism campaigns around the world and that the U.S. will increase its market share, thus improving the U.S. economy and boosting jobs.

 

Cloobeck said it’s tough selling a nation as vast and diverse as the U.S. to the world, so they opted to make music a central theme. After all, the U.S. is home to jazz, blues, rock, country, hip hop and lots more.

 

Centrepiece of the campaign is a 60-second video with Cash that features images most folks don’t see in typical American campaigns. There’s a man raking unusual patterns onto a sandy beach; a young woman walking along a boardwalk in a swampy, green bayou; young, Islamic-looking women with scarves over their heads; old men playing dominoes in what looks Little Havana in Miami; and a guy cruising a lighted street in a convertible.

 

There also are hikers parachuting off brilliant, orange-red cliffs, shots of a baseball game, a native American dance ceremony, whitewater rafters and other images that are both familiar and slightly unusual. Cash is seen playing her “Land of Dreams” song under the Brooklyn Bridge with musicians from Brazil, Japan and other cities; a nice nod to the world’s cultures.

 

All in all, it’s a deliberately low-key approach.

 

“I wanted the song to feel like an anthem without sounding like a sledgehammer,” Cash says in a video shown to the media on Monday. She said she wanted it to be about freedom without really talking about freedom.

 

The campaign also features print ads and social media, and U.S. tourism folks have rebranded their main website, www.discoveramerica.com.

 

The campaign launches in Canada, the UK and Japan on May 1.

Canada is far and away the largest supplier of tourists to the U.S. and Toronto is the number-one city for U.S. departures in Canada.

 

Brand USA chief marketing officer Chris Perkins said one of the things he loves about Canadian visitors is their “willingness to experience a lot of different dimensions.”

“Canadians travel throughout our nation,” said Brand USA CEO Jim Evans. “They visit all corners of the U.S.”

 

Evans said the Brand USA board is made up of folks who have lived in 25 countries and speak 14 languages, which should help them sell the U.S.

First Coordinated U.S. Tourism Campaign to Launch in May

LA Times, 23-April-2012

 

Singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash will wail an anthem called "Land of Dreams" while images of smiling Americans playing on the beach, running through fields of flowers and dancing in streets flash across the screen.

 

These are among the images and sounds behind the nation's first coordinated $150-million media campaign to promote the U.S. to travelers worldwide. Details of the campaign are set to be released today at International Pow Wow 2012, a travel trade show at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

 

The U.S. Travel Assn. initiated the campaign with the support of several large tourism groups and travel businesses. It was approved by Congress as part of the Travel Promotion Act of 2010. The campaign will be financed by a $14 fee charged to each international visitor who registers for a visa to enter the U.S., plus donations from private businesses such as hotels and theme parks.

 

The campaign is in response to a drop in the country's share of world travelers in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Many travel industry leaders blame the nation's tougher visa requirements and airport security measures for cutting overall visitor numbers and spending totals.

 

To draw foreign travelers back, the campaign will launch billboards, magazine ads, online videos and television commercials, emblazoned in colorful images of city scenes, forests and beaches and the message "Discover America."

 

The campaign is headed by a board of directors, appointed by the U.S. secretary of Commerce, that includes the heads of state tourism panels and hotel company executives, among others. New York-based JWT, one of the nation's largest advertising firms, was chosen to develop the campaign.

 

The marketing blitz will begin next month in Canada, Britain and Japan, followed later in Brazil, South Korea, India and Germany.

 

Although the campaign is designed to promote the country as a whole, private travel industry firms that donate a minimum of $1 million in cash and $4 million in in-kind contributions to the campaign get mentioned in the ads by name, with online links and phone numbers included.

 

So far,Marriott International Inc.,Walt Disney Co.and Best Western International Inc. have each contributed the minimum amount.

 

"Those that can't donate those dollars still benefit from the overall campaign," said Chris Perkins, chief marketing officer for the campaign. "By selling the whole nation, they all stand to benefit."


USA Launches First Global Marketing Campaign to Attract International Travelers

(MultiMedia News View) - Assets from Brand USA Marketing Campaign Launch

23-April-2012

U.S. Travel Industry Taps Rosanne Cash to Lure Visitors

Bloomberg, 23-April-2012

 

The U.S. travel industry is kicking off a first-ever, $12.3 million marketing campaign, featuring an original song by country-music star Rosanne Cash.

 

Television, Internet and billboard ads will begin rolling out in the U.K., Canada and Japan starting May 1, said Jim Evans, chief executive officer of Washington-based Brand USA, a public-private marketing agency established by Congress in 2010.

 

The desire for travel to the U.S. has waned in the past decade as people said in polls that they knew enough about America from its films, TV shows and music, Evans said. Some U.S. economic, homeland-security and immigration policies during that time also made people around world believe America was "less welcoming" to tourists, he said.

 

"We knew we had to change people's opinions," Evans said in an interview. "It's critical we show the U.S. as a nation of freedom, diversity and a lot of fun."

 

The advertising campaign, with the tagline "Discover this land like never before," will be unveiled today at the International Pow Wow travel-industry conference in Los Angeles.

 

Walt Disney Co. (DIS), Marriott International (MAR) and Best Western International each contributed $1 million for the marketing campaign The federal government is matching the contributions two for one, financed by exit fees collected on visitors leaving the U.S., Brand USA said on its website.

 

Brazil, South Korea

 

Marketing will expand to Brazil and South Korea on June 1, Evans said. The $12.3 million budget supports the first three months of the campaign.

 

The targeted countries were chosen based on the volume of travel to the U.S., the ease of gaining visas, how much visitors from those countries spend on average and the cost of advertising in those territories.

 

Foreign travelers to the U.S. spend $4,000 per trip on average, and each 35 incremental visitors results in a new job being created, Brand USA said, citing U.S. Travel Association data.

 

Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash, composed "Land of Dreams" for the campaign and appears in commercials that feature the singer performing with other musicians from around the world under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

 

As part of the effort, musicians will be invited to perform in their favorite U.S. cities, with profiles of their trips appearing online and on social media. The videos, which also will feature actors, chefs and other celebrities talking about their favorite restaurants or attractions in America, will air on TV networks around the world, Evans said.

 

The U.S. campaign is coordinating closely with the leaders of New York, California and Las Vegas tourism efforts, Evans said. Still, he says Brand USA's efforts will be more broad.

 

"'You won't just see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge or the Washington Monument in these spots," Evans said. "This is a very broad-based ad that shows all of America."

Brand USA Unveils Campaign to Market U.S. Destinations
Travel Weekly, 23-April-2012
 
If you'd been told that on April 23, 2012, a country would be revealing its first-ever comprehensive destination marketing campaign, no one could fault you for assuming the country in question was a developing or newly independent nation. 

But no, it's not South Sudan. 

This campaign was created to market our own 235-year-old country. Today, Brand USA is unveiling its inaugural attempt to lure more visitors to America. Individual U.S. destinations and travel companies will finally be getting advertising support from a national organization. 

Brand USA, the public/private entity charged with increasing our share of international visitors, will mount a $12.3 million blitz via TV, the Web, billboards, print advertising and social media beginning May 1 in the U.K., Canada and Japan. 

A second wave will include Brazil and South Korea, with several other markets to follow. 

Chris Perkins, the chief marketing officer of Brand USA, gave me a sneak peek at the campaign and spoke to me about how it developed. 

It began, as much marketing does, with efforts to better understand existing product perceptions. 

Research was fielded in the 16 countries that send the most visitors to America. 

"We started out knowing we have 100%, or almost 100%, brand recognition," Perkins said. "But we wanted to know what motivates people to visit and what keeps others away." 

In exploring the barriers to visitation, the group discovered recurring themes. There was a belief among some potential visitors that Americans are arrogant and, for that matter, not particularly welcoming. Even the name Homeland Security is off-putting, Perkins found out. "It doesn't suggest safety for all. It puts out the message that we're watching out for ourselves."

Further, America is, in Perkins' words, a "middle age" destination. "Middle age is a summary way of saying we're not as shiny and new and fresh" as some destinations. "People think they already know us. From pop culture. From the news." 

Depending on the market, however, 18% to 40% of those surveyed were strongly predisposed not only to visit the U.S. but to recommend it to their fellow citizens. 

Brand USA discovered that what these people love about the U.S. is its diversity, and they're inspired by America's endless possibilities. 

"They see an awesome range of extraordinary experiences, and they believe that Americans welcome the opportunity to share their dreams" Perkins said. "Knowing this, we crafted a message that would clearly be very welcoming and would speak of possibilities and experience." 

It was also agreed early on that music, that most universal of languages, would have a central place in the campaign. The song "This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie struck the team as capturing the spirit of shared wonder, and the team contacted Guthrie's estate to explore licensing the song. But because it could not be exclusively licensed by Brand USA, it was ultimately decided that the campaign needed its own custom-tailored song. 

Subsequent to the research, a slogan was developed: "Discover this land, like never before." Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash and an accomplished artist in her own right, was engaged to write a song that would fit the theme and the campaign's goals. The result can be seen in the video "Land of Dreams." 

Although many countries where it will be shown speak languages other than English, the song will not be translated, Perkins said, because "research showed this is how [potential visitors] prefer to see it."

Ultimately, it is up to Americans to deliver on the promise of the campaign. I'm not too worried about our ability to provide a warm, diverse, even wondrous experience, but previous U.S. Travel research has suggested that there is well-founded anxiety about the initial welcome visitors receive in our immigration halls. I asked Perkins about that. 

"We're in the marketing business," he replied. "Brand USA is not a lobbying group or policy group, but we want to reinforce [our message] at all levels. Security is paramount, and always will be, but we're working closely with the good folks at TSA, and there's a great deal of interest in improving [the welcome]. We've talked about scripting engagement protocol and helping with training." 

The entry halls, even embassies and consulates, can also have overt connections to what Brand USA is doing, he said. 

Having seen the components, I believe the campaign works thematically, aesthetically and emotionally; the 20-second spots are downright exciting. And although I think "Discover this land, like never before" is a bit clunky for a catchphrase, it wasn't crafted for my ears, and one hopes it won't be lost in translation when it's shipped overseas. 

Perkins said the developers specifically avoided any directly patriotic or nationalistic overtones, but I can honestly say that watching the commercials made me proud. Our diversity of people and experiences truly is amazing. 

Toward the end of our conversation, I asked Perkins how the campaign tested against those with the strongest negative impressions of America. 

"Some, you can't change their minds, so you don't try," he said. "But the good news is that many objectors saw this and said, 'Well, I may not believe everything, but ... maybe.' We do want to win over the people in the middle, the fence sitters, and they told us, 'This is positive.' 

"Marketing done right has a multiplier effect," Perkins concluded. "You set in motion a context of understanding, and if it's worthy, [consumers] will share it in ways that are bigger than you could ever buy." 

Starting next month, the campaign's worthiness will get its first road test. 

Themed Entertainment: Super 78's Benadon Panelist at SXSW Conference

Blooloop, 5-March-2012

 

For years the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference, an interactive confab in Austin, Texas, has been distinguished as a launch pad for new ideas and innovations, and a connecting spot for some of the most innovative minds in the tech world.

 

One attraction design company will use the 2012 Interactive conference, which runs March 9-11, as an opportunity to help the theme park industry finally break through at the event that historically has been dominated by technology and marketing organizations.

 

On March 11 Dina Benadon, the CEO of the attraction design firm Super 78 Studios, will participate in “Multi-platform Storytelling: Frontline War Stories,” a panel that will highlight the promise and mechanics of participatory storytelling.

 

Benadon will present developments unfolding in the area of special venue entertainment, including the creative and technological challenges of telling stories across multiple media platforms.  Joining Benadon on the panel will be:

 

•    Tracy Fullerton, professor and director of the Game Innovation Lab at the USC School of Cinematic Arts;

•    Lance Weiler, a storyteller, entrepreneur and thought leader who WIRED magazine named “One of twenty-five people helping to re-invent entertainment and change the face of Hollywood;”

•    Jon M. Chu, a feature film director of Touchstone Pictures’ Step Up 2 The Streets (2008), Step Up 3D (2010) and Paramount Picture’s Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011);

•    And Brian Seth Hurst is CEO of The Opportunity Management Company, a strategic consultancy driving the next generation of entertainment, who will moderate.

 

In addition to her panel presentation, Benadon also intends to leverage the conference to canvas for new interactive technologies and digital communications developments that Super 78 can incorporate into future attraction designs.

 

“SXSW is really the intersection of technology, and the theme parks and attractions industry has been conspicuously absent,” says Benadon.   “Our legacy revolves around our ability to be among the first to embrace emerging technologies and deploy them to more actively engage the audience in the stories and experiences we share.  That’s why it’s vital that we have a much bigger presence at conferences like SXSW.” 

Personal Chefs Get Things Cooking on Valentine's Day

Daily Buzz, 7-Feb-2012

 

Chef Elle, a member of the U.S. Personal Chef Association, appears on the Daily Buzz and offers tips on how to prepare a romantic Valentine's Day meal.

Obama Eases Visa Rules to Boost U.S. Tourism

USA Today, 19-January-2012

 

President Obama issued an executive order Thursday calling for a reduction in the time it takes for travelers from China and Brazil to get visas to come see the USA.

 

He also ordered the elimination of tourist visas altogether for visitors from Taiwan as part of a plan to boost the number of foreign tourists and the U.S. tourism industry as a way to create more jobs.


Obama, who was unveiling his plan at a visit to Walt Disney World in Florida, also told the secretaries of Commerce and Interior to develop a national tourism strategy that highlights national parks, and cultural and historic sites. He said eco-tourism and outdoor recreation already are important in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

 

"We need to help businesses all across the country grow and create jobs; compete and win," Obama said. "That's how we're going to rebuild an economy where hard work pays off, where responsibility is rewarded, and where anyone can make it if they try."

 

The president's visit to one of the nation's biggest tourist attractions comes as Republican presidential candidates prepare to blanket Florida ahead of the state's Jan. 31 primary.

 

The president's steps aimed at increasing the number of foreign travelers have been sought for several years by the nation's tourism and business sectors.

 

They've argued that tight U.S. travel restrictions are costing the nation foreign tourist dollars and the industry jobs.

 

"We're really losing out on some huge economic benefit by not streamlining the process so that more people can visit our country," said Blain Rethmeier of the U.S. Travel Association. "We must re-establish the U.S. as the premier destination for the world."

 

Concerns about terrorism and illegal immigration led to the tight travel policies. Foreign visitor numbers have been flat since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The United States issued 7.6 million visas in 2001, compared with 6.5 million in 2010.

 

Restoring tourism to 2001 levels could create 1.3 million jobs and add $860 billion in economic activity by 2020, tourist and business groups say.

 

Obama specifically ordered the departments of State and Homeland Security to boost the capacity for issuing visas in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012. He said he wanted to ensure that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants from foreign countries are interviewed within three weeks by U.S. consular staffs. And he wants an experimental program to waive interviews for low-risk travelers, such as anyone renewing a visa or, in Brazil, younger or older first-time applicants.

 

He seeks to place Taiwan in the visa-waiver program, adding it to 36 countries largely in Europe, and in Japan and Australia. And he is making permanent the Global Entry program, which allows travelers who undergo rigorous background checks to breeze through customs.

 

Paving the way for more foreign tourists and business travelers is a top legislative priority this year of groups ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

 

Among the most desired visitors: Big-spending tourists from Brazil and China. Despite visa hurdles, the USA has become a popular destination for their citizens.

 

The 1.2 million Brazilians who visited in 2010 represented a third more than the year before, according to Commerce Department figures. The pace is growing by more than a fourth again this year. The 801,738 Chinese who came in 2010 represented a 53% increase from 2009. They're on pace to increase another 37% this year.

 

Chinese visitors spend an average of $6,243 during each U.S. trip, and Brazilians, $4,940, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

 

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, visa applicants who are outside visa-waiver nations have to be interviewed by U.S. consular staff. But only five cities in China and four in Brazil have consular offices. That leaves 20 cities in China with populations of at least 2 million without offices. The average wait in São Paolo is 75 days, the travel association says.

 

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, visa applicants who are outside visa-waiver nations have to be interviewed by U.S. consular staff. But only five cities in China and four in Brazil have consular offices. That leaves 20 cities in China with populations of at least 2 million without offices. The average wait in São Paolo is 75 days, the travel association says.

 

The president's actions won immediate approval by many in the nation's travel industry.

 

Among them is Nelson Martin, who worked for Disney for 16 years before leaving in August to start Highstar Travel Group, which targets tourists from Latin American countries.

 

Martin said that Brazilians, especially, are interested in visiting the U.S., but that the distances and wait times for interviews at one of four consular offices are discouraging them in contrast to easier travel to Europe or the Caribbean.

 

"We describe it as going on vacation before going on vacation," Martin said. "If you go to these offices, the lines go out the door and around the corner. The demand is incredible."

 

Martin said conditions have improved in recent years in the consular offices in Sao Paolo, Rio, Brazilia and Recife. But he said boosting staff and eliminating interviews for some applicants as Obama ordered will streamline the process.

 

"It's fantastic," Martin said. "It's a huge step, but a first step."

 

Brazil would like ultimately to be included in the visa-waiver program, to make travel more on par with Europe, Martin said.

Obama's Plan To Boost Tourism Well Received in Polk County

Lakeland Ledger, 19-January-2012

 

Even though President Barack Obama spoke today at a rival tourist attraction, Legoland Florida general manager Adrian Jones welcomed the president’s pledge to make it easier for residents of Brazil, China and other countries to visit the United States.

 

“This development is a major game-changer for Florida,” Jones said in a statement issued by the theme park. “An improved visa process helps us roll out the welcome mat to our friends in Brazil and will result in record numbers of young families visiting Florida.”

 

Obama visited Walt Disney World in Orlando to announce a new strategy to boost tourism and travel to the U.S.

 

Obama issued an executive order to increase tourist visa processing in China and Brazil. He also wants to increase promotions of national parks and adding business executives to a tourism advisory board.

 

The president's executive order directs his administration to find ways to get more international guests to America that includes making it easier for tourists to visit.

 

Jones said Legoland Florida has already noticed large numbers of guests from Latin America since opening last October in Winter Haven. He said that trend, combined with Obama’s announcement, will spur the attraction to hire more Portuguese — and Spanish-speaking “model citizens,” — the park’s name for its employees.

 

“Cost and convenience historically are two of the biggest barriers in travel,” Jones said. “By addressing the hassle factor and making the visa process less onerous, we’ve just substantially improved our chance of attracting additional guests.”

 

Mark Jackson, director of Central Florida’s Tourism and Sports Marketing, was returning from three days in Tallahassee and didn’t hear Obama’s speech, but he said the news is encouraging.

 

“Certainly from a tourism standpoint, making it easier, particularly for Brazilians — which is a growing market for us — and the Chinese and so on is just going to increase opportunities, particularly here in Florida,” Jackson said. “Without knowing all the details, I see it as a good thing.”

 

Slightly more than 1 million Brazilian tourists visited Florida in the first nine months of 2011, the most recent period for which figures are available, according to research by Visit Florida, the official state marketing agency. That was a 41-percent increase over the same period from 2010, Visit Florida said, and moved Brazil past the United Kingdom as the leading country of origin for Florida’s foreign tourists.

 

Brazilian visitors spent more than $1.6 million in Florida in that period, an increase of 59 percent, the agency reported.

 

The current average wait for a tourist visa ranges from 76 days in the city of Recife to 101 days in the capital of Sao Paulo, according to Visit Florida.

 

Some 119,000 residents of China and Hong Kong traveled to Florida in the first nine months of 2011, Visit Florida reported. That marked a surge of 38 percent over the previous year. China and Hong Kong combine to rank 15th in foreign tourists to Florida, the agency said.

 

Jackson sits on an advisory committee for Visit Florida, and he said Brazil has recently become a “target market” for Florida’s tourism industry.

 

“We’re seeing increasing numbers coming out of Brazil, where their economy has not been as affected by the global recession,” Jackson said. “That’s part of it; the increase in prosperity in Brazil is part of it. There’s renewed interest, and I see nothing but a bright future, at least on the tourism side of things, between Brazil and the United States.”

 

Legoland’s Jones concurred.

 

“As a brand-new theme park that caters to young families, this is of course very welcome news for Legoland Florida,” Jones said. “The Brazilians’ affection for America, love of theme parks and their affinity for the Lego brand present the perfect opportunity for us in that market.”

 

The president's order includes these points:

 

Expansion of the global entry program. Frequent travelers right now can bypass immigration by submitting to extensive background checks. This will be made available to more international travelers.

 

Allow citizens from countries to visit the U.S. without a tourist visa. Right now citizens from 36 countries around the world can do so.

 

Process tourists visas for citizens in China and Brazil at least 40 percent faster starting this year.

President's Visa Plan Could Boost Bay Area

My Fox Tampa Bay, 19-January-2012

 

ORLANDO - President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled a new plan to bring more international visitors to Florida, saying he wants the state to be the best tourist spot in the world.

 

Obama spoke for about 15 minutes at Walt Disney World in Orlando, stealing the spotlight in the state -- if only for a brief moment before Republican presidential hopefuls battle in Florida's primary election.

 

Obama said his plan, closely watched by local businesses around the state, is to make Florida attractive to tourists.

 

"America is open for business," he proclaimed.

 

Obama arrived on Air Force One before noon, and quickly made his way to Magical Kingdom Park. It's part of several trips he's made before state primaries.

 

After his trip to Florida, the president will head to Nevada, the next stop after Florida on the primary calendar.

 

But for Obama, the focus Thursday was on expanding tourism in Florida. The president laid out plans to speed visa processing and make it easier for people in fast-growing China, Brazil and elsewhere to travel to the U.S.

It's the kind of thing that Luz Helena is waiting for. She says many of her contacts in Colombia would like to visit her in St. Petersburg, but they can't.

 

"They do get stuck, and years go by before they are able to travel," Helena told FOX 13 earlier this week.

 

The delays deprive our local tourist attractions of business, and may be slowing the recovery in Tampa Bay.

 

"We've had horror stories from [people in] Canada, Latin America and South America. To get here is not easy," said St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce President Chris Steinocher. "Our economy has not bounced back in Tampa Bay. It's getting close, but foreign visitors are still down."

 

Indeed, the state's theme parks wasted no time welcoming the news. The president hadn't even finished speaking when Legoland Florida issued a press release in support of the plan.

 

“This development is a major game-changer for Florida. An improved visa process helps us roll out the welcome mat to our friends in Brazil and will result in record numbers of young families visiting Florida," the statement read. 

The Rosie Show

18-January-2012

 

About This Episode
It's the second day on her new set, and Rosie has great news to share: She's lost 17 pounds, and her son Parker has been promoted to sergeant at military school! 

So what did Rosie do over her holiday break? Locked herself out of her Chicago home...again. Only this time, she had no socks on and Michelle's dog got loose. Luckily, Rosie has neighbors with big hearts, a warm house and clean socks. Rosie introduces us to Cara, Daniel, Adam and Charlie and gives them a huge surprise to thank them for their kindness. 


The surprise?...a 3-day vacation to LEGOLAND Florida!

Six Flags, local firm renew pact

Orlando Sentinel, 16-January-2012

 

Accesso LLC, the Lake Mary-based ticketing-software company that last fall landed a deal with Cedar FairEntertainment Co., has re-upped its biggest client: Six Flags Entertainment Corp.

 

Accesso and Grand Prairie, Texas-based Six Flags announced last week that they had signed a new, six-year deal in which the regional amusement-park operator will continue to use Accesso's ticket and e-commerce systems. Accesso has handled Six Flags' ticketing for the past five years.

 

Six Flags Corp. is the largest regional theme-park operator in the world, with 19 parks across North America. In a prepared statement, the company's chief information officer, Michael Isreal, said Six Flags' online revenue has "increased significantly" since it began using Accesso's systems.

 

With Six Flags renewed and Cedar Fair signed, Accesso has increased its payroll to 30 employees, a company spokeswoman said. That's twice as many people as the company had in 2009.

Raise the Bar

Orlando Magazine, January 2012

 

For nine overachievers, life is about meeting their goals and going on to greater accomplishments. Sleep is optional.

 

FOSTER LANENGA

Occupation… co-founder and owner of Farris and Foster’s Famous Chocolate Factory in Baldwin Park, Dr. Phillips, Waterford Lakes and Lakeland. Personal passions… singing with Orlando’s Harmony Society, a barbershop quartet, collecting antique cars, playing the banjo, ballroom dancing and singing opera. Extra credit… he’s also a scoutmaster with the local Boys Scout troop. His approach to life… is daring and gutsy, he says. “Some people are just too cautious in my view. I say jump in. If it doesn’t work out the first time, jump again.” What, him worry?… Recession notwithstanding, this jumper opened two more locations of his  “chocolate factories” in the last 12 months. Order a barbershop valentine through Orlando’s Harmony Society this February and Lanenga, 57, just might be the crooner who shows up at your door... chocolates in hand, of course.

Protecting Your Gut: Dining Out Safely in South Florida

Orlando Sentinel, 27-Dec-2011

 

Roaches and rats, mealy bugs and indoor sewage: It's been a lively year for state restaurant inspectors, and their reports about South Florida dining spots have enthralled Sun Sentinel readers.

 

And for good reason. Such sanitary problems can make restaurant patrons sick, sometimes extremely so.

 

"Most people are fine until they have a first-hand experience of wanting to die," said Vicki Johnson, spokeswoman for the Orlando-based National Registry of Food Safety Professionals.

 

The group does not inspect restaurants, but is one of three providers of food manager certification programs recognized by the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, which licenses food vendors.

 

"Food safety is such an important topic, everyone is paying attention to it," Johnson said. "With social media, the minute anyone has a bad experience, it's out there immediately. And establishments cannot afford a bad customer experience."

 

Nor, you would think, can they afford a bad inspection result. But each week, DBPR's inspectors briefly close and sometimes fine businesses whose facilities or food preparation methods don't comply with health and safety regulations.

 

Luckily Broward County did not have major reports of illness.

 

"2011 was a good year," said Candy Sims, the county Health Department spokeswoman, who attributed the results to education. "We did have some complaints, but we didn't have any full-blown food or water borne outbreaks. Perhaps it's because we constantly tell people to wash their hands and to maintain proper food temperatures while cooking."

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention most recent data from 2009 confirmed 67 cases of norovirus in Florida: 11 people became sick after eating at fast food restaurants; 53 were ill from salads and three ate calamari at sit-down restaurants.

 

Unwelcome ingredients like staphylococcus aureus, bacillus cereus, clostridium perfringens and norovirus that cause nausea and worse were found in rice, cheesecake, sausage and other foods that authorities suspect sickened 36 others in Florida that year.

 

Fort Lauderdale vacationer Barbara Del Guercio owns a New Jersey Italian ice shop and said she Googles restaurant reviews before dining out.

 

"If the windows aren't clean, that tells me something's wrong with the kitchen," said Del Guercio.

 

Roberta Davis of Pinecrest relies on word of mouth as well as online reports.

 

"If you tell me there's something wrong, it's the kiss of death," Davis said. "I'm done."

 

One expert advised diners to observe whether a server's hands avoid rims of glasses or tips of utensils that will enter a diner's mouth.

 

Such detective work can be aided by two new features offered by DBPR's website http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr this year: a smart phone or iPhone app allows patrons to look up a restaurant's bi-annual inspection results, and lists vendors each week — from hot dog stands to high-end steakhouses — that have a history of clean inspections.

 

You can find weekly inspection results on the Crime & Safety blog at http://www.sunsentinel.com/safety. If you become ill, call DBPR at 850-487-1395 or complain online at http://www.MyFloridaLicense.com.

 

Johnson said her own safe dining habit is to wash her hands after touching a menu.

 

"Those things are handled constantly and very rarely are wiped down," she said. "It doesn't matter if it's a fine dining establishment or quick service organization. Bacteria is an equal opportunity organism."

 "Theme Park 2.0" features pricey, high-tech attractions

 Reuters, 24-December-2011

 

Investment in theme parks and cutting-edge attractions along the lines of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando surged during the recession, leading one developer to suggest the business is entering a new Golden Age.


"It's almost like a Theme Park 2.0, or a re-boot," said Brent Young, co-founder of the Super 78 production studio in Hollywood, California.

"We're really coming into a second Golden Age in theme park development," he said.

The first boom, which peaked in the 1970s, saw extensive construction of theme parks in the United States from the ground up. Development of Walt Disney World, Six Flags, Busch Gardens and numerous regional parks led to a saturation of the U.S. market by the 1980s, according to John Gerner, managing director of Leisure Business Advisors.

The new era is a global phenomenon propelled by technological advances and a growing middle class in Asia and third-world countries, Gerner and Young said.

"In the U.S., we think of a squeeze on the middle class. But in other parts of the world, they've got an expanding middle class," said Gerner, who has consulted on projects for leading attractions worldwide.

Gerner said China is experiencing a theme park construction boom comparable to what occurred in the United States in the 1970s. The coming of a Disney park in Shanghai triggered an expansion of the Chinese regional theme park company Happy Valley, he said. Disney broke ground in Shanghai this year and anticipates a 2015 open.

"In the past when Disney has opened in a region of the world, it has encouraged others to do so. With the Shanghai Disney park, we would expect a similar increase, its own boom," Gerner said.

Young, who specializes in the application of emerging technologies in themed attractions, said the new Golden Age is marked by the additions of highly themed and immersive experiences using state-of-the-art technology.

HELP FROM HARRY POTTER

The huge success of the Harry Potter ride at Universal Orlando, which executives say boosted attendance by 50 percent, has further ignited demand, Young said. Since that attraction opened in June 2010, Universal has been breaking its attendance records.

"Harry Potter was a disrupter and forced everybody to step up their game," Young said. "It became this arms race."

Young said his business took off in 2007, fueled by projects in China and Singapore even as the U.S. economy was hit by the burst of the housing bubble.

Among his entries opened over the past two years is Flight of the Dragon at the Happy Valley theme park in Shanghai. The ride is a 4-D simulated flying experience moving through a curved black box theater with water sprits, scents and wind creating realistic effects.

Spending on new attractions in the United States also is up. Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, estimates spending rose 30-35 percent over the past two years, following four years of mostly stagnant attendance and deep discounting at parks.

Much of the spending is on redevelopment and additions to existing parks, he said.

He cited several examples of recent investment in the central Florida tourist hub alone, including SeaWorld Orlando's planned overhaul of its penguin exhibit to include state-of-the-art interactive ride technology, and the just-completed revamp of the historic Cypress Gardens ski-show park in Winter Haven into a Legoland.

"It's what the industry needs to do now to ratchet up," Speigel said.

Ride manufacturers who met in Orlando in November for the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention have "never been busier," Speigel said.

"Literally, they're almost at capacity for the next couple of years," he said.

Experts said the end is nowhere in sight, thanks to technological advances that will continue to create demand.

Within the next decade, Young said he expects attractions will enable park guests to feel as if they are sharing space with fully rendered 3-D characters and other nearly unimaginable experiences.

"I'm not even sure what this means," Speigel said of expectations for coming attractions, "(but) it's going to be the 5th dimension."

Dora and Diego 4D - Catch That Robot Butterfly as seen on The Daily Buzz, 5-December-2011

 

Daily Buzz anchor Andy Campbell gets an upclose look at the Super 78 Studios 4D experience from the creator himself - S78 creative director Brent Young.

The Intrepid Traveler: How Legoland Florida Stacks Up

Washington Post, 25-Nov-2011

 

Most parents wouldn’t think of wearing paper-thin flip-flops around so many Legos. After all, these brightly colored bricks aren’t merely the building blocks of countless childhood imaginations; they are the IEDs of adult orthopedics.

 

But this isn’t your typical kiddie play date. I’m at just-opened Legoland Florida with my 9-year-old son, Ewan, and his pals Emmie, 9, and Ethan, 11.

 

This fifth — and largest — Legoland park in the world is less than an hour’s drive east of our home in Tampa. In other words, an ideal Saturday outing.

 

At midmorning, the parking lot is already half full. As soon as we stroll under the Legoland Florida sign (made with Legos, natch), we know that we’re in Lego heaven. Smiles on kids and grown-ups alike, and not a stray piece of geometric plastic anywhere. (Granted, the park had been open only a week.)

 

There are clearly some hard-core Lego fans here, both kids and nostalgic middle-agers decked out in Lego T-shirts. More than a few clutch original Lego creations.

 

My son is still firmly in the Lego loco camp. Only a few months ago did he concede that it was time to return the Lego-building table to neighbors who’d lent it to us until their then-newborn son was old enough for it. Ziploc bags of Legos are now stashed in drawers.

 

My gang makes a beeline for the closest roller coaster, the Dragon. “That was kind of tame,” Ewan says afterward. This from a kid whose last trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa included seven back-to-back sorties aboard the gut-churning (to me) SheiKra coaster.

 

To be fair, the park touts itself as the only one in Central Florida aimed at the 2- to 12-year-old crowd. Interactive attractions, live shows and 50 rides are of the not-too-scary “pink knuckle” variety.

 

With Emmie’s turn to pick the next activity, she opts for Boating School.

The drivable craft are pokey, but we quickly warm to the ride when we realize that we can treat the boats like aquatic bumper cars. Ethan’s next selection, of Coastersaurus, a wooden coaster, also wins universal approval. “That was like a pinball machine,” Ewan says deliriously.

 

Legoland Florida also has a true theme park rarity: sculptures that kids willingly pose with for photos. My charges are among hordes who can’t keep their hands (and feet) off so many life-size — and larger — critters and cars obsessively constructed from 50 million-plus Lego blocks around the 150-acre park. We’re talking everything from wee vampire bats suspended from the ceiling in the Castle coaster to Albert Einstein’s 20-foot-tall mustachioed melon greeting visitors to the Imagination Zone.

 

The park’s most classic — and impressive — use of Legos can be found in Miniland USA, a kind of 3-D map of American landmarks rendered in umpteen little plastic bricks. Washington’s monuments are painstakingly re-created, as are New York’s skyline, San Francisco’s waterfront and the Las Vegas Strip. The Sunshine State even gets its share of miniaturized models.

 

Besides finding ways to avoid riding more extreme coasters myself, my second goal at amusement parks is scoring decent grub. I’ve lied without conscience to my son about a particular restaurant’s being closed rather than stomach cruddy food.

 

If lunch at Cap’n Brickbeard’s Burgers, in Pirates’ Cove, is indicative of park provisions, no fudging about food will be necessary here. I ask the cashier to repeat himself when I think he’s just told me that kids’ burger-and-fries meals come with a choice of pear or apple (as in actual whole fruit) and water or milk to drink, with soda an off-menu item. He did. Hmm, this isn’t the cotton-candy-and-fried-dough Central Florida amusement park scene I know and fear. Naturally, I break down and spring for sodas.

 

We happily munch, seated at a covered picnic table beside Lake Eloise, turtles nosing around submerged cypress trees. Here on this property once stood the state’s first theme park, Cypress Gardens, opened in 1936. Cypress Gardens was a childhood favorite of my wife, Gail, and her three brothers, who grew up in nearby Lakeland. I remember visiting it myself during a summer vacation trip from Washington. But in later years, we, like apparently many others hankering for ever-flashier entertainments, abandoned its lush gardens and Southern belle-themed spectacles.

 

Legoland Florida retains a few of the Gardens’ vestiges. There are still some belles, albeit in plastic form. And the old water-skiing show now gets the Lego treatment, with good and bad Lego pirates clashing aboard a Lego pirate ship and on various speeding watercraft. True to the times, our coaster-crazed crowd doesn’t stick around long enough to find out whether the inflatable shark catches the pirate fleeing by Jet Ski. Off we race to the next ride.

 

Also updated are ticket prices, which, at $75 for adults and $65 for ages 3-12, aren’t cheap. But a day at Disney, a half-hour farther down the road, can be even more expensive. Of course, when you offer to take someone’s kids to the hot new amusement park, you’d be surprised how much spending cash is thrown your way.

 

Even with less-than-totally-insane rides, my gang only reluctantly agrees to leave when the park closes. And then I have to gently bribe them with another round of ice cream and a stop at a gift shop. Loaded with Lego loot, including a foot-tall Lego Darth Vader, we head happily home.

 

The consensus in the car is that the park is probably better for kids 8 and younger. “But I really had fun,” Ethan says.

 

Agreed.

Chocolate Parties at Farris & Fosters near the Theme Parks are Great Holiday Fun

Orlando Examiner, 25-Nov-2011

 

You're in Orlando for the holidays, but you're sick of fighting the crowds at Disney World, Universal, or SeaWorld.  Or maybe you're here for a week or more and are getting just a wee bit burned out on the theme parks.  Perhaps you've been to Orlando countless times and want to try a new experience.  So what do you do?

 

Make chocolate!

 

Farris & Foster's is a candy store located just off Sand Lake Road in the Universal/SeaWorld area.  It's easily accessible from I-4, 535 or International Drive.  This is unassuming little chocolate shop has a secret: it offers one of the most fun (and delicious) family exmperiences: You can make your very own candy.

 

If becoming Willy Wonka for a night sounds complicated, click the video at left and you'll see that it's actually quite simple. The proprieter, Jon Foster Lanenga, will explain the process in detail.  Then he turns you loose, but he's always around to assist if you need further guidance while creating milk, dark, and white chocolate treats.

 

The arry of possibilities is endless.  You can coat everything from Oreo cookies to Twinkies in chocolate, make truffles stuffed with tasty filling, or put nuts, fruits, or other candies, like Reeses Pieces, into a chocolate coating.  Everything you need is provided, and the cost includes your first pound of candy.  If you make more than you intended, you can purchase the rest for a reasonable additional amount.

 

Click here to learn more about the cholcolate parties at Farris & Fosters.  They're great for couples, families, and groups of friends.

Biggest foe of expanded gambling in Florida: Disney

Orlando Sentinel, 6-November-2011

 

The biggest challenger standing between Miami and casinos is a mouse.

Walt Disney World, the giant resort near Orlando whose four theme parks draw more than 45 million visitors a year, has made preventing "destination" casinos a top priority. And few, if any, businesses carry as much weight in Florida as Disney, which employs more than 60,000 workers, generates nearly $600 million a year in tax revenue — and doled out more than $2 million to political candidates and causes during the past election cycle.

Some analysts say Disney — and, by extension, Orlando's entire tourism industry — has good reason to be wary of casinos. Though adult-oriented resorts in South Florida are unlikely to appeal to Disney's core audience of families with young children, they could siphon away travelers in narrower segments that are also important to the resort, from South Americans to conventions to weddings.

"Disney has lots of little pockets or niches that they're really good at getting market share in. And it adds up," said Duncan Dickson, a professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management. "Disney doesn't want another Las Vegas anywhere close to them. Who needs the competition?"

Disney has always opposed efforts to expand gambling.

The Walt Disney Co., one of the most brand-protective companies on the planet, does not want to jeopardize its kid-friendly reputation by any association whatsoever with casinos and the taboo images they often conjure. The company's cruise line is the only major operator to sail ships without onboard casinos, which are typically one of the biggest generators of on-board spending.

"We've studied this issue carefully and remain opposed for many reasons," said Disney spokesman Mike Griffin, "including the fact that it is inconsistent with Florida's brand as a family-friendly destination and with the efforts we've long supported to diversify Florida's economy through research, innovation and entrepreneurship."

The legislation to be considered in Tallahassee would authorize three "destination" casinos in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Each would boast a luxury hotel, shops, restaurants, convention space and casinos with every major game, from blackjack to roulette and craps. Any company awarded a casino license would have to spend at least $2 billion building the facility.

Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts, both based in Las Vegas, and Genting, a Malaysian-based resort developer, are among the companies expected to seek licenses. Genting has already spent more than $300 million to buy bay-front property in downtown Miami and has announced plans for a $3.8 billion resort.

All have promised they will create thousands of jobs in South Florida, making the deal attractive to lawmakers hoping to lower the state's 10.6 percent unemployment rate.

Analysts say anyone that invests that much capital to build a resort also will have to spend lavishly to market the property. At a minimum, that will force Disney to ramp up its own spending on advertising, eroding its profit margins.

"Anytime you've got to fight and compete with more marketing dollars, which you know these folks have in abundance, it makes Disney's job that much harder to battle against," said Vicki Johnson, a tourism-marketing expert in Orlando.

More specifically, casinos could prove attractive draws in key markets for Disney. Executives at Genting, for instance, have said they would market heavily in Latin America.

Latin America — particularly Brazil, its biggest country — has become one of Disney World's most valuable markets in recent years. This summer, even as overall attendance at the resort was about flat with a year ago, Disney officials said traffic from Brazil was up by a double-digit percentage.

Though Disney doesn't disclose exact attendance numbers, national data show that visitation from Brazil is up 27 percent to more than 833,000 so far this year. And though Miami is the most popular destination for South American travelers, Orlando is growing more rapidly.

Disney says its business from Brazil is predominantly family-leisure travel, the group least likely to be swayed by casinos. But some industry followers say lavish resorts, when combined with the boutique shopping already in Miami, might be enough to peel away some of that business, especially Brazilians with older children or none at all.

"All of a sudden, it really cuts into their [Disney's] South American markets," Johnson said.

Group meetings and conventions business is also a growing profit center for Disney, which has nearly 470,000 square feet of meeting space spread among its hotels. It also routinely picks up lucrative private parties and other business tied to shows using Orange County's massive, publicly owned convention center.

Finally, allowing casinos in South Florida could lead to pressure to build more in other parts of the state. Already, some hoteliers in Orlando — led by Harris Rosen, owner of three major convention hotels — have made rumblings about bringing casinos to Central Florida. And officials at Port Canaveral — Disney Cruise Line's home port — are interested in casinos, too.

"Once they get their foot in the door, what's next? Orange County is going to say, 'Well, if it's legal in Dade County, why isn't it legal here?' " said Dickson, the UCF professor.

Disney has worked to enlist broader business groups to fight the casino legislation, most notably the Florida Chamber of Commerce, even though more than half of the businesses represented on the chamber's board of directors say they are neutral on the issue.

And the opposition from Disney has put casino boosters on the defensive during the past few days.

"Florida's identity cannot be changed because one casino or two destination resorts open in Miami-Dade County," said state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, who is sponsoring the casino legislation in the Florida House of Representatives.

"Florida will always be the Sunshine State," he added. "The dominant trademark of Florida will always be Disney World. I don't think they have anything to worry about when it comes to that."

Lake Mary Firm Helps Cedar Fair Go Mobile

Orlando Sentinel, 31-October-2011

 

A local ticketing-software company has landed a new deal with Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.

Cedar Fair announced last week that it has hired Lake Mary-based Accesso LLC to revamp its online ticket sales and to launch mobile-device ticketing. Cedar Fair, which operates 18 amusement parks and water parks in North America, will use Accesso's e-commerce platform and launch Accesso's mobile web and app technology, including mobile ticketing, which allows guests to purchase their tickets on a mobile device such as a smartphone and to scan the device at the park to gain entry.

Both companies have ties to the Walt Disney Co.'s theme-park business. Cedar Fair's president is Matt Ouimet, a former president of Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line. Accesso's chief executive is Steve Brown, who was once Disney World's top ticket executive.

Accesso's clients also include Six Flags Inc.

Disney World's low-key Milestone

CNN, 25-October-2011

 

Earlier this month, Walt Disney World celebrated its 40th anniversary. The Magic Kingdom opened its doors to the public for the first time on October 1, 1971, and not only did the landscape of Central Florida change, the landscape of the family vacation did as well.

 

Many non-Disneyphiles had no clue about the milestone.

 

There wasn't a big marketing push or makeover of the iconic Cinderella Castle as there was for the 25th anniversary in 1996, a celebration that lasted more than a year.

 

For the anniversary this year, all the "Mouse House" did was hold a special parade and a brief ceremony, along with a tweak to the nightly "Wishes" fireworks display. Guests who came to the park that day also received a commemorative pin.

 

The lack of hype for the anniversary can be tied to a recent change made by Disney executives, says Chad Emerson, who just edited a book of essays on the Magic Kingdom's 40 years in business, titled "Four Decades of Magic." Disney is cutting costs by streamlining operations at its domestic parks, located in Anaheim, California, and Orlando.

Several industry experts, however, are questioning Disney's newest plan of not only streamlining the behind-the-scenes aspects of its domestic parks, like human resources, but also the entire Disney experience -- down to attractions and merchandise.

 

Brent Young, co-host of the theme park-focused podcast "Season Pass" and managing director for Super 78 studios, said Disney fans wanted the hoopla of a 40th anniversary bash.

 

"Frankly, the fans would love for them to celebrate the 40th. The fans of Walt Disney World understand the impact that Walt Disney World has made not only on the United States, as a destination park for the United States, but the world as well," he said.

 

Emerson believes Disney is taking the wrong path when it comes to its latest plan.

 

"That synthesizing and making a generic Disney park experience for merchandise, for attractions, for food and beverage for these other guest interaction pieces has been one of the most unfortunate decisions that the parks and resorts division has ever made," Emerson said.

Disney spokesman Rick Sylvain said marketing this year does incorporate all parks.

 

"Our focus during this 'Let the Memories Begin' year in Disney parks remains on our guests and the memories they have made, are making and will make in our parks," he said.

 

The Central Florida parks of course remain a popular destination for families like the Hickmans, from Atlanta. Jeff and Kristi Hickman opted to take their two girls to Walt Disney World for the very first time this summer, and it was a hit.

 

"There's a first time for everything, and that first time was great! And I want to (go) again when I'm older, or in a couple of months because it was really ... enjoyable and I had a great time," said 8-year-old Hannah Hickman.

 

That's despite the Central Florida summer heat. Hannah's mother, Kristi, said she was prepared not to have a good time and was making the sacrifice for her children.

 

"We were going in July. I set my mind that I know it's fun, I had a blast when I was little, but I'm an adult now and it may not be as fun. I'm going to wait in lines, it's going to be hot, I'm going to be thirsty," Kristi Hickman said.

 

"You know, it was amazing, all that didn't even bother me. It was like, you know, I was just their age again. I loved it just as much."

Jeff Hickman was focused on the finances of bringing his family to Walt Disney World, but enjoyed the trip.

 

"We saved up for it. We spent every penny that we saved. We're still trying to recover. But I would go again in a heartbeat. I would have to save up again ... but I think it was definitely worth it. It was a great family memory," he said.

 

According to Emerson, other families might not opt to go to Walt Disney World, but would just look for a "Disney experience" elsewhere -- and that should have the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau concerned.

 

"If I was the Orlando CVB, I would be a little bit concerned about this strategy, because it's basically telling guests go to a Disney park, it doesn't matter which one," Emerson said.

A New Fla. Theme Park with Old Roots

National Geographic, 20-October-2011

 

Florida’s newest theme park looks kind of familiar.

 

Some of the attractions, from the Island in the Sky elevator that offers a panoramic view of this quiet part of the Sunshine State, to the rickety wooden roller coaster called Triple Hurricane, remind you of a place you experienced long ago.

 

The Southern belles, looking as picture-perfect as ever, greet guests with their Hollywood smiles. And there are the colorful gardens framed by banyan trees along Lake Eloise.

 

It’s Cypress Gardens. I mean, it’s Legoland Florida.

 

It’s Florida’s newest– and its oldest– theme park.

 

Cypress Gardens, which opened in 1936, was for decades the must-visit Florida attraction. It was known for its whimsical topiaries and water-ski shows that featured dangerous-looking stunts.

 

And, of course, for the belles.

 

But the park fell on hard times and went through a series of owners before closing permanently in 2009.

 

Will this reboot of Cypress make it? And more importantly, is it worth visiting? If Legos are the building blocks of a successful theme park, then this place should do just fine. And there are plenty of Legos here: animals, people, and entire cities made out of plastic bricks.

 

Whereas previous versions of the park offered real Southern belles, the ones in Legoland Florida are made of Legos, of course. From a distance, they look almost lifelike.

 

I always felt a little sorry for the young ladies who had to stand in the oppressive heat, wearing those gorgeous but noticeably restrictive dresses.

 

This isn’t a replica of Legoland California, which one Legoland executive referred to as a “concrete jungle.” (Here’s my writeup of that park from 2009). It is, instead, an effort to preserve an historical property with the help of a few Legos, and a Central Florida flair that says “we can keep up with Disney, SeaWorld and Universal, thanks very much.”

 

Our kids (ages 4, 6, and 9) enjoyed this park immensely. Most of the attractions are made for young children, whether it’s a safari ride that shuttles you around a track with elephants, zebras, and lions made of Legos or a medieval horse ride around a plastic jousting course. Adults may roll their eyes at these mini-thrill rides, but their offspring will beg them to “do it again!”

 

I covered the opening of Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, the previous incarnation of this park, and I think this one is far more compelling and sustainable.

 

But it’s still hobbled by the same problems of its predecessor, notably its location.

 

Winter Haven is almost an hour’s drive from Orlando’s other attractions. A proposed high-speed rail would have made it easier to get there, but the project is stalled and may never be built.

 

The other issue: compared with the giant theme parks in Orlando, this one is relatively small and limited – a day-trip, at best, but not a destination unto itself. Yet Legoland seems content with its status as a smaller, somewhat out-of-the way attraction, and knows how to make it work.

 

The best thing about Legoland Florida is that it preserves the oldest commercial theme park in the state, saving it from bulldozers and condo developers.

 

For that, we should be eternally grateful.

Disney World at 40

Miami Herald, 20-October-2011

 

At first, some people called it Disney’s Folly.

 

When Walt Disney World opened 40 years ago — officially on Oct. 1, 1971, although the grand opening ceremony was not until Oct. 25 — the less-than-ballyhooed turnout for the first few weeks led some observers to believe Disney’s venture into Florida was a dud. Disney stock took a tumble.

 

Then came Thanksgiving. So many visitors tried to enter Disney World that weekend that the park periodically had to close its doors. “It was a blockbuster,” recalled Charlie Ridgway, who was Disney’s publicity director at that time. Disney stock soared — and so did the park.

 

In the 40 years since, Disney World has grown to become the biggest amusement complex in the world. Spread over 40 square miles, it has four separate theme parks, two water parks, 24 hotels with more than 27,000 rooms, more than 300 shops, more than 300 eating places, five golf courses, a sports complex and many dozens of unique attractions.

 

In that time, too, the Magic Kingdom has become the biggest theme park in the world in attendance. Disney doesn’t release such figures, but the Themed Entertainment Association estimates the Magic Kingdom drew 16,972,000 visitors in 2010, down 1.5 percent from the year before but still about a million more than the second-place park, Disneyland in California (15,980,000).

 

The success of the Magic Kingdom led to a frantic scramble by developers to create competing theme parks in Central Florida. Circus World, Boardwalk and Baseball, Marco Polo World, Stars Hall of Fame and Splendid China opened but later failed. Among the parks proposed but never built were Bible World, Hurricane World and Little England.

 

But some big players did come on the Central Florida scene in the wake of Disney World’s success. Sea World Orlando opened in 1973 and is going strong. Universal Orlando opened its Universal Studios theme park in 1990, followed by Islands of Adventure in 1999.

 

Together with Busch Gardens in Tampa, the soon-to-open Legoland in Winter Haven and a host of lesser attractions, Central Florida is the world’s biggest playland. Call it Theme Park Central.

 

The first 40

Disney World didn’t mark its 40th anniversary with any special events, but it’s a good time to reflect on what it was like in the beginning and what you can do there now that you couldn’t before.

 

When the park opened in 1971, it had just 26 attractions in a single theme park, the Magic Kingdom. It had only two hotels, both of which were served by monorail.

Early visitors to the Magic Kingdom marveled at the ghostly effects in the Haunted Mansion, laughed at the talking animal heads in Country Bear Jamboree, rode a submarine under water in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, screamed when suddenly confronted with a locomotive bearing down on them in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, solemnly listened to audio-animatronic figures of America’s chief executives in the Hall of Presidents, and hissed at the Wicked Queen in Snow White’s Adventures.

 

But Disney World has never been a static park. Just about every year since its opening, Disney World has made additions. Some were simply new attractions, but many were expansions, most of them added after Michael Eisner and Frank Wells took over the company in 1984.

 

Three more theme parks were added to the original Magic Kingdom — Epcot Center (now Epcot) in 1982, Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in 1989 and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998. Its first water park, River Country, opened in 1975. It’s gone but two others have since been built — Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.

 

Disney World also phased out some attractions, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and the Diamond Horseshow Revue. Snow White’s Adventures will be gone before long as part of the expansion and revamping of Fantasyland.

 

Still, many of Magic Kingdom’s original attractions survive today. You can still enjoy the Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, It’s a Small World, the Hall of Presidents and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, for example.

 

Add to those the many popular attractions that have come since, such as Pirates of the Caribbean (opened in 1973), Space Mountain (1975), Big Thunder Railroad (1980), Splash Mountain (1992) and the new Tomorrowland (1995).

With such new attractions came a growing use of modern technology, which Walt Disney was high on, though he didn’t live to see Disney World open.

 

“Walt Disney was a visionary,” said Brent Young, creative director of Super 78 Studios, which develops attractions for theme parks worldwide. “He [used technology] to bring to life a story and characters in a dimensional way. Everyone in this industry was influenced by him.”

 

Disney Imagineers — the people who dream up new attractions — transformed simulators used in flight training into vehicles that imparted realistic motions to such attractions as Body Wars at Epcot and Star Tours at Hollywood Studios. Centrifuges, used in training NASA astronauts, produced real G-forces in the simulated space flight of Epcot’s Mission: Space attraction. Laser beams were shot from “ray guns” in the Magic Kingdom’s Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.

 

New developments

Technology is still sparking new developments at Disney World and at the Magic Kingdom, which is undergoing the largest expansion in its history, one that will nearly double the size of Fantasyland. New attractions, the first of which will open in late 2012, include Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid (visitors join Ariel above and below the waves); Castle of the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast); Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (a coaster in a diamond-studded mine); and Princess Fairytale Hall (Disney princesses greet guests in a new home). And Dumbo will double — there will be two side-by-side flying Dumbo rides.

 

Meanwhile, Disney World’s other theme parks also have added numerous attractions over the years, and they’re still at it.

 

At Epcot, for example, Mission: Space, a simulated rocket ride with heavy G-forces, came along in 2003; Soarin’, a swooping flight over California landscapes, opened in 2005. At Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest, a thrilling coaster ride through the world’s highest mountain, arrived in 2006; Finding Nemo — the Musicaldebuted in 2007.

 

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Muppets Vision 3-D charmed visitors starting in 1991; The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror terrified elevator riders in 1994. At that same park, Toy Story Mania!, which opened in 2008, is Disney World’s newest ride; The American Idol Experience (2009) the newest attraction, although in May, Disney opened its revamped Star Tours attraction featuring a flight simulator, 3-D videos and such characters as R2-D2, Darth Vader, Jedi Master Yoda and Chewbacca.

Just announced two weeks ago, Animal Kingdom will get a new “land” with multiple attractions based on the movie Avatar, with ground-breaking in 2013 and completion expected in 2016.

 

And as if 27,000 hotel rooms aren’t enough, Disney World is currently constructing another major hotel, the Art of Animation Resort, with 1,120 family suites. It’ll open next year.

 

Prices, too, have ramped upward over the years. In 1971, single-day admission to the Magic Kingdom cost $3.50 for adults and $1 for children, but this did not include rides and attractions. Guests had to buy tickets to those, from the coveted “E tickets,” which got you into the most popular attractions, down to the “A ticket,” which was only good for a ride on a Main Street tram. Disney World kept that cumbersome system in place until the early 1980s, when it changed to the present single-price admission system.

 

Today, one-day admission to one park is $85 for ages 10 and up, $79 for ages 3-9.

 

So what’s ahead for Disney World in the next 40 years? With technology and lifestyles leaping in directions unimaginable even a few years ago, that’s impossible to predict. One thing you can count on, though: Whatever Disney does, it’ll be fun.

From Britain, It’s Legoland

New York Times, 17-October-2011

 

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — The Merlin Entertainments Group is one of the world’s largest operators of amusement parks and tourist attractions, entertaining more than 40 million visitors annually. But the company operates almost entirely overseas, and it has no presence in central Florida, the sweaty epicenter of the theme park universe.

 

With the opening of a new Lego-themed park here last Saturday — built on the roller-coaster-strewn carcass of the late and not-so-great Cypress Gardens — Merlin has a message for North America: We are coming after you. “Our ambitions for this marketplace are tremendous,” said Nick Varney, Merlin’s chief.

 

Legoland Florida, which hopes to attract about 1.5 million visitors annually, is one of six new or coming United States attractions from Merlin, which is based in Poole, England. A $15 million Sea Life aquarium at the Mall of America in Minnesota opened in March. Legoland Discovery Centers — indoor “fun zones” built at about $12 million apiece — are coming to Atlanta and Kansas City; one opened in Dallas earlier this year.

 

And Merlin — which also owns the Madame Tussauds chain of wax museums, including a location in Manhattan — is a major part of a $100 million tourist complex planned for Orlando in 2013. Merlin’s contributions will include a Madame Tussauds, an aquarium and a 425-foot-high Ferris wheel similar to the popular London Eye, which the company also owns.

 

Merlin’s push comes amid increased jockeying by the media giants that dominate this corner of the entertainment industry. NBCUniversal, owned by Comcast, spent $1 billion in June to buy full control of Universal Orlando. Disney has been pouring money into its parks, recently announcing an “Avatar”-themed area at Walt Disney World that will cost an estimated $400 million.

 

Theme parks require steep, continual investments in new rides and upgrades, and their exposure to outside factors like weather and the economy makes investors nervous. But most parks are also reliably profitable and have continued to grow even during the recession, as people seek escape.

 

“We would much rather see increased investment in parks than in other media areas, like film — the returns are simply better,” said Michael Nathanson, a media analyst for Nomura.

 

Indeed, other entertainment businesses like movies and television, always high-risk endeavors, look even more so than usual at the moment. The Web is starting to make good on its promise of changing how people watch television, and movie studios are coping with the collapse of DVD sales and declining attendance in theaters.

 

For the year, attendance in North America is down by about 5 percent compared with the same period last year, which ended about 6 percent down from the year before.

 

Mr. Varney says he is not trying to compete with Disney World, which by some estimates attracts 30 million visitors a year, as much as shave off some of its overflow and expand into cities where families face a shortage of entertainment options. His company’s sudden addition of new parks was meant to lead up to an initial public offering. Citing the sputtering economy, however, Merlin abandoned that plan last year.

 

Merlin reported a pretax profit of $40.4 million last year compared with a loss of about $21 million a year earlier. Revenue was $1.3 billion in 2010. Merlin employs about 17,000 people globally; major holdings include Alton Towers in Britain and a fast-growing Legoland park in California.

 

The company is 36 percent owned by Kirkbi, the Danish investment company that is itself owned by the family behind the Lego brand; the private equity firms CVC Capital Partners and the Blackstone Group essentially split most of the rest.

 

Here in Florida, Merlin spent about $25 million to acquire Cypress Gardens, a historic 150-acre property that was a symbol of the carefree, water-skiing Sunshine State of the 1950s.

 

The park closed in 2009 after a series of owners failed to compete with Disney and Universal, and for good reason: getting to Winter Haven from Orlando requires a 50-minute trek on more roads than your average corn maze.

 

“Oh dear, I’ve got a problem here,” Adrian Jones, Legoland Florida’s general manager, recalled thinking after getting lost on his inaugural visit to the property. He added, “It’s true, the biggest challenge is to cement in people’s minds that this isn’t the other side of the world.”

 

Merlin is largely counting on the strength of the Lego brand and the refurbishment of the park itself. Although the company refuses to say what it has spent on new rides, restaurants and landscaping, the cost appears to be considerable. An estimated 50 million Lego bricks now adorn the park, where “pink-knuckle” roller coasters (in keeping with the focus on young children) have been re-themed to fit Lego toy lines like

castles and jungle adventuring.

 

“The condition of the park was worse than we thought — mold, dry rot, termites — but we completely Lego-ized it,” said Bill Vollbrecht, the park’s creative director.

 

Merlin is also working with local government officials to improve the roads and add better signage along the route. Mr. Jones takes comfort in internal research that shows 80 percent of theme park visitors in Orlando rent cars, but Legoland Florida will also offer $5 roundtrip shuttle service from the city.

 

And Merlin executives note that they have overcome the hurdle of location at their Lego park in California, which is about 40 minutes north of San Diego. That park has become a success by cultivating a reputation among parents for extreme cleanliness and its intense focus on younger children.

 

“Let’s put it this way,” said Duncan Dickson, a professor of theme park management at the University of Central Florida. “If anybody has a chance of making it in Winter Haven, they do.”

LEGOLAND Florida Grand Opening

Legoland Florida to add Water Park, Themed Hotel

Orlando Sentinel, 15-October-2011

 

On the eve of its grand opening, Legoland Florida announced an opening date for its companion water park and confirmed plans for a Lego-themed resort hotel that could help it become a multiday destination for families with young children.

The water park is scheduled to open in May, said Nick Varney, CEO of Merlin Entertainments Group, the company behind Legoland Florida.


It will require an upgrade to a regular ticket to Legoland theme park, instead of being a separate gated attraction.

Although the new water park is in the planning stages, Varney said it will feature Lego elements, including the ability to build your own Lego raft and float down a river.

Like the rest of Legoland Florida, it's designed to appeal primarily to the age range of kids who play with Lego building blocks and products.

 

"It will be totally awesome, and it will be totally Lego," Varney said.

The plan is for the hotel to open in 2014 or 2015, he said. Land-use specifications for the site entitle Merlin to construct as many as 500 rooms of lodging.

The additions could broaden the appeal of the attraction, which opens to the public today with an unusually keen focus. The newest theme park in the nation caters almost exclusively to a narrow demographic: children between the ages of 2 and 12.

"Anytime that you have an opportunity to get people to stay over, it's to your advantage to do so," said Fred Cochrane, the principal owner of California-based Cochrane Consulting, which specializes in attractions and entertainment-center
planning.

"I think a water park, if it's well-designed, is going to satisfy the young crowd," he said. "Kids love to splash around from birth."

Unlike other Central Florida theme parks that cast a wide net, Legoland "is not all things to all people," said Adrian Jones, Legoland Florida general manager.

"Some people say that's a weakness of ours, that we target that [age group] so aggressively," he said. "We don't believe that. We want to be the best within that category."

As a result, Legoland's rides and shows are more sedate than supersonic. The park has four roller coasters, but they all fall in the not-too-harrowing "junior" coaster classification.


Legoland officials often note that the park does "pink-knuckle rides," not white-knuckle ones. That philosophy explains the removal of the Starliner, the wilder, wooden roller coaster purchased by Cypress Gardens, which operated on the Legoland Florida site from 1936 to 2009.

Lack of thrill rides may be a turn-off to teenagers, and that's OK with Jones.

"A lot of moms are reassured that there are no teenagers running around," he said.

A park dedicated to kids appeals to that demographic, said Robert Niles, publisher of the Theme Park Insiders website. He has visited the Legoland in Carlsbad, Calif., "dozens" of times, he said.

"My kids absolutely loved it," Niles said. "They preferred it to Disneyland because it was more for them. They didn't feel tiny. They didn't feel like they wasted all their time in line. They didn't feel like they were surrounded by people."

Legoland has a "mellow Danish vibe," Niles said, referring to the birthplace of Lego. Other Legoland parks are located in Denmark, England and Germany.

"It's not designed to be a high-volume theme park where you are cranking through thousands of people an hour on rides like Pirates of the Caribbean," he said.

Instead, "it's very much more a play-focused experience. There are things you can get on and climb, and games you play and things to explore," Niles said.

Some observers question the wisdom of cultivating a narrow audience for Legoland.

"If you're over 12, it's not going to hold your interest very long," said Scott Smith, a faculty member at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida. 


"From what I understand, the Legos are really cool and cool to look at," Smith said. "But even the ski show is not a traditional ski show with stunts and so forth. It's more of a story on water. And it's not even an exciting story at that."

Smith and Niles agree that loyalty to Lego products is strong and significant.

"Parents who have kids in that age group will go out of their way to visit because it is such a special and unique experience," Niles said.

"It's a park that very much grows on people as they go to it, until that day when they approach middle school," he said.

"Then, all of a sudden, they're not interested in Legoland anymore."

LEGOLAND Bring Bricks and More to Florida

USA Today, 14-October-2011

 

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. – Those colorful plastic bricks that play havoc with vacuum cleaner motors, hurt like *&%$##@ when you step on them barefoot and elicit hyperactive glee in boys of a certain age, have taken on life-size dimensions at the latest Legoland park.

 

Legoland Florida, which opens Saturday, touts itself as the only Central Florida theme park to target the 2- to 12-year-old set. It sports 50 attractions in 10 themed areas, including not-too-scary "pink knuckle" rides, live shows and interactive attractions. And of course, there are Lego sculptures — 50 million bricks' worth, give or take a few thousand. Life-size elephants inhabit the Land of Adventure. Albert Einstein's 20-foot-tall, 10-foot-wide noggin beckons visitors into the Imagination Zone. A regulation-sized shiny red Ford Explorer (comprising 380,000 bricks) wows 'em in Lego City.

 

But the park's most visually remarkable section is Miniland USA, which spotlights iconic American places painstakingly rendered in tiny plastic bricks. There are Washington, D.C.'s, monuments, San Francisco's waterfront, the Las Vegas Strip and New York's skyscrapers. Florida gets its own chunk of Miniland real estate to show off state landmarks, from South Beach's Art Deco hotels to Tallahassee's Capitol. (Hey, they left out Walt Disney World!)

At a preview last week, a brigade of minivans and SUVs streams into Legoland's sprawling parking lot. Chants of "Lego-LAND! Lego-LAND!! Lego-LAND!!!" reverberate across the asphalt as swarms of the park's core target customer, boys ages 6 to 10, spill out of the vehicles and rush toward a giant WELCOME sign rendered in bright, primary-colored Legos.

 

Heaven for Lego fans

Inside the park, Johnny Loncaric, 10, of Bradenton, Fla., pronounces Miniland "awesome," and declares that "for the Lego freak, this place is like they died and went to heaven."

And for him?

 

"I'm not quite there, yet," he says.

 

Frank Lawrence is. The public transportation employee from Orlando counts himself among diehard Lego fans. He once traveled cross-country to attend a Lego Maniac Convention. He owns hundreds of sets, dating back to No. 115, a generic building kit he got as a kid in the days before Legos got complicated. He has continued to acquire the plastic bricks in adulthood: No. 570 (firehouse); No. 710 (wrecker with car); circa 1979-80 town, castle and space systems, etc.

 

"I'm a 45-year-old kid at heart. This is how I grew up," Lawrence says. "I'm happy Legoland has come to Central Florida."

 

Other preview visitors aren't quite as enthusiastic. Adam Markle, 35, of Prospect Park, N.J., is browsing in the Studio Store searching for commemorative Legoland Florida pins. He's wearing Green Lantern-themed shoes and a hat studded with Disney World pins and explains (needlessly, perhaps), "I'm a compulsive collector."

 

That includes Lego models, which he has on rotating display at home.

Markle's take on the new park: "Not bad for a soft opening, but I'm not coming back until I'm at least four sizes smaller. I wait a half hour in line and find out I can't fit in the seat."

 

Consider yourself warned.

 

Adam Markle of Prospect Park, N.J., poses with one of myriad Lego sculptures at Legoland Florida. He considers himself a 'middling' Lego enthusiast and visited the park on one of its preview days.

 

Indeed, the rides are designed for a younger set (though most will accommodate adults). Individual lap bars fit snugly across tiny waists. Curtained areas with rocking chairs are reserved for nursing mothers in the Duplo Barn (a play area that caters to tots). A "buffet" of Lego bricks is set out in the restaurants for restless kids who'd rather build than eat.

 

This is the fifth — and largest — of the Legoland parks. (Another U.S. location, near San Diego, opened in 1999.) The Florida attraction occupies the 150-acre site of the state's oldest theme park, Cypress Gardens.

 

Opened in 1936, that park was known for its water-ski spectacles on Lake Eloise and Southern belles parading amid its lush gardens. Unable to compete with the razzle-dazzle — and sheer volume — of Orlando-area amusements an hour away, Cypress Gardens was shuttered in 2008. But Legoland operators have restored the gardens (including relocating 600 trees) and resurrected the water-ski show (only this time it features Lego characters in a good-pirate/bad-pirate scenario). The belles are back, too, albeit in plastic.

 

Also remaining are a number of the former park's rides, now revamped, including two of its roller coasters. Management is hoping Baby Boomer nostalgia will lure past denizens.

 

"It was all about keeping the identity of Cypress Gardens. You don't buy 100-year-old oak trees," says general manager Adrian Jones.

 

He is at a table in the Legoland coffee shop, when a woman approaches. "We haven't even gotten past the gift shop and this is the best day ever!" she gushes.

 

Jones swears she isn't a plant. "Legos are a great leveler," he says. "No matter where you come from, no matter what creed, everybody has a Lego story."

 

If you go to Legoland Florida

Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven, about an hour’s drive from Orlando and Tampa. A single-day ticket is $75, adults; $65 ages 3-12, and 60 and over, plus tax. Annual passes are $129, ages 13 and over; $99 ages 3-12 and 60-plus.

Information: 877-350-5346; florida.legoland.com
 

A pricey proposition

Perhaps. But to have a Legoland story, costs a lot more than a box of $29.99 Lego Basic Bricks. Adult admission is $75; ages 3-12 is $65, plus tax. Add on some extras — $10-$15 for face-painting, $5.49 for mac 'n' cheese on the Kids' Choice menu; $3 a shot at midway-style games, multiple shopping opportunities at the Lego stores, and $19.99 for the set of commemorative photos on the way out — and this is a potentially pricey memory.

 

Legoland Florida is heavily marketing to locals, with low-cost season passes providing an incentive to return again and again. Jones says he also anticipates two-for-one deals and other promotions.

 

Robert Niles of ThemeParkInsider.com, a website that tracks the business, believes that with its sharp focus on families with small children, the park will attract a following, as its California counterpart has.

 

"A distinguishing characteristic of Legoland is that it focuses on active play and that severely restricts the capacity of the park," he notes. "You can put thousands of people an hour on (Disney's) Pirates of the Caribbean and cycle them though. But Legoland has some lower-capacity attractions. If they were to get the same numbers as the Magic Kingdom, the place would be swamped and wait times would be hours."

 

"It's a niche market," he adds. "It's not a theme park for everyone, but Legoland is compelling to kids."

A Sneak Peek Into Florida's Legoland

CNN, 14-October-2011

 

Winter Haven, Florida (CNN) -- It's a Lego fan's dream come true: Legoland Florida opens this weekend in central Florida, the first Lego-themed outdoor park in the United States since Legoland California opened in 1999.

 

Built on the former grounds of Cypress Gardens, one of Florida's first theme parks, Legoland Florida has preserved much of the historical and natural beauty of its predecessor.

 

Popular in the 1950s and 1960s, Cypress Gardens featured Southern belles in large hoop skirts walking around the carefully manicured grounds greeting guests. Its famous water-ski shows were glamorized in movies and the 1982 music album and video for the Go-Go's song "Vacation."

 

After Disney World opened in 1971, Cypress Gardens' attendance started dwindling, and after several attempts to revive the park through new ownership, it closed in 2009.

 

Legoland officials were thrilled to find Cypress Gardens available, as it's about an hour drive from Orlando, considered to be the theme park capital of the world.

 

"We were excited about the actual site, the heritage and history," said Adrian Jones, Legoland's general manager. "We talked about the hairs standing up on the back of our neck in term of the sheer beauty."

 

There was criticism about Legoland's choice of Cypress Gardens, a location with a history of failure.

 

"We knew the problem that Cypress Garden had before," Jones said. But he said he believes the popularity of Legos and the beauty of the gardens will attract guests -- and, he says, annual pass sales have been strong.

 

Legoland Florida still features a water ski show, this one featuring a Lego pirate, and an elegant Southern belle still greets guests as they enter the park -- but she's made entirely out of Legos.

 

It took Legoland more than a year to transform the 75-year-old park's outdated and crumbling buildings and overgrown garden into a modern facility, without removing the historical charm of the cypress trees draped with Spanish moss.

 

This week, annual pass holders were allowed a sneak peek at the 150-acre park before its official opening Saturday.

 

"Legoland! Legoland!" chanted Denise Valletutti, along with her kids Savannah, 8 and Noah, 12, while their car climbed to the top of Technic Test Track, a roller coaster-like ride.

 

The chants were quickly replaced with screams on the way down.

The family skipped school in order to beat the crowds, though they plan to be there on opening day anyway.

 

"We'll be back whenever we can," Valletutti said.

 

Legoland Florida is the largest of the five Legoland parks, located in Denmark, England, Germany, and the United States. Future parks are planned to be built in Malaysia and Dubai. There are also smaller indoor Legoland Discovery Centers around the world, including several U.S. shopping malls.

 

Legoland Florida is geared for kids ages 2 to 12 and features 50 rides as well as Miniland USA, the heart of every Legoland Park. This park's Miniland USA features Florida destinations in the form of intricate Lego structures, including NASA's Kennedy Space Center, featuring the space shuttle spewing smoke, ready for takeoff.

 

Designers started building Lego sculptures two years ago, with the help of a computer program that "Lego-izes" models into a brick pattern for assembly.

 

The larger models are hollow, with a steel frame to keep them strong and stable in the park.

 

But park designer Bill Vollbrecht says there's nothing special about the Legos they use to construct the models.

 

"We always use the parts and pieces that are available to kids at home," said Vollbrecht, who also designed the California park.

"It really shows that this is a real model made out of real bricks that kids can see the pieces and recognize."

Fans Get Early Look at Legoland Fla, Opening Saturday

Reuters, 14-October-2011

 

A symbolic 50 millionth Lego brick was snapped in place on Friday on a giant red  octopus at Legoland Florida, a new theme park opening to the public this weekend
southwest of Orlando.

 

The park is located on the site of one of Florida's original tourist attractions, the 75-year-old Cypress Gardens, and is about an hour's drive from Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the theme park with the world's highest attendance.

 

The new park, the fifth and largest Legoland in the world, targets families with children ages 2 to 12, and it seemed to be a hit among the Lego fans and Florida schoolchildren invited to check out the attraction ahead of Saturday's opening.

 

A big draw was Miniland USA, where national landmarks and Florida cities have  been recreated out of 30 million Lego bricks, according to master builder Jason
Miller.

 

A Lego version of the Empire State Building stands at more than 20 feet high in Miniland USA, and the Golden Gate Bridge spans 22 feet.

 

"That is crazy," said 12-year-old Anthony Martinez, a dedicated Lego builder from Miami, as he admired the New York cityscape. "It takes some serious talent to build those kind of things. I would love to know how they do this."

 

Kurstin Greene, a 9-year-old from Winter Haven who likes to build houses out of her personal stash of Legos, said she couldn't attempt something of the scale of the miniature Lego U.S. Capitol.

 

"We don't have enough Legos for that," Greene said.

 

Miller said the two biggest construction projects at Legoland Florida were a  brontosaurus near the park's entrance and a bust of Albert Einstein in the hands-on Imagination Zone, each of which required six to seven builders working for four months to complete.

 

Norvell Holveck, 66 and a grandfather from San Angelo, Texas, said he expects Legoland to attract his generation as well.

 

"It's really a neat deal. You could spend days right here (in Miniland) and not see everything," Holveck said.

 

Legoland has restored what it calls "the soul of the park" -- the historic Cypress Gardens with its collection of native plants such as azaleas and camellias, and the sprawling 72-year-old Banyan tree planted as a seedling in a five-gallon bucket in 1939.

 

The park also features several rides, including a wooden roller coaster. The once-famous ski shows where swimmer and actress Esther Williams filmed some of her water-themed shows in the 1950s and '60s are being resurrected with Lego people manning the skis.

 

The company announced on Friday that it will re-open a water park on the property in 2012 and develop a resort hotel, likely in 2014.

 

Nick Varney, chief executive officer for Merlin Entertainments Group, told Reuters the central Florida tourist destination was an obvious market for his company to build its latest Legoland.

 

And locating the theme park in Winter Haven instead of Orlando was a calculated financial move, Varney said.

 

Varney said Merlin bought the property for $25 million in January 2010 after a previous owner had recently invested $100 million in upgrades.

 

By acquiring an existing theme park property, Varney said the company saved on infrastructure and government permits and was able to open years faster than
a theme park built from the ground up.

 

As a comparison, Varney said the company is building a similar theme park from scratch in Malaysia. Scheduled to open in 2012, it has an expected price tag of $300 million.

Anti-Abuse App Targets Victims of Domestic Violence

Orlando Sentinel, 14-October-2011

 

Suspect that someone you know is a victim of domestic violence?

Now, there's an app for that.

Harbor House of Central Florida — Orange County's domestic-violence shelter and prevention agency — will unveil a newly designed app today that could eventually save thousands of lives, advocates say.

The app, a screening tool designed for both medical professionals and the public, will be free to download once it becomes widely available in the next few weeks. It contains a simple series of questions and a scoring system to determine if someone is in an abusive relationship.

If so, users will be able to enter a ZIP code to find the closest domestic-violence shelter and other community resources.

"We know that, right now, about 80 percent of domestic-violence incidents go unreported," said Harbor House CEO Carol Wick.  "By putting out this tool for free that people can use in their communities and with their physicians, we could potentially reach victims all across the globe."

The app — called R3 for "recognize, respond and refer" — will be available initially in both English and Spanish. Eventually, Wick hopes to have it translated into other languages as well.

While existing apps discuss domestic violence, those involved with R3 say it is the first screening app in the nation — and the first online nationwide database of resources for victims.

 

If there is no nearby shelter, victims will be given the phone number of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

In Florida, doctors already are required to get training on how to recognize signs of domestic abuse. But Dr. Kevin Sherin, director of the Orange County Health Department and a former resident in family medicine, said many physicians still are uncomfortable questioning patients — often because they don't know what to do
next.

"We're taught how to screen, but do we do it?" Sherin said. "That's where an app like this really helps, because it spells everything out and it's part of your electronic record-keeping."

The app is based on the widely used screening questionnaire Sherin created 15 years ago — after a badly abused neighbor pounded on his door late one night begging for help. That questionnaire, known as HITS, is an acronym for the four questions a doctor should ask a patient: In the past year, has your partner hurt you, insulted you, threatened you or screamed at you?

Although it may seem elementary, because the survey doesn't require those being questioned to label themselves victims nor the situation as domestic violence, it is more likely to get truthful answers.

 

"There is a lot of shame involved in domestic violence," Wick said.

HITS has been validated by a series of studies, published in scientific literature and translated into languages from Arabic to Mandarin Chinese. It has been recommended by both the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But it didn't come to Wick's attention until after Sherin moved from Chicago to  Orlando, and Wick asked him to serve on her board of advisers. About six months ago, she took the notion of turning HITS into an app to Carlos Carbonell, CEO of  the Orlando-based app-development company Echo. Carbonell also serves on the board of directors for the Victim Service Center of Orange County, which addresses sexual-assault victims.

"I'm very close to the cause," said Carbonell, who said he became so impressed by Harbor House that he insisted on including a way for the app's users to donate to the nonprofit. "I told them — I'll do anything to help get the word out."

Florida Hospital awarded a $20,000 grant to the project and has been the first hospital to use the HITS tool with its network of clinicians.

At today's news conference, Harbor House will demonstrate the app and allow a limited number of downloads while it awaits final approval from Apple, expected to take another two to three weeks.

 

Versions will be available for Apple mobile devices, iPad and on Android phones.

Watch full-size Ford Explorer built in LEGO

Chicago Tribune, 27-September-2011

 

Sure, it's a PR stunt, but it's still pretty cool to see a group of LEGO maniacs build this full size SUV out of little plastic bricks. According to the press release, the model rolled out at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant with a destination of the Florida LEGOLAND theme park.

Ford Rolls Out Explorer Made of Lego (Slideshow)

Wall Street Journal, 27-September-2011

 

Ford Motor Co.
Ford showed the new Lego Explorer at its Chicago assembly plant.

Kids have been known construct ambitious projects out of Lego building blocks. But it may be hard to compete with the grown-ups at Ford Motor Co. and the Legoland Florida theme park. The two have formed a partnership that they marked with the unveiling of a new Ford Explorer SUV, built (of course) of Lego.

 

The bright red vehicle includes more than 380,000 Lego bricks and weighs 2,654 pounds, or a bit more than half the weight of a real Explorer. A 768-pound aluminum base supports the huge model and helps keep the blocks from coming apart.

 

The Lego Explorer’s debut took place at the car maker’s Chicago assembly plant, which normally turns out real Explorers. From there it will be trucked to the new 150-acre Legoland them park outside Orlando, Fla. It will be displayed in front of one of the park’s attractions: a Ford driving school for children.

 

Legoland Florida, which opens Oct. 15, is designed for kids from the age of 2 to 12 and has more than 50 family-oriented rides, shows and other attractions. The park has exhibits that use more than 50 million Lego bricks and is divided into 10 zones with different themes.

 

VIDEO: See LEGOLAND-Ford Explorer Built Brick by Brick

USA Today, 27-September-2011

 

Ford makes thousands of Explorer crossovers at its Chicago Assembly Plant, but the one that rolled off the line yesterday was created brick-by-brick.

 

It took more than 380,000 brightly colored plastic Lego blocks to make a full-size version of the Explorer, part of a promotion between Ford and a new Legoland theme park in Florida. Twenty-two designers worked on the project, and it ended up weighing as much as a car: 2,654 pounds with a 768-pound interior aluminum base.

 

Check out the video above showing a time-lapse view of the build of the unique Explorer.

 

Can't go to Legoland to see it? Keep your eyes open on the highways between Chicago and the theme park, outside Orlando. The Lego Explorer will be transported in a clear-sided trailer so everyone on the highway can take a gander as it makes its way south. The theme park opens Oct. 15 -- as soon as the last bricks are in place.

 

We're not sure what kind of vehicle will be towing the trailer containing the Lego Explorer, but we can think of one good candidate.

Geeking Out With Theme Park Designers at SATE’11

When I told my nine year-old that I met the person who created the Clutch Powers Lego hero, he screamed with excitement. The true heroes of the theme park world (the people who dream up, design, and build our favorite themed attractions around the world) converged at the Ports of Call at Sea World in Orlando, Florida recently to share, socialize, and engage at the SATE (Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, and Experience) conference. The Themed Entertainment Association hosted SATE’11 at Sea World around the theme “The Power of Story”, and its conference attracted some of the coolest theme park geeks in the world.

 

How cool it was to peek into the themed entertainment design business for a day. I learned the quirky story behind the Swarovski Crystals theme park in Austria, the origin of Lego’s Clutch Powers hero, and that Disney is creating a new Avatar attraction. Best of all, I chatted with some of the coolest and most successful themed entertainment professionals in the world. These folks win Thea, Telly, and Emmy awards. They take inspiration from and pay homage to architecture, nature, Hollywood movies, and history. Their palettes contain everything from computer-generated movies, to sophisticated combinations of video projection, architectural construction, sound design, motion simulation, water, wind, air, story telling, and more. The projects they build might surprise you. We all probably think about Disney and Universal Studios when we think of themed entertainment, but I quickly discovered a whole universe of interesting themed entertainment projects.

 

Shane Skaggs from Nashville, Tenn. is a video specialist for Mankin Media Systems and he is passionate about storytelling through technology. Looking a very youthful 31, Shane shared a great story about how his company participated in converting a church’s youth center interior into a House of Blues-inspired theme complete with a 30-foot projection screen. The church, located in Louisville, KY, is called The Block. Do not be fooled by the simple name, the architectural details and technology integration inside of this building are stunning.

 

Dina Benadon and Brent Young of Super 78, based in Hollywood, Ca, are rocking the museum world in Singapore, where they have designed a 360-degree immersive experience called Typhoon Theater in the Maritime Xperiential Museum – Resorts World Sentosa.

Maritime Xperiential Museum

The Maritime Xperiential Museum-Resort Photo by Jason Mendoza, used with permission.

 

The experience, opening in October 2011, literally and figuratively sinks the audience into the story of a 9th century trading vessel along the Maritime Silk Road as a massive typhoon hits. Using state-of-the-art in-theatre effects including projecting video onto painted silk, passengers find themselves in the depths of the ocean, up close with the shipwreck and magnificent marine life. Water spray, temperature changes, sound effects, and wind machines make the experience completely immersive. Dina and Brent designed Typhoon Theatre’s powerful story around a real shipwreck. The Maritime Xperiential Museum was built to house the Jewel of Muscat, a reproduction of a shipwrecked Arabian dhow found preserved in sediment. According to Wikipedia, the wreck contained the biggest single collection of Tang Dynasty artifacts ever found in one place and revealed previously unknown details about trade between the Middle East and China.

 

Kristy Scanlan and Joshua Wexler of Threshold Animation Studios in Los Angeles, Ca, really understand geek moms and geek dads. It is obvious that they both share a deep passion for fun and creativity in their work. For example, Kristy, who is head of production at Threshold Animation Studios, revealed that in the Bionicles movie, produced by Threshold Animation Studios, hieroglyphics written on the walls are actually names of production staff members.

 

Joshua is a self-proclaimed geek dad and he proves it in a big way. Joshua, co-founder of Threshold, has been a Lego fan since childhood and is the father of two seven year-olds. He is also the creator of the Lego hero, Clutch Powers, cleverly named after the Lego term Clutch Power — the strength of the connection between Lego bricks. Joshua, in homage to Superman, Star Wars, Monty Python, Aliens, and Indiana Jones, dreamed up Clutch Powers so that Lego might have its own hero. He pitched the idea to Lego and Lego loved it. The rest is history.

 

As the mother of a Clutch Powers fanatic, I asked Joshua for some cool, undocumented facts about the movie. Joshua delivered. The Arthur Fol character’s name comes from the acronym A.F.O.L. or Adult Fan of Lego. If you visit Legoland Florida, which opens on October 15, 2011, be sure to check out Las Vegas in Miniland USA to catch a glimpse of Clutch Powers on a billboard there. While you are at Legoland Florida, check out the Clutch Powers 4D attraction, which was designed by Threshold Animation Studios.

 

Theme parks are the ultimate immersive experience, and the people who dream, design, and create them are among the most dynamic, creative, and fun people on the planet. Therefore, the next time I visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter or stand in line at the Legoland Florida park, I will go with a newfound appreciation for the real heroes behind these amazing immersive experiences. Thanks SATE’11!

LEGOLAND Florida: A Geeky Preview

Wired, 3-September-2011

 

Legoland Florida officially opens Saturday, October 15, 2011, but I was lucky enough to get a recent behind-the-scenes tour.

 

Prediction: Lego fans: Prepare to go crazy at Legoland Florida.

First, the park is beautiful. Amazingly detailed giant Lego sculptures are everywhere. Secondly, the rides and attractions are highly interactive. We cannot wait to try out the dark shooter ride and experience the 4D films! Third, the Lego brand comes to life throughout the park in every detail from employee nametags through an entire section of the park built from Lego bricks (Miniland USA). Fourth, can you say bricks, kits, and minifigs for sale?

 

When Legoland Florida opens, it will be the world’s largest Legoland. Legoland Florida also boasts a Lego-themed ski show (pirates have taken over the shores of beautiful Lake Eloise). Legoland Florida is dripping with Lego geekiness. In fact, it’s difficult to predict who will enjoy the park more: geek parents or Lego geeklets.

Its the end of the ride as China bans new theme parks

The Independent, 20-Aug-2011

 

BEIJING - The rollercoaster ride is over. Fearful of a property bubble and risky spending, the Chinese government has called a halt to the building of new theme parks that would add to the hundreds already operating throughout the country.

 

The last decade has seen the emergence of new leisure destinations to entertain the 1.3 billion population. Many of the parks have themes such as chocolate, sex, Qing dynasty and movies. But runaway property prices and concerns that local governments have overspent on the 2,500 parks currently in existence have led to a blanket ban on new developments.

 

The ban applies to theme parks that cover an area of more than 20 hectares or have a total investment of more than 500 million yuan (£47.4m). The ban, which follows the announcement of numerous large enterprises in recent months, could apply to projects already under way.

 

In June, the Chinese real-estate company Zhonghong signed up the US-based entertainment venue developers Thinkwell to design a £930m theme park based on the Monkey King legend. The previous month, the film group Huayi Brothers signed a deal with a property developer to build a £280m theme park near Shanghai based on its movies. And a £130m Hello Kitty theme park, celebrating the cartoon cat, which has a huge following in China, is due to open in 2014.

 

The biggest of them all is the Disneyland near Shanghai, which is unlikely to be affected by the National Development and Reform Commission's decision, as permission came directly from the Beijing government. The resort, which will cost £2.6bn to build, is expected to open in five years.

 

But the ban would bring an end to a booming industry on which £14.2bn has been spent and would dash the hopes of more than 20 cities looking at plans to get in on the act.

 

"I would describe the environment as a gold rush in the Wild East," said Brent Young, principal and chief creative officer of the Los Angeles-based design firm Super 78 Studios. He has worked on a number of theme park projects in China.

 

The reining in of spending reflects concerns that local governments have stretched their powers to approve the large-scale projects, even though China's cabinet is supposed to be the final arbiter on such schemes.

 

There are also worries that local governments have become massively indebted since being encouraged to borrow for infrastructure projects under a 2008 stimulus plan. Theme parks have proved attractive to local governments because they provide jobs and revenues. For the developers, the construction of theme parks in China is similar to the growth of golf courses – the activities in the theme park itself are secondary to the spin-offs, such as luxury villas and apartments built nearby.

 

"The halt of the expansion of theme parks appears to be further evidence of the Chinese government's desire to cool off the market and concerns that the feasibility of some of these developments is questionable," said Mr Young. "Knowing that politics and relationships always play a role in any of these decisions, you can be sure that there are agendas from established park developers to slow growth."

 

And it's not always about the money. In 2009, the government in the south-western city of Chongqing closed Loveland, China's first sex theme park, because its erotic sculptures were deemed too vulgar.

The Candy Man

East Orlando Sun 12-Aug-2011

 

John Foster uses three words to describe his business strategy: ready, fire, aim — in that order.

 

"While for most people it's 'ready, aim, fire' ... I fire off a shot and see where it lands, then if I need to correct it, I'll correct it," the owner of Farris and Foster's Famous Chocolate Factory said.

 

This, he admits, can lead to a lot of failures, but also a good deal of successes. One of the later, is the opening of Farris and Foster's in Waterford Lakes in February, where folks can not only come to satisfy their sweet tooth with a piece of chocolate, but make a party of it.

 

Standing out

Chocolate parties for any occassion -- a date, girl's night out or a child's birthday -- allow customers to use Foster's chocolate machine to cover anything in chocolate, from twinkies to potato chips.

 

The shop combines all the elements a customer would expect from a traditional chocolate shop, a number of glass display tables and shelves lined with endless amounts of different chocolates. But what goes on behind the counter, Foster said, is what makes his place different.

 

On any given night, the "factory" area of the shop is likely to be lined with tables and chairs, filled with anyone from children with party hats, women with wine or college kids in their pajamas.

 

"I've always thought, we've got to do something different," Foster said. "I've got to do something to make this work and have us stand out from everyone else."

 

That thought process, along with a little inspiration from local ceramics and pottery glazing stores, led Foster to the idea of throwing make-your-own chocolate parties.

 

"I used my daughter's birthday as a prototype — we handed them molds and let them make their own chocolate," he said. "From that moment, it was on. Everyone loved it."

 

So starting at the shop's original Baldwin Park location, Farris and Foster's began booking chocolate parties. From family night, to date night, to now even a college night, Foster said any occasion — or even no occasion at all — can warrant making chocolate.

 

"We teach them in about 15 minutes all their options, and then we tell them they're free to make whatever they want," he said. Attendees are given a pound of chocolate to work with, and then their individual pieces are put in a box and weighed before leaving so they can pay accordingly. "They have all the fun; we clean up the mess."

 

And, Foster said, if you make a bad piece of pottery, you're stuck with it, but if you make a not-so-pretty piece of chocolate, you can eat it and it will still taste good.

 

Chocolate-covered celebrations

Valerie Kielmovitch, of Daytona Beach, decided to invite 11 of her closest friends from around Central Florida to the Waterford Farris and Foster's for her birthday party. She said she heard about the place from her mother, who had visited the shop's Lakeland location, and what better way could she celebrate but with chocolate?

 

"Some people took time and made it really pretty. I just decided if it was covered with chocolate, it was good," she said.

Michelle Richardson, marketing director for Hudson Everly Flooring, said she uses the chocolate parties as a sweet way to thank their customers; inviting them to an afternoon of chocolate making.

 

"You get to sit down and get very creative and our customers are interior designers and floorers, so it's nice for them to be able to sit down and be able to create and design things that you can eat," she said.

 

Making a name for himself

Farris and Foster's Chocolate Factory originally opened in Baldwin Park 10 years ago, named for its then two owners, John Foster, the businessman, and Farris Riggsbee, the chocolatier. Less than a year after opening, Farris, a member of the National Guard, was called to duty following Sept. 11 and forced to leave the business.

 

Foster, though he had no experience in the chocolate field, decided to press on, keeping the Farris and Foster's name, and in the process, creating a new identity for himself.

 

"When my wife and I leave the business every day, she calls me John, but when we come in to the business in the morning, she calls me Foster," he said. "It's like I've given myself two personalities."

NASCAR Fans Testing Mobile App at Daytona Coke Zero 400 Weekend

TNooz, 3-July-2011

 

While Nascar fans were enjoying the Coke Zero 400 Weekend at Daytona International Speedway over the holiday weekend, several hundred fans were piloting the new Daytona International Speedway mobile app.

 

 

The free app, developed by accesso and available on iTunes and in the Android Market, includes traffic and shuttle maps for the Speedway; GPS functionality to locate concessions stands, merchandise vendors and restrooms;  a “build my schedule” feature to construct a customized calendar for the weekend; and a “friend finder” to keep track of your friends around the track.

 

A spokeswoman says the fans piloting the app this weekend signed up for the trial via the Daytona International Speedway Facebook page.

 

Also on the social media front, the app incorporates direct feeds from Daytona’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.

 

Joie Chitwood III, president of the Daytona Beach, Fla., Speedway, says feedback from this weekend’s app trial will help the Speedway fully launch the app.

Daytona International Speedway’s parent company, International Speedway Corp., plans to introduce the mobile app at other ISC tracks throughout the rest of 2011 and 2012, including at Daytona in 2012, as well.

David Ragan took first place at the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Business of NASCAR: Daytona launches smartphone app

Sporting News, 30-June-2011

 

Daytona International Speedway executives know that navigating their massive 480-acre motorsports park can be a challenge, so they're launching a smartphone application to help fans find everything from restrooms to concession stands.

 

The iPhone and Android app will be beta-tested during this weekend's Coke Zero 400. Fans who sign up for the app on the speedway's website or Facebook page will be able to download and test it.

 

We always know where the green flag flies at a track, but those who go to Daytona International Speedway for a race will know where the concession stands and restrooms are courtesy of a smartphone app.

 

The track is the first owned by International Speedway Corp. to create an app. If the test goes well, the company's technology division plans to develop similar apps for the company's 11 other tracks that host Sprint Cup races.

 

Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the first track to launch a facility-specific app. It debuted during the track's March Sprint Cup race and provided fans with a GPS-based guide that could take them into the track and to their seats.

 

Like Las Vegas, Daytona partnered with technology company Thermopylae to develop a GPS-based guide to its track. But its app features other elements, including maps for trams, ingress and egress and parking; late-breaking news; a friend finder that allows you to locate a friend anywhere on the grounds; access to the speedway's Twitter feed and Facebook page; and the ability to buy tickets.

 

Craig Neeb, ISC's chief information officer, said Daytona may look to monetize the app in the future with some advertising, but that's not a major priority. He added that doing so would require collaborating with NASCAR's top series partner, Sprint, which has mobile exclusivity through its partnership with the sport's sanctioning body.

 

"At this point, we're looking to support guests and their experience," Neeb said. "There's an expectation we have this stuff."

 

Neeb said the app is carrier-agnostic. It was developed by Accesso, which has developed smartphone applications for theme parks and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

 

The track anticipates anywhere from 200 to 1,000 fans will test it.

The company has found that its tracks' mobile sites generate considerable traffic during race weekends. The recent Cup race at Michigan International Speedway generated more than 50,000 page views from mobile phones.

 

In the future, Neeb believes NASCAR will collaborate with tracks on an app that provides race content to fans, as well. The sanctioning body spent much of the past year conducting a survey at tracks to better understand the fan experience at its races and has been vocal about providing more technology services to fans.

 

"Ultimately, I can see a NASCAR app for the industry, and there's a Daytona version, a Talladega version and a Richmond version that plugs into it," Neeb said. "I can see this aggregating at a bigger level."

Windermere Teen Wins National Award for 9-11 Project

Orlando Sentinel 20-June-2011

 

As the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks draws near, a Central Florida Eagle Scout's mission to honor those who died is getting national attention.

 

Windermere resident Jeff Cox, the 16-year-old behind Florida's first official 9-11 memorial, recently won the National Eagle Scout Service Project of the Year Award. The award, which is in its second year, recognizes service by a Scout to a religious institution, school or community.

 

The monument in downtown Windermere, next to the library, was dedicated in February 2010. It honors the fallen with a 3-by-4-foot, 650-pound chunk of steel beam from the ruins of the World Trade Center. A ring of 90 colorful hand-drawn tiles encircles the beam, each with an image representing the homelands of the almost 3,000 victims.

 

The news of his award surprised Cox.

 

"I thought I had a small chance of winning the whole thing. I was dumbfounded," he said. "There were two kids who did their Eagle Scout projects in a different country. That's just incredible."

 

He conceived of the idea as an Eagle Scout candidate and requested the steel piece from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which contributed it for free. With the help of engineers and architects who donated their services, he designed the commemorative monument. An initial design was drawn on a paper napkin at an ice cream shop.

 

The project competed with more than 50,000 other efforts across the country. The award, which is made by the National Eagle Scout Association, came with a $2,500 prize.

Super 78 Founder is Creative Director Behind Three Resorts World Sentosa Attractions

Blooloop 16-May-2011

 

Brent Young, co-founder of the Hollywood-based new media production company Super 78, is one of the creative principals behind MADAGASCAR: A Crate Adventure, the highlight of Universal Studios Singapore grand opening celebration and the first attraction in the world based on the DreamWorks Animation film franchise.

 

The nine-minute, indoor mega-flume ride features Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo as animatronics along with digital projection, special effects and a bubbling volcanic cauldron.

 

"Madagascar: A Crate Adventure is unique to Universal Studios Singapore and transports guests into the worlds of these immensely popular DreamWorks characters using a range of special effects that immerse them convincingly into the story and the experience," says Young, who also helped design the theme park's Donkey LIVE!, a one-of-a-kind, interactive live show that lets guests sing along and even talk with another popular DreamWorks character, Shrek's side-kick Donkey. "Theme park enthusiasts and fans of the movie are going to love the remarkable attraction the teams from Universal, DreamWorks and Resorts World Sentosa have created."

 

Young's extensive experience designing cutting-edge, mixed media themed experiences for theme park attractions around the world not only put him in a lead role for the new attraction, it also landed him a role as a creative director for the new theme park at Resort World Sentosa, the $5-billion integrated resort destination on an island just south of Singapore.

 

In addition to helping design and install new attractions at Universal's theme park, Young also is working as the creative director and film director for another area of the Resorts World Sentosa development -- The Typhoon Theater, the primary attraction inside the Maritime Xperential Museum, which is expected to debut later this summer. This one-of-a-kind, 360-degree immersive attraction literally and figuratively sinks the audience into the story of 9th century merchants working the ocean routes of the Silk Road as a massive typhoon hits. The experience features a powerful story line, a world-class venue and state-of-the-art, in-theater effects that include projection mapping.

 

Young is accustomed to the challenges of working half a world away. In addition to the work in and around Resorts World Sentosa, Super 78 has also produced attractions for theme parks in Shanghai and Shenzhen, and is currently working with a theme park in the Jiangsu Provence.

 

"The appetite for themed entertainment around the world is enormous, particularly for experiences that feature characters made popular in Hollywood," adds Young. "And I don't see that enthusiasm fading any time soon.

Don't Let Rising Gas Prices Keep You Home

Philadelphia Inquirer 1-May-2011

 

Remember 2008, the Summer of Staycations? With gas prices once again heading above $4 a gallon, it's time to buckle your seat belt, program the GPS, and get ready for the "Summer of Staycations: The Sequel."

 

The bad news is that the average price of unleaded gas in the Philadelphia area is projected to peak at $4.20 a gallon around Memorial Day, above the $4.12 from three years ago.


But this time around, we're more plugged in, able to grab discounts and deals the second they're posted, thanks to Facebook and Twitter, smartphones and iPads.

 

"These aren't general promotions like those offered by Expedia," says Anne Banas, the executive editor of SmarterTravel, a website that offers travel news, deals, and advice. "Once they're gone, they're gone. If you can act fast and combine several deals, you can create an itinerary for a fraction of the usual price."

 

Banas recommends using Groupon and similar websites, such as Jetsetter.com and LivingSocial.com, to get connected with limited-run discount packages on hotels, restaurants, and other services in major U.S. cities - including Philadelphia.

 

But first, you have to decide where you want to go and how you want to get there. Rising gas prices are driving up the cost not only of hitting the road, but also of flying and, in some cases, cruising, as well.

 

Experts say airfares are likely to increase with rising fuel costs. While this increase is usually built into domestic ticket prices, international flights have started to add fuel surcharges.

 

This doesn't mean that airlines will be getting rid of their summer sales. You're just going to have to look harder to find them.

 

Airlines have started using flash sales - offering discounted fares for only a few hours, usually without much notice. Staying connected is the key to snagging such deals, says George Hobica, the president of AirfareWatchdog.com.

 

"These sales are almost always promoted through social media," he says. "Following the airlines on Twitter or signing up for Web alerts is the best way to get the jump on other travelers."

 

As for cruises, European lines such as P&O Cruises, Cunard, and Fred.Olsen are adding fuel surcharges to their ticket prices. American lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian have yet to raise their rates, says Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of CruiseCritic.com.

 

"Nothing's definite yet, but if fuel prices remain this high, there's a fair chance that they'll affect the itineraries of most cruises," she says.

 

If you rule out flying and cruising, that leaves driving to your vacation spot. So, what kind of vacation can you afford when it costs $50, $60, maybe $70 each time you fill the tank?

 

Travelers are starting to "trade down" when picking a destination, says Laura Mandala, managing director of Mandala Research.

 

"People are adapting to the new reality and are looking for ways to save money wherever they can," Mandala says. "The biggest change I've seen is the location of vacations - people are looking to vacation in their own backyards.

 

"A lot of the destinations I've dealt with are changing their marketing strategies," she says. "Instead of a Virginia resort saying, 'Let's get people from New York,' it's saying, 'Let's get people from Richmond.' "

Sorry, Airlines: U.S. Travelers Prefer Open Road
MediaPost Marketing Daily 30-Apr-2011

 

Despite rising gas prices, most Americans still prefer the flexibility of a driving vacation, according to Mandala Research/ Solutionz.

 

The study shows that determining one's own schedule and stopping whenever and wherever desired are the primary reasons that Americans -- particularly Boomers -- opt to drive.

 

Almost three-quarters (74%) opt to drive their own vehicle to their destination, compared to the 17% who choose air travel.

 

Lodging providers can take advantage of influx of road warriors by offering deals. The availability of loyalty program rewards and discounts significantly influences the hotel decision of 70% of drive market travelers, and two-thirds suggest they can be lured by a lodging discount of 20% or more.

 

The drive market is extremely important to Wyndham Hotel Group, says Flo Lugli, executive vice president of marketing for the Wyndham Hotel Group. "We believe there is a great opportunity to better target and serve this market," Lugli says in a release.

 

The impact of a 10% lodging discount was significantly less, with 40% saying it would have an impact. Generation Y responded most favorably to discounts -- with 77% saying a 20% discount would have an impact and 59% responding positively to the influence of a 10% discount.

 

Drive market travelers use hotels across all lodging tiers, from economy all the way to luxury brands, with a large proportion using quality tier brands. Only Comfort Inn (13%) and Best Western (13%) were selected more often among hotel brands than independent hotels (10%). The Silent Generation and Generation Y stayed at Comfort Inn more than the other generations. Of the top-tier brands, Marriott was selected most.

 

More than 70% see the value of a hotel loyalty program as influencing their lodging decision. Fifty-two percent were members of at least one loyalty program and 46% considered themselves to be active. Generation Y offers the greatest potential, as most see the value of membership but less than half are members.

 

The study is part of a larger effort known as Project 85, a think tank of U.S. travel and tourism organizations that are collaborating on marketing approaches and solutions for the U.S. travelers who drive rather than fly to their destinations. The name of the group was chosen because according to the U.S. Travel Association, more than 1 billion overnight trips are taken annually with 85% by car, RV, rental car, truck or motorcycle.

 

Think Tank participants include AARP Services, Acxiom, MapQuest, Avis/ Budget Group, CALARVC.com, Delaware North, Encore RV Resorts & Campgrounds, Experian/Hitwise, Keane Consulting, Leisure Interactive, Mandala Research, Panasonic, PlumLife.com, Shop America Tours, Smart Destinations, Tickets.com, Travel Guard, US Travel Association, Vantage Strategy, WCities and Wyndham Worldwide.  

Most Choose Driving Over Flying

Chicago Tribune 27-Apr-2011

 

There's no question that Americans have always loved their cars, but $4 for a gallon of gas might make them lose that loving feeling. Auto travel is no longer the cheap date it once was. Yet a survey by Mandala Research/Solutionz shows that 74 percent of respondents prefer to drive to their getaway destinations, rather than fly, simply because they have more control over their itineraries. Those preferring flight accounted for just 17 percent of those in the survey. Apparently forking over bigger bucks for fuel still beats taking off shoes and jackets for security checks or being delayed for God knows what.

 

Other results from the 1,500 people in the survey:

Median mileage for auto travelers on their most recent trip was 300 miles. Actually, hassle factor aside, by the time you consider airport wait time, driving 300 miles might not seem like a bad idea time-wise either.

 

The states most visited by auto-bound travelers were California and Florida followed by New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia. 

American Travelers Prefer Flexibility of the Open Road

 

New Mandala Research/Solutionz study shows determining own schedule and stopping whenever, wherever desired are primary reasons Americans, particularly boomers, opt to drive.

 

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (27-April-2011) - Gas prices continue to hover around the $4-per-gallon mark, but most Americans still prefer the flexibility of a drive trip.

 

New data from a Mandala Research/Solutionz study of American travelers suggests itinerary control is the primary reason why almost three-quarters (74 percent) opt to drive their own vehicle to their destination, compared to the 17 percent who choose air travel.

 

"With the continued accumulation of ancillary airline fees, tighter seat configurations, baggage restrictions and airport security delays, it's not surprising that Americans are asserting more control over their travel plans by opting to drive themselves," says Chicke Fitzgerald, CEO of Solutionz, a travel industry strategic consulting firm based in Tampa, Fla.

 

That's one of the big conclusions drawn from the survey conducted among 1,500 drive market travelers in the United States in January.

 

The control factor is particularly important to travelers over 50. Eighty-one percent of those 50-plus say they like that they can determine their own schedules and stop where they desire, while 71 percent say they like that they can "bring more stuff" when they drive to their destination.

 

The study also shows that among drive market travelers, nearly four in 10 Americans (38 percent) plan trips within a week of departure and 49 percent plan within two weeks or less.

 

"We've definitely become a society of last-minute planners, and although it creates considerable heartburn for travel suppliers, the continued trend to book last minute results in some great deals and serious discounting which travelers love," says Laura Mandala, managing director of Mandala Research, a travel research firm based in Alexandria, Va.

 

According to the research, the availability of loyalty program rewards and discounts significantly influences the hotel decision of 70 percent of drive market travelers, and two-thirds suggest they can be lured by a lodging discount of 20 percent or more.

 

And where do auto travelers vacation? Consistent with all leisure travelers, California and Florida are visited by the greatest number of travelers surveyed, with 12 percent of the population having visited each of these states on their most recent trip. New York also ranks high (8%), followed by Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia (6% each). The South ranked highest among regions visited with 64 percent, outdistancing the west (40%).

 

And while no city attracted more than 5 percent of these travelers, Orlando was the most visited at 5 percent, followed by Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York City each with 4 percent of travelers visiting on their most recent trip.

 

The study is part of a larger effort known as Project 85, a think tank of U.S. travel and tourism organizations that are collaborating on marketing approaches and solutions for the U.S. travelers who drive rather than fly to their destinations.

 

Think Tank participants include AARP Services, Acxiom, MapQuest, Avis/Budget Group, CALARVC.com, Delaware North, Encore RV Resorts & Campgrounds, Experian/Hitwise, Keane Consulting, Leisure Interactive, Mandala Research, Panasonic, PlumLife.com, Shop America Tours, Smart Destinations, Tickets.com, Travel Guard, US Travel Association, Vantage Strategy, WCities, and Wyndham Worldwide.

 

"The drive market is extremely important to Wyndham Hotel Group, given the breadth of distribution of our 14 brands across the highways and byways in the US. With more than 6,000 properties, many located on interstates and in key tourism markets, we believe there is a great opportunity to better target and serve this market, and the Project 85 Think Tank is a great way for us to share ideas and develop key initiatives in this area," says Flo Lugli, executive vice president of marketing for the Wyndham Hotel Group.

 

According to the U.S. Travel Association, more than 1 billion overnight trips are taken annually with 85 percent of by car, RV, rental car, truck or motorcycle.

 

"Project 85 really defined and underscored MapQuest's user base and the specific needs our customers have," said Christian Dwyer, senior vice president and general manager, MapQuest. "We want to help people get where they need to go, and the study helped us better understand when folks need inspiration, when they need information, and when they need help getting from one experience to the next."

 

The Project 85 - The Drive Market study (US$500) is now available and provides comprehensive information for addressing these travellers' needs.

Disney Plans Lavish Park in Shanghai
New York Times - 8-April-2011

 

 "It's an industry that is exploding because of the entertainment demands of a growing middle class," said Dina Benadon, chief executive of Super 78, a Los Angeles creator of rides and experiences that has been hired by multiple Chinese developers.

 

SHANGHAI - The Walt Disney Company placed a huge bet on China's shifting approach to Westernized entertainment on Friday as it broke ground here on a $4.4 billion theme park and resort - even if it is one without classic American features like a Main Street.


Disney hopes the Shanghai Disney Resort will be as transformative for the company as the establishment of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., was in the 1970s. It wants to create an engine that will drive demand among China's 1.3 billion residents for other products, like Pixar films and princess dolls.

 

Like many global companies, Disney is putting its faith in the rise of the Chinese consumer, and at the same time it is counting on Shanghai's specific ambitions to become a world-class city.

 

There will be obstacles. Disney's first foray into China - its theme park in Hong Kong - got off to a slow start after opening in 2005. It may be a small world, but cultural miscues, including a failure to understand how guests would use the park on holidays like Chinese New Year, resulted in angry customers and damaging media coverage.

 

The Disney brand is also not as deeply ingrained in China as in other parts of the world. China is the only major country that does not have a Disney Channel, the company's typical way of building its brand and stoking demand for its experiences and products. Even the concept of brand is a tough sell in China, where cheap knockoffs proliferate overnight.

 

The Shanghai resort's first phase - one of the largest foreign investments in China ever - will include a 225-acre Magic Kingdom-style park with a castle surrounded by themed areas. The park component alone will cost $3.7 billion. There will also be two hotels, a lake and a shopping district, bringing the total size of the first phase to about 963 acres. Disney hopes to have the complex open by the end of 2015, an ambitious time line.

 

This resort has long been expected, but until now plans have been largely secret. They call for its eventually stretching across 1,730 acres in the Pudong district southeast of downtown. The Chinese media have estimated that the full resort, including upgrades to transportation infrastructure in the area, could cost about $15 billion.

 

A resort of this scale would have a capacity like that of Disney World, which attracts about 45 million visitors a year. In acres, the Chinese resort will be vastly larger than Hong Kong Disneyland.

 

Notably, Disney did not identify which of its classic rides - Space Mountain, It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean - it will bring to the Chinese mainland. One reason may be those knockoffs: When Disney unveiled detailed plans for Hong Kong Disneyland, rival parks in Asia quickly installed cheaper rides with striking similarities.

 

Disney is also walking a careful line with the Chinese government, which approved the park, after two decades of off-again, on-again talks, on the condition that it would be sharply different from the original Disneyland, which has become a symbol of American culture. Disney agreed to heavily incorporate Chinese culture; dressing Mickey Mouse in a kung fu robe would not do.

 

"Authentically Disney but distinctly Chinese" is how Robert A. Iger, Disney's chief executive, described the resort in an interview. "There will certainly be familiar Disney elements, but it will also be quite different from the moment that you walk through the gates," he said.

 

Shanghai's Disneyland, for instance, will not feature a Main Street-theme entrance, a staple of every other Disney resort. (The Main Street areas are designed to reflect Walt Disney's idyllic childhood in a Missouri town at the turn of the 20th century.) Instead, guests will enter through a lush 11-acre area featuring water and trees, where they will be greeted by costumed characters, Mr. Iger said. The castle will be Disney's biggest.

 

Disney will shoulder about 43 percent of the initial cost, and its partner, Shanghai Shendi Group, a consortium of state-owned companies, will cover the balance. That split mirrors the resort's ownership structure.

 

But Disney will have operational control, holding a 70 percent stake in a management company created with Shendi to run the resort.

 

Other American entertainment companies, notably Universal Studios, are racing to tap into China's consumer economy. Disney got there first partly because it finally found a receptive partner in Shanghai.

 

The city has 20 million residents, China's biggest stock exchange and most luxurious shopping malls, and two major airports. An estimated 330 million people live within a three-hour trip. The city does have one notable drawback when it comes to the theme park business: it's chilly in the winter.

 

Other Chinese cities are also building amusement parks (albeit less ambitious ones) at a breakneck pace. "It's an industry that is exploding because of the entertainment demands of a growing middle class," said Dina Benadon, chief executive of Super 78, a Los Angeles creator of rides and experiences that has been hired by multiple Chinese developers.

 

Disney's arrival in Shanghai has been contentious. Residents in the area where the park is being built, opposite the city on the other side of the Huangpu River, have complained about poor treatment by relocation companies. Relocation in China is a huge problem because land prices are soaring with housing prices, and the compensation given to residents often is not enough. Many residents are ultimately forced off the land.

 

Some local officials have also been pressing for the government to negotiate more favorable terms with Disney, pointing to the company's park in Hong Kong, which opened to underwhelming results. Hong Kong Disneyland initially suffered from a range of problems.

 

Disney is now in the middle of a 14-acre expansion there that will open in 2014, and the park has perked up substantially. Attendance in 2010 hit new highs, and the resort was able to pare its annual operating loss by 45 percent, to about $92 million. Disney executives emphasized that its parks - including the original in Anaheim - have traditionally taken time to work out the kinks and sought to position Hong Kong as a learning experience.

 

One important lesson involved food. Disney expected visitors in Hong Kong to spend an average of 20 minutes eating in restaurants, which is how they behave at Disney World and Disneyland Paris. But Hong Kong visitors stayed an average of 40 minutes, creating backups. Seating has since been added, but Shanghai will have cavernous restaurants from the beginning.

 

"We have a special opportunity to build a resort that reflects everything we have learned from our various parks around the world," Mr. Iger said.

 

David Barboza reported from Shanghai and Brooks Barnes from Los Angeles.

Keep It Safe
Catering Magazine - April 2011

When the Global Food Safety Conference convened in London in February, Michael R. Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, addressed the group of more than 600 food safety specialists from around the
world.

"You have made it clear that food safety is not only the right thing to do," he said, "it is good business."

 

Those words ring true for the thousands of catering businesses in the United States as well. The FDA's Taylor pointed out that each year one in six Americans can expect to experience a foodborne illness. Of that
number, more than 120,000 will be hospitalized, and 3,000 will tragically die. When it comes to adhering to the highest possible safety standards in food preparation, serving and handling, the stakes couldn't be higher.

As every catering professional knows, food safety standards vary, depending upon jurisdiction. In fact, there are more than 3,000 state, local and tribal agencies responsible for the inspection and oversight of the one million-plus food establishments in the United States. The FDA's Food Code (see sidebar) serves as a model for state and local agencies to adopt and use in regulating retail food establishments.

Late last year, the FDA recommended that all restaurants and retailers employ certified food protection managers, and in many states, catering businesses must have at least one Certified Food Safety Manager on staff.

"The CDC has done studies that have shown that facilities that have a Certified Food Safety Manager have a marked decrease in foodborne illness," says Larry Lynch, president and CEO of the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals (NRFSP).

One of the country's largest accredited food safety manager certification programs, the NRFSP offers the Certified Food Safety Manager exam, which is accredited by the American National Standards Institute under standards established by the Conference for Food Protection (to find NRFSP trainers and test centers in your area, go to www.nrfsp.com). The exam is acceptable in all states and jurisdictions that recognize the standards set by those organizations.

Once a professional receives the certification, which can be valid for up to five years, he or she most likely will retain that certification upon moving to another state (depending on the state's licensing laws).

While regulations vary by state, strict adherence to food safety practices
and proper training can help ensure the good health of your customers
and your business keep it safe says Lynch. Those habits include proper
handwashing; developing a safety plan for your facility, covering everything from pest control to safeguards against crosscontamination; and implementing basic safety habits understood by your staff, such as knife sterilization.

Of course, one big aspect of food safety is out of the control of food-service establishments.

As Lynch points out, "you can wash your hands all you want, but if something is tainted at the producer's end, there's your risk of foodborne illness."

Concern for the safety of the food supply, whether domestically produced or imported, prompted the Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law in January. In fact, the new law and its impact on food importers was the subject of the recent speech the FDA's Taylor gave at the Global Food Safety Conference.

"There's a greater focus on food safety at every level," says Lynch, who attended the conference. "It comes down to making sure that the dining experience isn't just a good one, but a safe one."

The Food Code
The FDA Food Code is a system of safeguards for retail food establishments to use to ensure that consumers are served or sold food that is safe to eat.

 

It includes standards for cooking times and temperatures, refrigeration
temperatures, and storage requirements for many kinds of foods.

"All the rules we tell the public to follow-washing hands and food preparation surfaces, separating foods to prevent cross-contamination, cooking to proper temperatures, and refrigerating promptly-are in the FDA Food Code for food establishments to follow," says Kevin Smith, director of FDA's Retail Food and Cooperative Programs Coordination Staff in College Park, Md.

 

FDA develops, updates and promotes the Food Code as a model for state
and local agencies to adopt and use in regulating retail food establishments in their jurisdictions.

 

"The Food Code represents FDA's best advice for ensuring a uniform system of regulation among the thousands of federal, state and local agencies and tribes that are responsible for retail food safety," says Capt. Cynthia Kunkel, M.P.H., an FDA regional food specialist based in Lenexa, Kan.
Source: www.fda.gov

 

U.S. Personal Chefs Association Moves to Orlando

Catering Magazine - April 2011

 

The headquarters of the U.S. Personal Chefs Association (USPCA) has relocated to Orlando after its recent acquisition by Larry Lynch, owner and partner of Environmental Association Management Partners, which will manage the organization. With a membership of more than 2,000, representing more than 70 percent of the full-time personal chefs in the United States, the USPCA helps establish guidelines and standards for these professionals, and also promotes its members and the significant benefits of hiring a personal chef to the general public. For more information, visit www.uspca.com.

Lawsuit accuses Lake schools of 'cheating scheme'

Orlando Sentinel - Mar 3, 2011

 

The answers to a test designed to ensure kitchen employees use proper hygiene and food handling to prevent food-borne illnesses made its way to Lake County school cafeteria workers and others, according to a federal lawsuit filed against the district and a culinary teacher.

 

The suit, filed by Environmental Health Testing of Orlando, accuses Eustis High School teacher Jeffrey Rotz of being part of a "cheating scheme" by giving out copies of the exam and answers to the test takers. He also allowed people to take the test unsupervised, the lawsuit states.

 

In doing so, Rotz risked the health of the public and students, revealed "trade secrets" and violated copyrights, according to company officials. Test questions ranged from hand-washing and sanitizing to identifying elements of food-borne illnesses, company president Larry Lynch said.

 

Lynch's company runs the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals, an accredited certification program that tests workers' knowledge of food-safety procedures. Those who receive certification often become food-safety managers who train coworkers on how to properly handle food and make sure their restaurants, cafeterias and grocery store hot-meals areas have a food-safety plan.

 

The program is intended "to reduce the risk" of food-borne illnesses and the deaths linked to them, Lynch said. He argued that providing test answers could have created a significant risk to the public because there was no guarantee that the workers learned safety protocols to protect students.

 

Rotz, who has been with the district for 15 years, could not be reached. His attorney did not immediately return phone calls.

 

The test-giving was part of a side business for Rotz, and the district hired him as a subcontractor to train and administer tests to employees, according to school officials. School attorneys will not be representing him in court.

 

Rotz administered numerous tests since 2002 until 2009, according to the lawsuit. He used a school district-issued email account and computers to email the test material, which were retained as public-records, the lawsuit states. It states the district had "knowledge of the copyright infringing activity."

 

However, "the school board denies any wrongdoing," district spokesman Chris Patton said.

 

The district launched an investigation after allegations that Rotz used his school email and computer "to conduct private business," Patton said. He could not disclose the findings because of an ongoing litigation.

 

Patton said cafeteria food is safe. Kitchen employees receive multiple trainings on food safety and other topics, he said. For example, he said, the school district hired another company to provide training on food-safety procedures and administer a similar certification test for cafeteria employees last year.

 

Environmental Health Testing stopped administering tests at Lake schools after it found out about the cheating, company spokeswoman Vicki Johnson said.

 

It is unclear how long Rotz had been giving out the answers and how many people used them, she said. She said the Lake teacher administered more than 600 tests between 2005 and 2009 and oversaw the tests for 17 school district employees who received their certifications.

 

More than 300 questions were leaked, Lynch said. They'll have to come up with a new pool of questions for the test forms and that could cost up to $200,000, he said. The questions must be confidential for the program to continue to be accredited.

 

The company is seeking a minimum of $150,000 in damages and attorney fees and costs.

 

Personal Chefs are Delicious Alternative for Strict Dietary Needs

WFMJ-TV

Youngstown (Jan. 18, 2011) -- The strict dietary needs of one can create challenging situations for families who need to prepare specialized meals. Personal chefs can take a delicious load off their minds. In this report, Sally Phillips of WFMJ in Youngstown, Ohio, shadows Personal Chef Tim Hering as he assists the Chamoun Family.

 

Link to News Segment

Race for Visual Effect Award Pits Super 78's Flying Experience Against Harry Potter, King Kong Attractions

 

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (Jan 14, 2011) - The film from a popular Flying Experience attraction at one of China's largest theme parks will compete against Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Islands of Adventure and King Kong 360 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood for a coveted visual effects award next month. The Visual Effects Society on Monday honored the co-production of Happy Valley Shanghai's, Super78's Flight of the Dragon, the first-ever, digital, large format, live-action aerial film produced for the China market, with a nod in the Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project category along with the popular US-based attractions.

 

The attraction, created by Hollywood-based production studio Super 78, takes guests on an extraordinary tour of China's most famous and beautiful landmarks complements of a computer-generated Dragon, and captures astonishing aerial footage of China's Great Wall, scenic views of the Yellow Mountains, Zhangjiajie, and the Lijiang River.

 

Listed on the nomination are Visual Effects Supervisor/Producer and Super 78 owners Brent Young and Dina Benadon, Project Producer Charlotte Huggins and Technical Director Michael "Oz" Smith.

 

Theme park enthusiasts and visual effects aficionados interested in seeing how the Flight of the Dragon experience compares to the other popular attractions can sample a clip here.

 

Winners will be announced Tues., Feb. 1 at a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The ceremony will air on Reelz Channel on Feb. 19.

 

About Super 78
Launched in 1997, Super 78 is a new media production studio that develops award-winning branded entertainment and educational experiences for the most admired theme parks, attractions and museums around the world including SeaWorld, Universal-Singapore, Busch Gardens, in addition to Happy Valley Shanghai.

 

About Happy Valley Shanghai
Happy Valley Shanghai opened in August 2009 in the Sheshan Resort area and is the largest theme park in the region. The destination reportedly attracts between three to five million guests annually.  

Waterbury Hotel Changes to CoCo Key Flag

Hartford Business Journal

Dec 27, 2010

 

The Holiday Inn in Waterbury changed its banner Monday morning to become the new CoCo Key Water Resort-Hotel & Convention Center.

 

The move by hotel owner Sage Hospitality, based in Denver, makes the Waterbury location the fourth CoCo Key brand in the country after Columbus, Ohio, Orlando and Omaha. The changing of brands will not create any staffing changes.

 

"The team's excited about the change and the opportunity to be more prominently affiliated with one of the hospitality industry's hottest emerging brands," said William Giraldez, Waterbury general manager, in a statement. "Our philosophy here is full steam ahead."

 

Sage Hospitality purchased the 282-room hotel - the former Connecticut Grand Hotel and Conference Center - in 2007 and spent $7 million converting it to a Holiday Inn. In 2008, Sage added the 55,000 sq. ft. indoor water park.

Off to the mall! Survey reveals foreign visitors' No. 1 pursuit is shopping
By Jayne Clark, USA TODAY

Dec 15, 2010


Holiday shoppers line New York's Fifth Avenue. Foreign visitors say shopping is their primary activity in the USA, and accounts for about a third of total trip expenditures. New York is the No. 1 shopping venue cited in a new survey conducted in concert with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

 

Makes a beeline to the mall. And that would be as in shopping mall, not Washington's historic National Mall. More than half the foreign respondents in a new survey said shopping was their primary activity while visiting the USA.

 

A typical shopping foray, as divined by survey answers might go something like this: Stop by Macy's or JC Penney to check out the Levi's, Ralph Lauren and Diesel merchandise, then pop in for a bite at McDonald's. At any rate, those were the brands and retailers that got top recognition from the on-line survey of 2,500 foreign tourists who had made U.S. visits in the past year.

 

The survey, commissioned by multiple promotional entities and Macy's, in partnership with the U.S. Commerce Department, focused on visitors from five countries: Australia and South Korea (considered growth markets for inbound U.S. tourism) and Brazil, China and India (designated as emerging markets).

 

A similar survey of visitors from the five countries that accounted for the most international visitation (Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom) was conducted last year.

 

"What was so striking is how similar they are," says researcher Laura Mandala, who conducted the study.

 

The average expenditure among both groups was about $3,500. They dropped about a third of that bundle in retail stores, mostly on clothing.

 

-- Other findings: After shopping venues, the second most popular destinations were parks -- both the natural (state and national) sort and the unnatural (amusement) kind. Visiting museums, zoos and aquariums came next, followed by dining out and going to concerts and theaters. (Interestingly, about half of Chinese respondents said they'd looked at real estate during their visit.)

 

-- New York was the No. 1 shopping venue, followed in a three-way tie by Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

 

Full results of the study will be available in January at MandalaResearch.com and ShopAmericaTours.com.

International visitors ready to shop 'til they drop
By Mike Gorrell - The Salt Lake Tribune
Published Dec 13, 2010

 

At a major travel show last month in China, Utah Office of Tourism deputy director Tracie Cayford received two main inquiries from Chinese tour operators considering trips to the Beehive State.

 

"They wanted to know where shopping was available in Utah, along with Chinese restaurants," she said of questions at the China International Travel Mart in Shanghai. "They were interested in learning about the malls and outlets statewide."

 

Cayford's experience mirrors the results of a recent survey of shopping habits of visitors from five countries of increasing importance to United States tourism - Australia, Brazil, China, India and South Korea.

 

Washington, D.C.-based Mandala Research questioned 2,500 travelers from those countries between August and October. The study was underwritten by Macy's and the Shop America Alliance and conducted in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce's office of travel and tourism industries.

 

"Shopping has always been one of the top activities of international travelers," said Helen Marano, director of the Commerce Department agency. "From this study, we know more about upper-income shoppers who visit. By understanding these travelers, the industry should be able to improve its approach to this lucrative segment."

 

The survey determined travelers from these five markets spent an average of $3,517 per trip, and one third of that on shopping. About 56 percent said shopping opportunities helped them choose between possible destinations.

 

New York City was the most popular location for shopping. Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlanta tied for second. Salt Lake City was listed among destinations popular with international visitors.

 

Leigh von der Esch, the Utah Office of Tourism's managing director, said this latest survey reinforces efforts by her office to develop connections in those emerging-market countries, whose visits to the U.S. are projected to increase by 15 percent to 40 percent over the next three years.

 

"These are all very important markets for us, markets that we've been creating new programs for," she said.

 

Besides the trip to China by Cayford and Garfield County tourism director Bruce Fullmer, South Korea has been targeted in state efforts led by San Juan County economic development director Charlie DeLorme.

 

Von der Esch's office has published new brochures, and more limited "one sheeters" of Utah facts, in Portugese, Chinese and Japanese.

State and Park City tourism officials also are working to boost connections to Brazil, she said, citing talks with Delta Air Lines to establish a nonstop route between São Paulo and Salt Lake City, plus efforts to make it easier for Brazilians to get visitor and work visas at Utah ski resorts.

 

Von der Esch added that the state is promoting the "Grand Circle" of national parks in southern Utah and northern Arizona to all Chinese visitors flying into Las Vegas.

 

Almost 500,000 Chinese tourists came to the U.S. in 2008, one year after a political agreement opened the travel market, the Commerce Department said. They stayed about 23 nights on average and spent an estimated $3.5 billion, about $7,200 per visit.

 

Laura Mandala, a former U.S. Travel Association executive whose firm conducted the survey, said its findings "support the thesis that travel barriers to the U.S. should be eliminated for the economy to benefit from the infusion these travelers can have on the U.S. marketplace."

Visitors from emerging markets come to N.Y., L.A. to shop
LA Times,13-Dec-2010

 

They are coming to shop for name-brand clothes and souvenirs and they are carrying a lot of cash.

 

Foreign visitors from countries with the fastest growing tourist markets to the U.S. are spending an average of $3,517per trip, with nearly one-third set aside for shopping, according to a survey of more than 2,500 tourists.

 

An online survey of visitors from China, Brazil, India, Australia and Korea conducted between August and September found that New York was the top shopping city for such visitors while Los Angeles came in second, followed closely by Las Vegas and Atlanta.

 

The study by Macy's and the Shop America Alliance, a group that promotes shopping centers, restaurants and retailers, shows that the amount of spending by tourists from emerging markets is nearly identical to the amount spent last year by established markets such as Canada, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

 

The tourists from the fast-growing markets such as China and Brazil spent an average of $3,517 per trip in 2010, including $1,006 on shopping while the tourists from established tourist countries such as Mexico and Canada spent an average of $3,692 on a trip in 2009, with $1,063 on shopping, according to the survey.

 

Among tourists from the emerging markets, 47% said they planned to visit a theme park during the visit -- the top activity cited by the foreign visitors, followed by visiting historic sites (44%) and visiting national parks (30%). Shopping was the eighth-most popular activity with 30% saying they come to the U.S. to spend at outlet malls.

 

Levi's, Ralph Lauren and Diesel were the top brands sought by shoppers from the emerging markets, according to the survey. 

Central Florida Business Briefs

Florida Trend - December 2010

 

LAKE MARY — Lake Mary-based technology firm Accesso has developed a mobile phone application for small and midsized theme parks, as well as museums and zoos, so users can customize their experience. The Accesso Mobile application lets guests buy tickets or memberships, make donations, navigate through the attraction, and upload content to social media applications such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Thanksgiving 'staycation' deals
Tuesday, 23 Nov 2010, 6:14 PM EST

By Talitha Vickers
FOX 35 News

 

ORLANDO, Fla. - (click for video) If you are looking for something fun to do with the whole family this Thanksgiving try a staycation that sure to entertain the whole family.

 

Jill Martin of Family Insider shared some great deals that you and your family can enjoy without breaking the bank.

 

FOX 35's Talitha Vickers went to Coco Key Water Resort to see what

they had to offer for family packages. The resort sits on 10 acres on International Drive and once you set foot inside guest can literally go for a ride of a lifetime.

 

"Our whole focus at Coco Key is making children a priority and having

everybody have a great experience at Coco Key," said Lou Repassy Senior Marketing Director for Coco Key Water Resort. "From three unique oversized slides, to the splash of interactive maze through Parrots Perch there is certainly something for the entire family to enjoy."

 

Coco Key Water Resort is offering a Thankful for Families package starting at $124 which includes:

 

•$20 gas card
•Two, $10 arcade passes
•Prize pack giveaways through Pluck for Feathers game (complimentary stays, water park passes, arcade passes and food and beverage deals at the resort)
•Four, 2-day park passes
•Two additional day passes for a future water park visit.
•Accommodations for one night

 

Other locations in and around Central Florida are also offering great deals.

 

The Fontainebleau on Miami Beach is having a Bleau Thanksgiving from $299 per room, but you can get a 2nd room from $129. They will also include breakfast, valet parking and more. Learn more at VisitFlorida.com.

 

Tradewinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach has a $50 room deal. This deal is good for one night only however there are discounts available for additional nights. Lean more at VisitFlorida.com .

 

The Boca Raton Resort & Spa has a Best of Boca Package, is perfect for the holiday season. For $199 per night, guests can receive extras like daily breakfast, valet parking, late checkout and a resort fee is included. Theres also a 25 percent discounts on golf greens fees, spa treatments, tennis court time and Camp Boca for kids! Valid through April 30, 2011.

 

The Waldorf Astoria Orlando has several activities going on for Thanksgiving weekend, including fireworks, and Florida resident rates start at $189.  

Accesso Mobile App is Launched (18-Nov-2010, Fox 35 News)

CoCo Key Holiday Promotions Celebrate Families and Community

DENVER (November 17, 2010) - Take one fun-filled water resort. Add a family eager for a respite from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Mix a passion for community. And blend with considerable savings and you get a recipe for meaningful offers this holiday season at CoCo Key Water Resorts.

 

CoCo Key is embracing the holiday spirit with several promotions that emphasize connecting families and giving back to community.

Through Nov. 28, CoCo Key's "Thankful for Families" Getaway Package offers families an affordable and fun-filled reprieve from the hustle and bustle of holiday preparation.

 

Starting as low as $124, the two-day Thankful for Families Package includes accommodations for one night and four 2-day water park passes, plus two $10 arcade passes, a $20 gas card to ease the cost of travel during the holiday season, and two day-passes for a future water park visit.

 

The Thankful for Families package also offers two "plucks" from the resorts' visiting turkeys. Every feather plucked is a winner, with prizes ranging from an overnight stay with four water parks passes, day passes, arcade prizes, or a free sundae or refillable soda, among others.

 

Fun and savings at CoCo Key extends long after the Thanksgiving leftovers. The CoCo & Gingerbread Package runs Nov. 29-Dec. 30 and includes accommodations for one night and four 2-day water park passes, along with two $5 arcade passes, a CoCo and gingerbread kit, and two free cookies for the resort's cookie decorating workshop held on Saturdays and Sundays.

 

CoCo Key is also supporting community this holiday season with the CoCo Cares: Toys for Tots promotion. Guests bringing in an unwrapped new toy on Tuesdays and Thursday from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23 will receive half price water park admission. CoCo Key will deliver all donated toys to area Toys for Tots programs.

 

"Our top priority is making kids happy, and it's hard to be happy when you don't even know if there will be any presents this year," said Ed Baklor, senior vice president for CoCo Key Water Resorts. "Our CoCo Cares programs make it easier for our guests to take stock and appreciate what they have, and involve the whole family in helping brighten the holiday season for our neighbors in need."

 

CoCo Key Water Resorts offer affordable family getaways that feature a whimsical water park, state-of-the-art arcade, and splashing good times all specially designed for youngsters in a safe and friendly environment.

 

Managed and developed by Sage Hospitality Resources, one of the nation's leading hotel management and development companies, resorts can be found in Rockford, Ill., Omaha, Neb., Kansas City, Mo., Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Danvers, Mass., Fitchburg, Mass., Waterbury, Conn., Mt. Laurel, NJ, and Orlando.

 

For more information visit www.cocokeywaterresort.com.

News from the TradeShow Floor

Accesso Adds More to Mobile Platform

(17-Nov-2010)
Accesso (Booth #2474), a ticketing solutions provider, brought its mobile application to this year's Expo, highlighting its integrated approach to enhancing the visitor experience by combining content and commerce elements.

 

"One of the things we thought was strategic was getting into mobile marketing not just from a ticketing standpoint but also a content perspective," said T.J. Christensen, director of business development. "From an attractions standpoint we can easily deploy a mobile application that is supported on the iPhone and Android, as well as a mobile-optimized website, and then tie commerce like mobile ticketing into it."

 

Guests can view attraction schedules, buy tickets, receive push notifications, and utilize the GPS functionality to find their favorite attractions or locate facility services. Using the FriendFinder feature, guests can easily "see" and find each other when they're in different places within an attraction.

 

Smart phones draw parks' attention
By Jason Garcia, Orlando Sentinel (16-Nov-2010 )

 

Sometime early next year, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will unveil a mobile-phone application that boosters say will put the Ohio attraction on par with anything the theme-park industry's biggest players can offer guests.

 

The application - which will be available for both iPhones and smart phones that use the Android operating system - will, like other applications already used by attractions, allow guests to access information such as park maps and show schedules. What will make it unique is that it will enable visitors to buy tickets and zoo memberships directly from their phones.

 

"The idea is to make it easy for our guests to be able to do things like buy a ticket on their mobile devices and then walk in the door," said Gregg Oosterbann, information-technology director for the Columbus Zoological Parks Association, whose zoo draws 1.9 million visitors a year. "Looking at the huge number of people who are carrying mobile devices, it helps us get people through the line quicker."

 

Although the technology will debut in Columbus, it was born in Central Florida.

 

It was developed by accesso, a 10-year-old ticketing-software company in Lake Mary that has 21 employees and a client list ranging from Six Flags to CoCo Key Water Resorts.

 

It's also one of scores of new products on display this week at the International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions' 2010 expo in the Orange County Convention Center. The annual event is a crucial opportunity for companies such as accesso, one of more than 1,100 companies exhibiting on the trade show floor, to drum up new business.

 

Mobile technology is of keen interest to the amusement industry right now, given that some operators report that between 5 percent and 10 percent of their website traffic already arrives via cell phones. And that number is expected to grow rapidly: Researchers at Morgan Stanley, for example, predict that more people will be surfing the Internet on mobile devices than on desktop computers within the next five years.

 

Accommodating mobile phones is "really becoming a fundamental expectation of the consumer," said Steve Brown, a former Disney and Six Flags ticketing executive who is now accesso's chief executive officer.

 

The industry's biggest players have certainly taken notice. Walt Disney World, for instance, has developed a theme-park application for Verizon smart-phone users. Universal Orlando designed mobile-phone games tied to this fall's edition of Halloween Horror Nights. And SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment last month introduced a custom-designed iPhone app for SeaWorld San Antonio.

 

Even those efforts are still in their infancy, however. Disney World, Universal and SeaWorld Orlando have all designed mobile websites - simplified versions of their standard websites that are easier to navigate and can be accessed by any mobile phone. But so far only SeaWorld's is set up to automatically redirect mobile-phone traffic from its regular site to the mobile-friendly one.

 

Accesso, for its part, is betting that smaller operators such as the Columbus Zoo will also have to develop mobile offerings in coming years. Company executives view mobile technology as a ripe market for a company that just three years ago was in bankruptcy reorganization but which today says it generates almost $4 million in annual revenue and runs the online-ticket sites for every Six Flags amusement park in North America.

 

While the industry's early mobile applications have focused on providing guests with information, such as GPS-equipped maps, attraction wait times, and show schedules, Brown said there is potential to do much more with the devices.

 

He said accesso's technology - which it has developed in conjunction with Austin, Texas-based AVAI Mobile Solutions - includes software that can be used to conduct sales of everything from tickets to food via a smart phone. The technology also offers the prospect of real-time communications - allowing, for instance, a park to send a customer a text alert about a particular restaurant if the guest happens to be near it at the moment.

 

"Attractions have an opportunity to leverage something that every guest has in the back of their pockets," Brown said.

accesso releases ticketing app for theme parks

Tnooz - 18-Oct-2010

 

Someone told me it's all happening - mobile commerce, that is - at the zoo.

 

accesso launched accesso Mobile, a mobile app that enables zoos, museums and theme parks to introduce branded iPhone and Android apps with ticket-selling and other in-destination revenue features.

 

Created through an exclusive partnership with AVAI Mobile, accesso Mobile takes existing features in AVAI Mobile's parks and zoos app and adds ecommerce features such as ticket sales to it.

 

accesso Mobile includes a content management system to customize the app and also to optimize a venue's mobile website, accesso says.

 

The app includes an optional mobile ticketing feature, which enables guests to use their mobile phones as paperless tickets, accesso says.

 

Sales are processed through the attraction's merchant account and settled daily with the merchant's bank account, accesso says.

 

accesso Mobile also redirects mobile browsers from an attraction's standard website to a mobile version, the company says.

 

Several attractions, including the Houston Zoo, Holiday World, the Memphiz Zoo and Schlitterbahn Water Parks previously launched branded apps using AVAI Mobile's content management features, but aren't yet using the ecommerce capabilities added by accesso.

 

accesso specializes in hosting ecommerce and ticketing solutions for theme parks and attractions.

ACCESSO LAUNCHES ATTRACTION INDUSTRY'S FIRST INTEGRATED
MOBILE CONTENT AND COMMERCE PLATFORM

 

SOLUTION HELPS ZOOS, ATTRACTIONS PUT INFO, TICKETS IN PALM OF GUESTS' HANDS

 

Orlando, FL (October 18, 2010) - accesso, a leader in theme park ticketing and e-commerce, has released the attraction industry's first comprehensive mobile content and commerce solution. Through an exclusive partnership with AVAI Mobile Solutions, whose proven mobile content platform is already supporting several large scale attractions, accesso MOBILE is designed to help attractions communicate park, activity and event information to guests as well as sell tickets through a branded iPhone app, Android app and mobile-optimized website.

 

With half of all internet traffic now coming through smart phones, attractions are looking for ways to adopt mobile technology in their own operations. accesso MOBILE lets zoos, museums and theme parks affordably launch their own mobile-optimized website, provide comprehensive guest information via a branded app, and have the option to monetize their entire mobile program through e-commerce for ticket sales and in-park revenue opportunities.

"To remain relevant, it's increasingly important for attractions to use technology to provide a richer and more engaging guest experience," said Steve Brown, CEO of accesso. "By leveraging AVAI's rich mobile platform and our best-in-class commerce technology, we can quickly customize accesso MOBILE for any size attraction in an efficient and cost effective manner."

 

With accesso MOBILE, guests will now have their own personal tour guide in the palm of their hand. Visitors will be able to easily find the next exhibit, locate the nearest restroom or find their friends through a precise GPS enabled map. This unique mobile platform also supports robust multimedia content such as video, audio and integration with social media applications including Facebook and Twitter.

 

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will launch accesso MOBILE in the coming weeks and zoo leadership is confident it will help improve guest satisfaction and drive visitation.

 

"Over the years we've had to make the difficult choice between investing our dollars in the in-park experience or in back-off-house technology" said Gregg Oosterbaan, Director of Information Technology at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. "With this new platform it's no longer an ‘either-or' decision but instead a matter of us moving full speed ahead to offer a more relevant guest experience, enhance interaction with our animals and ultimately drive more revenue."

 

Through accesso MOBILE, attractions can also choose to monetize their entire mobile platform by implementing strategic revenue opportunities such as sponsorships or ticket sales. Attractions will have the ability to sell tickets, memberships, donations, and more through an integrated interface with accesso's robust ticketing platform, allowing guests to make secure purchases for products through their mobile phone and have a scanable barcode delivered right to their mobile device.

"Through our success in attractions ecommerce, admissions and ticketing technology, we've been able to develop easy-to-use solutions designed specifically for the entertainment industry," said Brown. "This history allows us to speed our clients to market with proprietary mobile technology that answers guests' needs and provides multiple revenue generation opportunities."

 

More information about accesso MOBILE is available at www.accesso.com.

###


About accesso
accesso products and services provide cutting edge ticketing and commerce solutions for a wide variety of leading theme parks, water parks and zoos including; Six Flags theme parks across North America, the Columbus Zoo, Zoombezi Bay water park and Elitch Gardens. To date, accesso's technology has processed over $3 billion in sales.  

Companies Offer Deals for 10-10-10
Ch. 10-CBS Columbus, 5-Oct-2010

 

A once-in-a-century date occurrence is just around the corner and, it is bringing shoppers opportunities for some big savings.

Sunday will be Oct. 10, 2010, or 10-10-10, 10TV's Joanna Freeman reported on Tuesday.

 

On Sunday, people can purchase an all-day pass to CoCo Key Water Resort for just $10.

 

See video segment

Top 10/10/10 Travel Deals
CBS News Travel Editor Peter Greenberg Shares the Best Promotions for Once-in-a-Century Date

CBS Early Morning, 5-Oct-2010

 

Not long ago, we were "celebrating" 7/7/7, considered one of the luckiest days of the century. In fact, that day was thought to be so auspicious that, according to TheKnot.com, the average number of weddings registered on the site for that date tripled when compared to other summer Saturdays.

 

And now, the once-in-a-century date of 10/10/10 is just around the corner. Ten is the magic number, the perfect score. What could be luckier than that?

 

Of course, the travel industry is always looking for an excuse to create a promotion so check out some of the deals being rolled out, as well as some of the over-the-top ways to celebrate.

 

HOTEL DEALS

Splash into Savings at CoCo Key Water Resorts
On the off chance that you're celebrating your 10th or 100th birthday on 10/10/10, you can get free water park admission to any one of the 10 CoCo Key Water Resorts (Locations are in Rockford, Ill., Omaha, Neb., Kansas City, Mo., Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Danvers, Mass., Fitchburg, Mass., Waterbury, Conn., Mt. Laurel, NJ, and Orlando.)

 

But even if you're not celebrating your first or tenth decade, there are other ways to save. Visitors get reduced $10 admission, saving $5 to $22 per person based on location.

 

If you can't make it to CoCo Key on that date, take advantage of the Perfect 10 deal by purchasing full-day passes online on October 10 for $10. Passes are good on pre-selected dates through December 30, 2010. For more information, visit www.cocokeywaterresort.com.

 

CoCo Key Water Resorts Celebrate 10/10/10 with Trio of "Perfect 10" Deals


Guests Celebrating Their 10th or 100th Birthdays on That Day Get in Free

 

DENVER (September 28, 2010) - The power of 10 has added significance at CoCo Key Water Resorts this Oct. 10 when guests celebrating their 10th or 100th birthday that day will receive free water park admission*.

 

Free birthday admission on 10/10/10 is one of three "Perfect 10" deals all 10 CoCo Key locations will honor that day. In addition, admission to any CoCo Key Water Park on Oct. 10 is just $10, a savings that ranges from $5 to $22 per person based on location. The parks also are offering $10 arcade cards for just $5 the entire month of October.

 

"October 10 offers an irresistible promotional platform for us during the year in which we are celebrating the opening of our tenth location," said Ted Watson, CoCo Key Vice President of Sales and Marketing, about the addition of the company's new Orlando property. "We specialize in making kids happy, and because we know that over the past several years families have really been on the look-out for fun ways to commemorate these uniquely numbered dates, we figured we'd give them added reason to celebrate with us in October."

 

Families unable to visit a CoCo Key location on Sunday, Oct. 10, can still enjoy a "Perfect 10" deal. All CoCo Key full-day passes purchased online on Oct. 10 are only $10 and can be redeemed on any selected date through Dec. 30, 2010**.

 

CoCo Key Water Resorts offer affordable family getaways that feature a whimsical water park, state-of-the-art arcade, and splashing good times all specially designed for youngsters in a safe and friendly environment. Managed and developed by Sage Hospitality Resources, one of the nation's leading hotel management and development companies, resorts can be found in Rockford, Ill., Omaha, Neb., Kansas City, Mo., Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Danvers, Mass., Fitchburg, Mass., Waterbury, Conn., Mt. Laurel, NJ, and Orlando.

 

For more information visit www.cocokeywaterresort.com.


###

 

*Offer good only for those born Oct. 10, 1910 or Oct. 10, 2000. Proof of birth date must be provided at ticket desk for free admission.

 

** $10 day pass is only valid on date and location chosen at time of purchase. Subject to availability. Cannot be combined with any other discounts or promotions.

CoCo Key Water Resort Debuts in Omaha

Meetings Focus - Sept 10, 2010

 

OMAHA, Neb. - The Omaha Holiday Inn Convention Center is now operating under the banner of the CoCo Key Water Resort-Hotel & Convention Center, Omaha.

 

The 383-room hotel is the brand's third flag, following the CoCo Key Cherry Valley Hotel in Columbus, Ohio and the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando, which made its debut in mid-April.

Top five bargain destinations for fall 2010

USA Today, Sept 9, 2010 

 

Here's a secret: If you're looking for a great vacation at a great price, there's a good chance fall is the best time to go. In many destinations, you'll find better weather than in winter or spring, and you'll beat the high prices and crowds of summer.

 

I've monitored trends, industry news, and sale patterns to point you in the direction of places that offer the best bargains for the coming season. Below you'll find examples of deals presently available for
fall trips. Like all deals, these are sure to expire; however, a little research on your part can yield similar results when you're ready to book.

 

Orlando

Early fall is Orlando's slowest travel time, and that means bargains that simply aren't around the rest of the year. Factor in new air service and hotel deals galore, and Orlando turns out to be a standout spot for travelers looking for good deals and plenty of
fun this fall.

 

Virgin America debuts nonstop service from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Orlando on October 6, with rates from $139 each way. On the air-and-hotel front, United Vacations is offering either free Disney
Dining or 46% off Walt Disney World vacations of three nights or more on select dates in October, November, and December. With the recent increase in Disney World admission prices, discounts are
even more useful for keeping costs down.

 

Some hotels are cutting room rates as well. CheapOair recently reported Orlando hotel rates from $42 for late September stays, and Coco Key Resort is offering September nightly rates from $89.

 

Colorado

With its high elevations and abundance of deciduous trees, most notably aspens, Colorado delivers autumnal golds, reds, and ranges; sweeping mountain views; and fall festivals, all at affordable rates. Short-booking-window fall airfare sales have been cropping up all over the place in the last few weeks, so finding a good deal on airfare to Colorado is a real possibility this season, especially if you're ready to book when you find a great fare.

 

Deals are all over the state this autumn, but a few destinations shine for their combination of discounts and celebrations. Aspen will bring
together vivid foliage, festivals, and cheaper rates.

 

Numerous local hotels and rental properties have Perfect Aspen packages offering three nights for the ice of two, with rates starting from $99 in September; call individual properties for details.

 

Meanwhile, Gunnison-Crested Butte is celebrating September Splendor in the Rockies with fall festivals, art walks, and more. Properties around the area have lodging deals with rates as low as $20 per person for fall stays.

 

For more affordable fall fun, get lost in Colorado's largest corn maze at Anderson Farms, about an hour north of Denver. Or, head to Estes Park for Elk Fest in early October, where visitors can safely observe wild elk during rutting season.

 

Fiji

Looking for a more exotic destination on a tight budget? Fiji might be just the ticket. A kids-fly-free promotion puts the tropical island within reach of families, and affordable tickets that include stops in Australia or New Zealand and Fiji can turn a beach vacation into a trip of a lifetime.

 

Families booking trips by September 30 for travel through February should consider Air Pacific's children-fly-free offer. For every adult flying on a qualifying ticket, one child can fly free (though you'll still need to cover taxes and surcharges). This is one promotion you can't book online; so call Air Pacific or a travel agent.

 

Not flying with kids? Discounted flights on Air Pacific make adult travel cheaper, too. Round-trip fares from Los Angeles booked by October 31 for travel through March are advertised as starting from $650.

 

However, you may be able to find a flight for even less: On the Air Pacific website, the current base fare is $620. Another $328 in taxes and fees raises the price, but the total clocks in well under most equivalent flights.

 

Sale fares to destinations in Australia, New Zealand, and Western Samoa with stopovers in Fiji on Air Pacific run between $700 and $800, depending on the destination. And vacation package provider
Pleasant Holidays has deals on November travel from $1,189 for airfare, five nights' accommodations, transfers, and perks.

 

Virginia

Want fall foliage without the high prices of New England? Virginia offers vivid fall colors, memorable rives, and affordable accommodations, even for those who didn't book months ahead of peak foliage season. In fact, according to Hotwire, Richmond, Virginia, saw a 6% drop in hotel prices compared to last year, putting it squarely within reach of bargain travelers.

 

This fall, we've been seeing a lot of airfare sales, but they are often short-lived, running for only a few days at a time. When you know your dates and are ready to book, check our reviews of current sales to find discounted flights to Norfolk, Richmond, one of the D.C.-area airports, or another regional airport serving the state.

 

Virginia makes it easy to save this fall with listings of special fall offers. For instance, you can find a two-night vacation rental with two passes to a historic spa for $139 per person. Or, take advantage
of a fall foliage package from $125 a night at the General Francis Marion Hotel, including a $25 gas card and $25 dining certificate, for stays between October 1 and November 3. Other offers include
deals on wine tasting, activities, dining, and more.

 

Aruba

Aruba, one of the few islands in the Caribbean outside the traditional hurricane belt, delivers fall bargains and low storm risk. In fact, many hotels on the island, including the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort, Westin Resort, and the Divi Resorts, offer a hurricane guarantee, providing some combination of no-penalty rebooking or certificates for future stays in the event of a Category 1 or higher hurricane.

 

Hurricane guarantees provide peace of mind, but discounts are what inspires fall travel. Holiday Inn Sunspree Aruba is advertising up to 55% off all-inclusive rates for fall stays, with children under 12 free.

 

The Radisson Aruba's Endless Summer Sale offers 35% off room rates, free meals and stays for kids under 18, and $200 in resort credits.

 

Discounted air-and-hotel packages are another way to save on an Aruba vacation. At press time, JetBlue Vacations was advertising reduced rates from $450 for five nights' accommodations and round-trip airfare from Boston (other departure cities available at a higher cost), and CheapCaribbean.com had sale packages to Aruba as well.

Lessons From the JetBlue Debacle
by Simon T. Bailey
Talent Management Magazine

Aug 17, 2010

 

When flight attendant Steven Slater dramatically "gave notice" to his employer by departing via a JetBlue airplane's emergency chute earlier this month, he became a harbinger of what may become one of the most chaotic employment scenarios: a mass exodus of the workforce.

 

While some may be quick to dismiss the flight attendant's rant as a random tirade that has no probability of happening in their own organization, savvy leaders should take a closer look at the sentiments registered by an MSNBC.com poll following the incident, in which half of the 91,000-plus voters deemed Slater a hero and only 10 percent suggested he was an "idiot."

 

It also portends another undercurrent in the American workforce: a serious case of wandering-eye syndrome that's going to lead to an influx of professional divorce if we're not careful.

 

Pay cuts, increased workloads and dispassionate leadership have resulted in a disturbing level of employee frustration. According to a January 2010 report by The Conference Board, job satisfaction in the U.S. is at a 22-year low - 55 percent of employed Americans are dissatisfied with their job and, as a result, they're seriously contemplating divorcing their employer.

 

For now, they're biding their time, but only until the economy rebounds just enough to follow Slater's lead and leap for something else. Granted, it's unlikely to be on par with the spectacle that played out on the tarmac at JFK, but it will happen.

 

A Salary.com survey of 14,000 workers and almost 400 HR managers found that economic growth, coupled with shifting employment options, has recently led 65 percent of U.S. workers to consider launching some sort of job search.

 

Here's a caution to leaders: Your partners are looking for new mates. What are you going to do about it?

 

It's true that leaders may have been focused on making sure the future is secure, but they've been neglecting their most important relationships, and their employees have developed a wandering eye. Like an unhappy spouse in a failing marriage, their employees are asking themselves, "Am I happy, appreciated, satisfied and cared about? Or are we merely going through the motions?"

 

For leaders who are seriously committed to avoiding a messy divorce and rebuilding their professional marriage, the best place to start is by honestly answering the following questions:

 

• Do I care about the person behind the employee?
• Am I the least bit interested in understanding what ignites employees' spirits and engages their hearts and minds?
• When was the last time I had lunch in the employee break room or greeted my staff in the lobby upon arrival in the morning?

 

Individuals who have ever been in a long-term relationship know that little things make a big difference. Since small is the new big, what can leaders do on a small scale, but consistently, that will make a big impact to keep talent happily married to the company?


Splash Zones


Orlando's new CoCo Key water resort keeps kids entertained on a family budget

 

By Sarah Perez Webber-Agent at Home

August 2010

 

In the crowded Orlando hotel market, a resort opened in April with a distinctive feature that sets it apart from its numerous competitors-a 54,000-square-foot water park. The CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando, located on International Drive, features 14 water slides, pools, island ambience and a roving red parrot mascot designed to provide entertainment for water-loving guests, especially children ages 4 to 12.

 

CoCo Key occupies the site of I-Drive's first hotel, the Hilton Inn South, which opened in 1970 when Walt Disney World Resort was still being built (Disney executives overseeing the park's development actually stayed at the property). In 2008, Orlando-based CNL Lifestyle Properties bought the hotel, then known as the Legacy Grand, for $40 million. After a multimillion-dollar renovation, the property has been transformed into the 10th CoCo Key Water Resort in the U.S. and the first in Florida. Unlike its counterparts in the Midwest and Northeast, this water park is partially outdoors, with a large covered section. All 10 CoCo Key water resorts are managed by Denver-based Sage Hospitality Resources. This hotel marks the first, however, that's not affiliated with another brand.

 

Hotel guests can enjoy the water park for $19 per day per room (for up to four guests), which is the daily resort fee for the property. With nightly rates starting at $89 and free shuttle transportation to nearby Universal Orlando, Wet 'n Wild, Aquatica and Sea World, CoCo Key has opened just in time to be a fun, budget-friendly base for families venturing to Universal Orlando's much-anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened June 18.


Water Park: If a recent visit by three children under 10 is any guide, CoCo Key provides a great introduction to water parks for younger kids while keeping older siblings entertained-with the added convenience of being right on site, so guests can come and go as they please. Minnow Lagoon, under the canopy, is designed for young children and features four tame slides and a zero-entry pool, soaker cannons and mushroom-shaped fountains. It's a low-key area where parents can stay with their little ones while they splash and slide.

 

The park provides plenty of lifejackets (which are strongly recommended for young children and weak swimmers), and lifeguards are posted throughout-in and out of the water and at the top and bottom of slides. Coral Reef Cove, also under the canopy and designed for teens, features another pool, the Cyclone adventure slide and (with a 48-inch height minimum) space for water volleyball.

 

The big action takes place outdoors, where guests can climb the five-story Sunset Tower (with views of I-4 and Universal's Islands of Adventure in the distance) to ride three adventure slides. These include the Boomerango, a two-person tube ride with a 48-inch height minimum; Over the Falls, a corkscrew body slide with a 40-inch height minimum; and Surfer Splash, a one- or two-person tube ride with a 42-inch height minimum. Boomerango is especially popular with older kids, who enjoy riding the two-person tube with a parent. The tube zooms up a large ramp before coming back down, giving riders a feeling of weightlessness after they go vertical.

 

Next to the adventure slides, Parrot's Perch entertains kids who may be too short or too timid to try the biggest slides. Here they can shoot each other with water cannons, zoom down various slides on multiple levels, and wait to be drenched by a 400-gallon bucket that spills its contents when full.

 

For those who want to take a break from the water, the Key Quest Arcade right next to the park features an array of video games, mini-bowling lanes, Guitar Hero, air hockey and more. Younger children will enjoy spotting CoCo the parrot, the costumed character who walks through the resort giving high fives and posing for pictures.

 

Guests access the water park with a bar-coded wristband, which also allows them to charge food purchases and arcade cards back to their room (parents can decide whether to allow their children access to this feature). Day guests also can purchase admission to the water park for $19.95 to $24.95 per person ($14.95 for Florida residents).

 

ACCOMMODATIONS: CoCo Key's 391 guestrooms occupy nine two-story buildings that feature outdoor motel-style corridors (note that rooms are not elevator-accessible). Five guestroom buildings surround the hotel's spacious pool, known as CoCo's Beach, while four adjoin the water park area, so rooms overlook either the pool, the water park or the parking lot.

 

In keeping with the hotel's Key West theme, the modern guestrooms feature bright, tropical colors with mahogany accents, striped carpeting echoing a beach towel and whimsical beach-ball pillows. A typical room with two queen-size Serta Perfect Sleepers also includes a small round table with two chairs; a vanity/desk area with coffee maker and easily accessible outlets; a chest of drawers; a wardrobe containing an iron, ironing board and extra pool towels; and a 37-inch HD TV.

 

The hotel also has eight two-bedroom suites, four junior suites, and many guestrooms that connect side-by-side and back-to-back. Guests booking two connecting rooms receive a $30-per-night discount. Free wireless Internet access is available throughout the resort.

 

PUBLIC SPACES: Catchy island tunes with a steel drum beat play throughout the resort, underscoring the island vibe that also influences the resort's décor and menus. CoCo Key's colorful, spacious lobby features a playroom for kids where they can lounge on beanbag chairs while watching cartoons on a large flat-screen TV. There's also a Universal Orlando Ticket Center, where guests can buy theme park tickets, reserve transportation on the theme park shuttle and make golf reservations at select courses through the Golf Universal Program. A small business center area has two computers and a printer. Freshly baked cookies are served in the lobby from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

 

DINING: While CoCo Key's location on a busy stretch of I-Drive means there are plenty of chain restaurants within walking distance (including Chuck E. Cheese's, Chili's and Dunkin' Donuts), the hotel offers its own onsite dining. Tradewinds, a full-service restaurant, serves a breakfast buffet ($11.95 per adult, $5.95 per child); and dinner.

 

The dinner menu includes entrees such as Shrimp Calypso and New York Steak; "Bigger Bites," such as the Cubano sandwich; "Little Bites," such as the excellent Conch Fritters; and a children's menu with prices ranging from $4.50 to $6.95, including drink; and delectable desserts, including the Oreo Cookie Bash for $5.95. Guests can order room service from the Tradewinds menu, as well as Pizza Hut pizza and breadsticks, from 5 p.m. to midnight.

 

The resort's food court area, next to the water park, is open from 6 a.m. to midnight. The court's Callaloo Grill serves à la carte breakfast items, burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and more, and there's an adjacent Pizza Hut Express. Diners at the food court can eat inside or take their food to the water park's outdoor tables. Adjacent to the water park, the Wet Rooster Tiki Bar serves specialty drinks, beer and wine from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Guests also can buy snacks and sundries at Gators Grab n' Go Coffee Shop, open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

 

POOL/FITNESS CENTER: Guests can relax at CoCo's Beach, a large swimming pool that's separate from the water park. The pool area includes a hot tub, fire pit, three cabanas and a sandbox. Amenities also include a 1,000-square-foot fitness center stocked with the latest workout equipment, and 3,600 square feet of meeting space for parties and events.

 

TRANSPORTATION: CoCo Key is located 12 miles from Orlando International Airport on north International Drive, five minutes

from Universal Orlando and 10 minutes from the Walt Disney World Resort. Guests can take a free shuttle to and from Universal Orlando, Sea World/Aquatica and Wet 'n Wild (boarding passes are available at the lobby's Universal Orlando Ticket Center). The hotel also is on the I-Drive Trolley route (Marker #13 on the Red Line South).

 

RATES & PACKAGES: CoCo Key's rates range from $89 to $169 per room per night; rooms facing the pool generally cost $10 more per night than rooms facing the parking lot. The additional $19 daily resort fee (not included in the rate and non-commissionable) provides access to the water park for up to four people. Additional people in the room pay $9.95 per person, for up to two people. Guests who arrive at the hotel before their room is ready can still access the water park (hours for the park vary depending on the season; the earliest opening time is 10 a.m.).

 

Travel agents with a valid IATA number receive a 50 percent discount on rates, based on availability. As a Universal Hotel Partner, CoCo Key is one of the accommodation options your clients can select when booking the Wizarding World of Harry Potter exclusive offer from Universal Vacations. Room rates are commissionable at 10 percent.

 

Following are the GDS codes for the property: Amadeus (ORL979), Galileo (9279), Sabre (123271) and Worldspan (73979). You also can book water park day passes (non-commissionable) for clients staying at another property through CoCo Key's website (www.cocokeywaterresort.com).

 

For more travel agent information, email Richard Jackson, director of sales and marketing, at richard.jackson@cocokeyorlando.com.

KEY SELLING POINTS: With its very affordable water park, CoCo Key provides built-in entertainment for families on a budget who are looking for a convenient, memorable place to stay in Orlando.

For more information, call 407-351-2626 or visit www.cocokeywaterresort.com.

CoCo Key Offers Affordable Option for Labor Day Family Gatherings in Orlando

 

ORLANDO (Aug. 17, 2010) -- Family Gatherings are the theme for Labor Day weekend vacations in Orlando as two of the country's most popular radio personalities - Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden -- visit the Vacation Capital for separate family celebrations.

 

Families can save $50 or more per night on hotel rooms by staying at the area's newest hotel - CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando. The centrally-based, International Drive property puts families just minutes from all of the weekend's gospel performances, celebrity concerts and activities for as little as $89 per night while offering a fun aquatic playground of its own. CoCo Key is also a great alternative to the sold-out Gaylord Palms (host location for the Tom Joyner Family Reunion) and an affordable option to the $139 rates at Disney's Yacht and Beach Resorts (backdrop for Baisden's Family & Friends Weekend).

 

The new Key West-themed CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando combines a casual tropical hotel setting with a whimsical water park that features slides, rides and fun amplified with three pools, eight water slides, a 6,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art arcade, and splashing good times all specially designed for youngsters in a safe and friendly environment.

 

Located in the heart of the Orlando vacation corridor at 7400 International Drive, CoCo Key is a perfect hub for quick access to Orlando's other popular attractions - a five minute-drive from Universal; five minutes from Sea World/Aquatica; and 10 minutes from the Walt Disney World theme parks.

 

Reservations are available by visiting cocokeywaterresort.com (click on the Orlando tab) or by calling 877/875-4681. For group sales, contact Lou Repassy, Senior Sales Manager at 321/206-4378 or 407/351-2626.

CoCo Key Flag to Fly Over Omaha's Largest Convention Hotel


OMAHA (Aug. 16, 2010) - A well-known Omaha hotel is changing flags.

 

Denver-based Sage Hospitality announced Monday the Omaha Holiday Inn Convention Center will operate under the banner of the CoCo Key Water Resort-Hotel & Convention Center, Omaha effective Aug. 20.


"We've elected to make a full commitment to this property due to the tremendous success we've experienced with the CoCo Key water park at this location and our bullish forecast for both business and leisure travel business in Omaha," said Ed Baklor, senior vice president of Sage Hospitality which has served as the resort's hotel management company since 2006. "The transition will be seamless, and our guests and clients will continue to experience the service excellence they've come to expect when staying with us."


Baklor also believes reflagging strategy for the 383-room hotel will significantly improve the resort's penetration across key distribution channels and further leverage CoCo Key's expanding brand awareness. Omaha will be the brand's third flag, following the CoCo Key Cherry Valley Hotel in Columbus, Ohio and the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando which made its debut in mid-April.


The resort's executive leadership team remains intact and there will be no staffing changes.


"The team's excited about the change and the opportunity to be more prominently affiliated with one of the hotel industry's hottest emerging brands," said Tim Darby, general manager of the convention center hotel. "Our philosophy here is full steam ahead."


Founded in 1984, Sage Hospitality has strategically grown into one of the largest privately held hotel management and development companies in the nation operating a variety of large, full-service hotels and extended stay and select-service properties. Sage Hospitality's comprehensive management portfolio includes major international brands for Marriott, Starwood, Hilton and IHG as well as the independent boutique hotels the Oxford and the Curtis in Denver. Sage Hospitality has further differentiated with the creation of the Sage Restaurant Group, which has created and is managing ten unique restaurant concepts including the acclaimed Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago. The company developed the innovative CoCo Key water resort brand with 10 destination hotel and water resort properties. For more information, please visit www.sagehospitality.com.


CoCo Key water resort developments offer a Key West paradise for family adventure getaways. Managed and developed by Sage Hospitality Resources, other CoCo Key Water Resort developments can be found in Rockford, Ill., Orlando, Kansas City, Mo., Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Danvers, Mass., Fitchburg, Mass., Waterbury, Conn., and Mt. Laurel, NJ.

Florida Friday: Farris & Foster's

(Not Your Typical Mommy Blog - Aug 6, 2010)

 

Two words for you: Chocolate Party.

 

It's enough to make any chocolate lover's mouth watering.

 

Farris and Foster's offers you just that. A mouth watering chocolate party guaranteed to make you question how you ever survived without a chocolate party.

 

I was lucky enough to visit Farris and Foster's and get a personal chocolate party with all the fixings.


Teri Lanenga, part owner of Farris and Foster's led me, the husband and Roo (Turtle was there, she just slept most of the time though) through the joys of bathing in chocolate.


Okay, maybe not bathing. I sure wanted to, but they advised me against it.

 

We had a whole table to ourselves and we suited up in gloves, aprons and hats and got our first lesson in being a chocolatier.

 

We did chocolate molds, which by the way they have over 1000 different molds to choose from, even curvy lady legs!

 

Of course, Roo chose dinosaurs and made herself a Sprinklesaurus Rex (which we ate for breakfast the next day).

 

The husband delighted in the yummy macadamia nuts and proceeded to make a dozen milk pre-molded chocolate filled macadamia nuts.

My favorite part was the huge milk chocolate conveyor belt that takes up a whole wall of the shop. You can pick anything you want, from Twinkies to Nutter Butters and get it slathered in milk chocolate. Teri kindly told me not to think about jumping on the belt because I was too big to fit through the opening (but could you imagine if I could?!).

 

I made turtle clusters (of course!) with caramel and milk chocolate.

We spent a good hour learning how to pour molds, make peanut butter cups and stuffing our face with the yummy treats they had prepared for us. Dipped strawberries and raspberries, graham cracker covered chocolate and gummy bears, white chocolate covered cookies, everything a chocolate lover could dream of.

 

Farris and Foster's offers three different types of parties: Regular, Family Night and Date Night.  The regular party costs $22.00 per person and you get a pound of chocolate included (if you want more, you can purchase additional pounds for a reduced rate). Family Night is $25.00 per family of four (Family Night is only available on Mondays) and Date Night is $25.00 per couple (Friday nights only). On Date Nights they turn down the lights and turn up the twinkle lights, play romantic music.

 

You can also purchase pre-made chocolate at Farris and Fosters. The Lanenga's have a quirky sense of humor and have named at their chocolate after famous people with a twist. You can find scrumptious treats like John Lemmon, Almond Schwarzenegger, Johnny Cashew, Ghengis Pecan and Walnut Disney. They have plans to add great new names coming from Harry Potter and the Twilight series.


And if you're watching your waistline or a diabetic, Farris and Foster have a great selection of Sugar Free Chocolates.

 

If you want to check out Farris and Foster's for yourself, call and arrange a party or you can drop by and fill your basket with yummy pre-made treats.

 

Farris and Fosters is located at: 4875 New Broad Street (in Baldwin Park) Orlando, Florida 32814 and you can contact them at 407-770-1607.

 

There is also a location in Lakeland, but I have never been. But here is the contact info: 1554 Town Center Lakeland, Florida 33803 863-686-9136.

I visited Farris and Fosters and was treated to a Chocolate Party. All opinions in this post are 100% my own. Please see my full disclosure policy for more information.

Brazilians are a growing market for U.S. tourism


By Sara K. Clarke, Orlando Sentinel

June 20, 2010

 

Anyone who has ever seen a group of teens in brightly colored shirts making their way through a theme park or clutching clusters of shopping bags at an outlet mall has likely witnessed the economic punch of visitors from Brazil.

 

The South American nation is one of the fastest-growing feeder markets for Orlando tourism, and travel officials are hoping that, eventually, Brazilians will be able to travel to the U.S. without applying for visas, making vacations in the Sunshine State even more appealing.

 

Easing U.S. entry for Brazilians, who in some cases travel hundreds of miles within their country to apply for visas in person at a U.S. consulate or the embassy, would be a boon for Central Florida.

 

Orlando tourism dovetails perfectly with the leisure aspirations of the many Brazilians who are admitted theme-park fanatics, often travel with extended family, and love to shop.

 

"For us Brazilians, it's one of the best destinations," said Marco Ferraz, of Monark Turismo, a tour operator from Sao Paulo who attended the travel industry's annual International Pow Wow trade show in Orlando recently. "Everything that they look for they find here: shopping, attractions, it's a safe place to be."

 

According to Ferraz, taking one's children to Orlando -specifically, to Walt Disney World - is "the dream of every person in Brazil."

 

Much work needs to be done before Brazilians could join the three-dozen other nations already part of the United States' visa-waiver program. But the global recession has intensified the tourism industry's desire to add Brazilians to the list of favored guests, as they have continued to travel even as some European markets have slacked off.

 

Last year in the U.S., international arrivals from Brazil were up 16 percent from the year before, to 893,000, making Brazil this country's seventh-largest foreign market. By 2014, the annual total is forecast to reach 1.9 million, according to forecasts released by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries.

 

About 250,000, or almost 30 percent, of those Brazilians make their way to Orlando, according to estimates from the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau. And the annual head count could double if the visa requirements for U.S. entry were waived, said Gary Sain, the visitors' burea president and chief executive officer.

 

"Think how many new jobs that creates," Sain said. "That really is what that's all about."

 

Tourism officials note that Brazilian vacationers come now despite the hassle of getting permission beforehand to enter the U.S. With one U.S. embassy and only three U.S. consulates in Brazil, prospective visitors must often "take a trip to take their trip," according to the U.S. Travel Association, driving or flying hundreds of miles to apply in person for a visa.

 

Alternatives such as videoconference calls, now being considered by Congress, could significantly boost the number of visitors, the travel group says. Adding Brazil to the list of visa-waiver countries would be even better, the tourism industry says.

 

"Brazil is one of three countries with extraordinary potential in travel growth: Brazil, India and China," said Geoff Freeman, a spokesman for U.S. Travel. "If we can put the right mechanisms in place as a country, we stand to welcome millions of additional visitors each year."

 

The industry points to the city of Manaus, Brazil, as proof of the overwhelming demand for U.S. travel in that country. With about 1.6 million people, it sustains direct air service to the U.S., even though the closest visa-application location is 1,200 miles away - about the distance from Orlando to Boston.

 

"To me, that's so telling," Freeman said. "That speaks to extraordinary demand."

 

As a result, U.S. destinations, Orlando included, are looking at Brazil in a new light, according to Ana Donato, chief executive officer of Imaginadora, a Sao Paulo-based strategic-marketing and event firm that specializes in the Brazilian travel market. Airlines, cruise lines and hotels are all approaching the market and its growing middle class, she said.

 

"Two years ago, they could never dream to travel internationally," Donato said of those in Brazil who have been gaining ground economically.

 

When Brazil's upper class hits the road, she said, they are still drawn to Orlando, though they're upgrading the experience, choosing high-end hotels and exclusive experiences, such as SeaWorld's Discovery Cove, which Donato helps market to Brazilians.

 

SeaWorld Orlando confirms that it recently started working with Brazilian wholesalers to sell its Discovery Cove product to tour groups. "Over the last two years, the Brazilian market has grown to be one of our top three markets for Discovery Cove," said Susan Flower, a spokeswoman for SeaWorld Orlando.

 

When it comes to easing restrictions for Brazilians, the tourism industry thinks it has an ally in President Barack Obama. The current administration is pushing to increase exports, and federal officials such as U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke are well aware of tourism's potential to help meet that goal, since money spent here by people from overseas is considered export income.

 

"The first step, frankly, is the important announcement by the president to double exports," Freeman said. "It's when the president puts out that ambitious goal that you're forced to look at where do we get these travelers from." 

Author discusses history of Disney's 'Project Future'

Winter Haven News Chief - Diedra Rodriguez

(June 16, 2010)

 

WINTER HAVEN - A few people may have known it as Project Future decades ago, but many today call it the Walt Disney World Resort.

 

The secret plan to build the theme park was a topic for Chad Emerson's presentation at a breakfast event of how Walt Disney chose Central Florida for his theme park vision following the building of Disneyland in California in 1955.

 

Emerson, author of "Project Future, the Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World," had his book published on Feb. 25.

 

He began writing a law article about the topic as a professor at Faulkner University's Jones School of Law, found the story behind the creation interesting and began writing the book two years ago.

 

"This is a really interesting story about how and why Walt Disney selected about 27,000 acres of swamp and marshland in Central Florida for his sequel to Disneyland," he said during his presentation. "It's one of those decisions at the time that Disney didn't seem to make a lot of sense unless you had the incredible, visionary mind and ideas like Walt had."

 

His presentation, to about 70 attendees at the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning, gave way to a story that many of them had yet to hear - including the numerous close calls of Disney's theme park dream not becoming a reality.

 

Disney and his team visited areas such as Palm Beach, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and New York, but realized that his vision could not be set in those areas. In November 1963, they visited Central Florida and chose that location without even letting the local press or state government know until a few years later.

 

"It's really neat to hear all the, like he said, the near miss-calls and how it almost didn't happen," said Steve Crisman, membership chairman of the Chamber board. "Hearing how Walt loved to come here and walk around the property and looked at Central Florida before it developed, that's what fun for me."

 

Paul Helliwell, an American spy from World War II, was a lawyer hired and sworn to secrecy to work with Disney, an aspect that Deborah Winters, an attendee and volunteer for the Chamber, said she found interesting.

 

"I'm not a history buff, but the story he gave was incredible," she said. "I think the whole spy concept and the secrecy of all and how they were able to keep it under wraps was really amazing."

 

It wasn't until 1965 when the Orlando Sentinel Star made a headline story that said it believed Disney was buying up land, and then-Gov. Haydon Burns and Disney officially announced that his theme park will be planted in that area.

 

In December 1966, Disney died from lung cancer, and his brother, Roy Disney, vowed to carry out his brother's plan. He died one month after Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom held its grand opening in 1971.

 

"It's almost like he willed himself to live to open his brother's park," Emerson said. "They left a legacy in this region. There's really only one Disney World. It's really an amazing story."

 

Emerson brought 55 copies to the breakfast and sold all of them after his presentation.

 

"I thought the presentation was fantastic," Crisman said. "It was great to hear all the inside stories of how Walt Disney fell in love with Central Florida. It obviously changed Orlando forever."

Pow Wow brings good news for local tourism industry

Orlando Business Journal - Richard Bilbao

(May 21, 2010)

 

A second announcement at this year's International Pow Wow of interest to local tourism and hospitality businesses was the addition of 39 new charter flights from Brazil's TAM Airlines directly to Orlando starting this July.

 

The new service will only last for the month of July - a major traveling time for the Brazilian tourist market, said Paulo Castello Branco, vice president of commercial and planning for TAM ­Airlines.

 

Branco said although the new flights are nearly fully booked, the airline has not made a decision if it will repeat the service in 2011.

The new flights will bring 9,200 travelers to the City Beautiful and its surrounding destinations.

 

Any remaining empty seats on the flights won't stay that way for long, as the Brazilian travel market has been growing rapidly, said Ana Donato, CEO of Imaginadora, a Sao Paulo, Brazil-based marketing firm specializing in Brazilian travel.

 

Brazil is Orlando's top South American market, with 300,000 visitors in 2009, according to the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Spending per Brazilian visitor per trip in 2008 was $1,001, the most recent data available.

 

Brazilians visiting the U.S. are expected to top 2.24 million by 2015, a 152 percent increase from 893,000 Brazilians that traveled to the states last year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

 

"Brazilian tourists often stay a minimum of 10 to 12 nights in the U.S., so when they do travel abroad they come to Orlando because Brazil has a lot of tour operators that work with local businesses and offer specials for Orlando as the first destination for traveling families," said Donato.

 

TAM Airlines in Brazil serves the United States from Miami and Orlando and New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The airline launched service to Orlando International Airport in November 2008, and last year served nearly 118,000 passengers at the airport.

 

Brazil beating out China as US tourism market?

Travel Mole - 20-May

 

As overseas travel to the U.S. begins to rebound, American companies are paying closer attention to one market that is expected to more than double in the next six years - Brazil.

 

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the number of Brazilians visiting the U.S. is expected to exceed 2.2 million in 2015, a 152 percent increase over the 893,000 that traveled here in 2009. Annual double-digit increases in visitation from that country in that timeframe will out-pace the growth anticipated from all other overseas markets, including China (1.3 million visitors forecasted in 2015, a 151 percent increase over 2009).

 

That forecast combined with continued improvements in Brazil's economy has a number of tourism interests taking a closer look at that market.

 

Tourism organizations like VISIT FLORIDA, the Miami CVB and the Orlando/Orange Co. CVB as well as Disney and Universal have sustained a long term marketing push even during Brazil's leaner days. But that list of suitors recently has expanded to include SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, Las Vegas, NYC & Company, Capital Region USA (which includes the destination marketing organizations of Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC) and Meeting Planners International (MPI), among others.

 

"China is emerging, but Brazil is hot right now," says Ana Donato, the CEO of Imaginadora, a Sao Paulo-based strategic marketing and event firm that specializes in the Brazilian travel market. "By 2014, Brazil is likely to move past both France and Germany in the number of people visiting the U.S., and American businesses with an eye on the future are making a smart investment in this market now."

 

Donato says the same economic factors that led to Brazil's successful bids for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games -- a growing GDP expected to rise from 4.1 percent in 2010 to 5.5 percent in 2011 according to the International Monetary Fund, and the stabilized Real - are also great indicators for continued growth in visitation to the U.S.

She also points to the improved process involved in processing U.S. visas as another critical reason for the robust travel forecast.

 

Brazilians have long been known for their fascination with the beaches, theme parks and shopping opportunities found throughout Florida, but Donato says Brazilians are now showing an interest in experiencing other parts of the U.S.

 

"Favorites top US destinations for Brazilians are Florida, California and New York. But we observe that there are a significant repeaters and FIT segments looking for new experiences rather just shopping or amusement parks," Donato says. "These are opportunities for new destinations to invest in Brazil. Tour operators are looking for new products to offer to repeaters who have a high affinity for and familiarity with U.S. attractions."

 

Travel from overseas markets as a whole is expected to grow 42 percent in the next six years. Other top source countries through 2015 will continue to include the United Kingdom (4.7 million visitors, 21 percent growth), Japan (3.9 million, 34 percent), Germany (1.96 million, 16 percent), France (1.4 million, 17 percent), Brazil (2.2 million, 152%), Italy (1.12 million, 49 percent), S. Korea (1.46 million, 97 percent), and Australia (1.25 million, 72 percent).

 

Rare find: Cheap, tasty hotel food in Orlando

Gadling - 23-Apr

 

Yes, those are French fries. Real, freshly cut French fries. And they're awesome.

 

What's more awesome is that you can get those French fries, and the accompanying double bacon cheeseburger for $5.99 at the new CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort in Orlando. And you can wash it down with a $1.50 large soda.

 

Oh, and that cheeseburger? Freshly grilled right in front of you and put on a bun that was baked in-house that morning.

 

A bargain on a hotel room is not hard to come by in Orlando these days, but if you have to pay $18 for a sandwich and $3.99 for a soda at the hotel, is it really a bargain in the end?

 

That's why I was so impressed with the food prices at this new resort.

(CLICK HEADLINE TO READ ENTIRE ACCOUNT)

CoCo Key Water Resort ready to make a splash between I-Drive and I-4
By Dewayne Bevil - Orlando Sentinel - Theme Park Rangers

(April 23, 2010)

 

The colorful water slides located in the curve of Interstate 4 eastbound are just about ready for riders. CoCo Key Water Resort is part of a remodeled International Drive hotel that officially opened this week, but even folks who aren't staying there can experience the watery attractions (Florida residents get a discount.)

 

I think of the structure being the old Ramada Inn, just a block or two north of the I-Drive/Sand Lake Road intersection. But it began life as the Hilton Inn South in May 1970 - pre-Walt Disney World. As the story goes, Disney execs stayed there and cast members for Disney's Contemporary Resort were trained there.
(CLICK HEADLINE TO READ ENTIRE BLOG)

Coco Key Orlando Waterpark has Grand Opening

By Erik - Behind the Thrills

 

April 15th came, and Coco Key had a minor setback. The Waterpark portion of the resort was not 100%. Now just a week later, the waterpark is 100%, staff is trained, beds are turned down, and the whole resort is ready for business. The grand opening of the resort was held Thursday at the parks covered section to a roar of applause as the final ribbon was "cut".


"We are asked all the time, how do we expect to compete with the rest of the Orlando area parks" one of the speakers said during the opening ceremonies "We don't expect to compete. We want to accentuate the area as a family destination."

 

Accentuate it does. The park was fully operational, with full staff and crew on hand for all the festivities. The presentation included "Coco" the parks Parrot Mascot giving a check to Orlando Charity, "The Gift of Swimming" a charity that helps those who may not have the means to learn how to swim, the means and the lessons to do just that. Three of their young members slid down the parks "racing" slides into a ribbon to mark the opening of the park.

 

The atmosphere and the feel of the hotel was just what was promised. It was relaxed and laid back, with a very "Key West" feel and spirit. Every single thing that Hotel Manager Frank Key told us about in our earlier tour was there. The aroma of cookies as you walked into the hotel, the warm friendly greetings to the fire pit out by the pool, and yes the slides.

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New Waterpark Hotel Splashes Down in Orlando

CoCo Key Rides Wave of Waterpark Hotel Expansion

ORLANDO (April 22, 2010) – The opening of the new CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando continues an impressive wave of waterpark hotel development in North America and signifies a first for that industry segment – a hybrid canopy-covered/outdoor concept.  CoCo Key Orlando is the 222nd location for a segment that has seen the number of water park hotel locations more than double in the past five years from 108 in 2006*.  And even though the pace of development has slowed with the recent recession, industry analysts expect growth to escalate as commercial lending resumes.

“Hotels with indoor water parks have out-performed family suite hotels and other hotel segments so the growth is not surprising,” says Jeff Coy of JLC Hospitality Consulting who tracks waterpark hotel development and recently released an analysis of the segment’s expansion.  “By the end of 2010, the number of waterpark hotels is estimated to be 229, and likely to be followed by another 24 properties in 2011.  The latest trend is expansion into sunbelt markets like Florida, Texas and Arizona as well as in ski resort areas.”

Until recently, development has revolved around hotels with indoor water park facilities in and around the snowbelt areas of the northeast and Midwest, that leveraged a business strategy of offering a “warm weather escape” in the midst of harsh and elongated winters.  These indoor resorts have benefited from the economic downturn that has forced many Americans to opt for more affordable vacations options closer to home.

CoCo Key’s new Orlando location, the tenth in the U.S. for operator Sage Hospitality, marks the company’s first foray into the Sunshine State.  The resort is actually the site of the first hotel on International Drive – Orlando’s popular tourist corridor —which housed many Disney executives as they prepared to open Walt Disney World in October 1971.  The 391-room hotel, which has been completely re-furbished, now carries a boutique Key West motif and offers a very affordable room rate starting between $99 and $149 per night.  Water park access is an additional $19 per room, meaning a family of four can enjoy the aquatic playground for less than $5 per person, per day.

For CoCo Key, the Florida locale and warmer climate affords a shift in typical water park design.  The $40-million Orlando resort offers guests an indoor/outdoor pairing - a 54,000-square-foot water park that’s partially covered by canopy, while the more daring slides (including the 64-foot Boomerango, a thrill slide which gets guests vertical) are found in a connected, uncovered section of the park.

While Sage Hospitality executives anticipate a strong following at the new resort from local residents – a formula that drives visitation patterns at its nine other locations – the company also plans to heavily leverage Orlando’s considerable national and international appeal.

 “We’re bullish on Orlando’s pull as the world’s premiere leisure destination, and believe the affordable fun and close proximity of CoCo Key makes our waterpark resort a highly desirable family vacation option,” says Ed Baklor, senior vice president for Sage Hospitality, parent company for CoCo Key. “Clearly the addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal is going to re-establish Orlando as a vacation priority for families, as will the expansion plans Disney has on the drawing board for the Magic Kingdom.  Those additions combined with the pent-up demand for a longer haul vacation positions Orlando perfectly for a rebound and creates enormous opportunity for CoCo Key.”

Area tourism officials are enthusiastic about the new resort, and its ability to attract families to the northern section of the popular I-Drive area – a location that typically draws scores of business travelers because of its proximity to Orlando’s massive convention center.

“The opening of CoCo Key helps reinforce the value equation Orlando offers to families and creates yet another reason to vacation here,” says Gary Sain, CEO of the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

'Project Courage' zeros in on eliminating domestic violence in Orange
By Kate Santich, Orlando Sentinel (March 30, 2010)

 

Calling domestic violence an epidemic in Orange County, officials announced a "revolutionary" plan Monday to target a single six-block area with an intense prevention effort involving at least 40 agencies and individuals.

 

"We're not even talking about an entire zip code," said Carol Wick,

CEO of the nonprofit Harbor House, the county's lone domestic violence shelter and prevention program, which is leading the effort. "We're talking about taking the area of one elementary school, one middle school ... and bringing about a social change so people there will no longer tolerate domestic violence."

 

"Project Courage," as it is dubbed, would initially provide training to emergency responders - including law-enforcement officers, fire fighters and medical workers - as well as teachers and community leaders. Eventually, students, parents, civic groups and even business men and women would be trained on how to recognize the warning signs of violence and what to do about them.

 

The targeted neighborhood has yet to be chosen, though Wick said the selection will be made in the coming month.

 

"Our goal is to have the community as aware of how to act when faced with situations of domestic violence as they [are of] administering CPR when someone isn't breathing," she added.

 

The program, which would go for several years, was made possible by a $110,000 gift from 100 Women Strong, a local, high-powered, all-female "giving circle" in which members donate their own money for community grants. If the program proves successful in its initial stages, it would eventually move to other areas of the county and perhaps the nation, officials said.

 

Monday's announcement came as researchers from the University of Central Florida released a series of maps showing where domestic violence reports and cases were greatest around the county - the first thorough, zip code-by-zip code look at the problem.

 

The two areas found to have the greatest number of calls to police, intervention by Harbor House, animal abuse cases and instances of children endangered by domestic violence were 32839 and 32808 - Edgewood and Pine Hills, respectively.

 

That doesn't mean one of those two will be the site of Project Courage, Wick emphasized. Three neighborhoods will be approached to see which one "is willing to stand up and say they want to be the epicenter of where this all starts," she said.

 

Overall, the data released Monday showed a 12.5 percent increase from 2008 to 2009 in domestic violence calls to law enforcement at the same time other crime was decreasing in Orange County. Child abuse reports related to domestic violence remained at a high of over 3,000 cases.

 

Both Project Courage and the new research mapping domestic violence incidents demonstrate what many said is an unprecedented partnership in the community to work on the problem. The data for the research, for instance, required the cooperation of the Orange County Sheriff's Office, the University of Central Florida campus police and the police departments of every jurisdiction in the county from Apopka to Windermere.

 

The concern is not just for the individuals most directly involved in the violence. As several officials noted, domestic abuse is often a root cause of other evils - from child abuse to animal abuse to homicide involving third parties.

 

"I keep a running count of every homicide that occurs in the city of Orlando," said Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer. "In the seven years I've been mayor, if drugs have not been involved, domestic violence has."

New Book Serves Up Spy-like, Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World


ORLANDO, Fla. (March 1, 2010) -- It's a plot Jack Bauer would love - a clandestine project by one of America's most brilliant business leaders punctuated with multiple code names, fake identities, make-shift affiliations, and unique regulatory arrangements.


And while almost every traveler recognizes Walt Disney World as one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, what might surprise them are the secret and pain-staking measures Walt Disney took to keep his intentions for a Disneyland-East under wraps.

 

Project Future, The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World, is a fascinating new book that explores one of the most comprehensive and successful private developments in U.S. history - the Walt Disney World Resort.

 

The 189-page paperback by Chad D. Emerson takes Disney fans, theme park enthusiasts and lovers of Americana and pop culture on the ride with Walt and his advisors in the early 60s as they evaluate locations like St. Louis, Niagara, Monterey, Calif., Ocala, Fla. and the Miami area as possible sites for the new "Disneyland-East."

 

Emerson, a tenured member of the faculty at Faulkner University's Jones School of Law and highly-respected theme park and attractions industry expert, also puts readers in Conference Room 2E at the company's Burbank headquarters as the most senior Disney officials sort through the optimal parcels of land to place the "real working city" and planned entertainment development.

 

Emerson spent more than two years researching the history of Walt Disney's Florida project while interviewing a variety of key players such as Harrison "Buzz" Price, Robert Price Foster, Gov. Claude Kirk, and Tom DeWolf. The result is a book that serves up intriguing glimpses of historic detail interspersed with fascinating strategies and spy-like maneuvers the Walt Disney Company deployed to fashion more than 27,000 acres of Florida marsh, swamp and farmland into the world's most successful destination.

 

"Project Future does an excellent job providing rich details and historical context to the incredible efforts that individuals like Walt and Roy Disney, Bob Foster, Tom DeWolf, Paul Helliwell, Roy Hawkins and many others took to make Walt Disney World a reality," says Lee Cockerell, former Executive Vice President for Operations at the Walt Disney World Resort.

 

Project Future (ISBN 78-0-615-34777-6) is published by Ayefour Publishing at a list price of $14.95. More information can be found at www.projectfuturebook.com.

CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando

Great New Vacation Option for Families Opens April 15

 

ORLANDO, Fla. (February 23, 2010) -- A new, purpose-built and value-priced hotel and water resort will soon open in Central Florida, offering a fun and affordable option for families anxious to experience the magic and wizardry of Orlando without breaking the bank.

 

The Key West-themed CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando opens April 15th. CoCo Key combines a casual tropical hotel setting with a whimsical water park that features slides, rides and fun amplified featuring four pools, eight water slides, poolside entertainment, and splashing good times all specially designed for children ages 2-12 in a safe and friendly environment.

 

Bookings open March 5th for the 386-room resort, with affordable prices ranging from $99-$149 per room, per night, and water park amenity access for just $19 per room, per day (for up to four people).

 

"We know that affordability remains the driving factor for most families when it comes to vacation planning, so we've purpose built this CoCo Key resort as an alternative that not only addresses value but also delivers a comprehensive resort experience that's memorable and fun for the whole family," said Frank Fry, general manager, CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando.

 

CoCo Key captures the relaxation and enchantment of the Florida Keys. Brightly colored cabanas, swaying palms, fragrant hibiscus, native artwork and thatched roofs will welcome clients to the region's newest and most unique water resort.

 

The adventure-filled, 54,000 square-foot canopy covered and outdoor water park features eight adventure water slides; CoCo's Beach; Parrot's Perch - an interactive Play Island; Minnow Lagoon featuring a zero-entry pool and water fun for younger children; Coral Reef Cove - a teen pool; and an outdoor splash pad. Families will also enjoy a 6,500-square-foot, state-of-of-the-art video arcade; snack bar; outdoor lounge; Parakeet's Playhouse - a 4,800-square-foot activities room for offering a range of guided fun for kids; and function space that's perfect for a variety of celebrations.

 

For guests seeking a more tropical and relaxing experience, a separate quiet pool area can be found towards the front of the resort. Biscayne Bay features a pool, sun deck with chaise lounge chairs, hot tub/spa framed by a beautiful rock formation with cascading water, firepit, tiki bar, and three relaxing cabanas.

 

The resort is comprised of 12 buildings all themed to the Florida Keys. With 386 spacious guest rooms, including eight, two-bedroom suites, four junior suites, and an interesting combination of rooms that connect not only side-by-side, but back-to -back, travel agents have a range of options to suggest to clients. The resort also offers a $30 price break on those connecting rooms, making CoCo Key an ideal option for larger families and groups.

 

Guestroom amenities include 37-inch, flat-screen TVs with high-def feeds; Wi-Fi, room service; granite showers and countertops; lighted vanities with large mirrors; and, a premium in today's hi-tech world, plenty of accessible outlets to charge electronics. Clients will also enjoy the 1,000-square-foot fitness center featuring the latest in workout equipment; Gators Grab ‘N Go - a convenience store offering specialty coffees, ice cream treats, souvenirs, pool toys and more; and for those that must remain connected to the "mainland," a business center.

 

CoCo Key also features TradeWinds, a full-service restaurant serving breakfast and dinner; a food court including Callaloo Grill offering burgers, wraps, chicken fingers, soft serve ice cream and other family favorites; and a Pizza Hut Express serving up the eatery's popular fare.

Taking up residence at the new resort will be "CoCo," a fun-loving, red-feathered, walk-around parrot who entertains guests, poses for pictures, and attends birthday parties and events.

 

Located in the heart of the Orlando vacation corridor at 7400 International Drive, CoCo Key also is a perfect hub for quick access to Orlando's other popular attractions - a five minute-drive from Universal; five minutes from Sea World/Aquatica; and 10 minutes from the Walt Disney World theme parks.

 

CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando is a Destination Universal Resort offering guests free transportation to and from the Universal theme parks and Universal CityWalk entertainment complex, as well as to and from SeaWorld and Aquatica and Wet n' Wild; free vacation planning assistance and access to tickets and information at the Destination Universal Desk in the hotel lobby; and golf reservations and complimentary transportation to select area courses offered through the Golf Universal Program.

 

Beginning March 5, travel agents can book CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort-Orlando vacations by visiting cocokeywaterresort.com (select the Orlando tab) or by calling 407/351-2626.

 

The Orlando property, created in partnership with Wave Development LLC, Sage Hospitality Resources and CNL Lifestyle

Properties, Inc., is the tenth CoCo Key Water Resort in the U.S.

 

These water resort developments offer a Key West paradise for family adventure getaways. Managed and developed by Sage Hospitality Resources, one of the nation's leading hotel management and development companies, other CoCo Key Water Resort developments can be found in Rockford, Ill., Omaha, Neb., Kansas City, Mo., Cincinnati, Columbus, Ohio, Danvers, Mass., Fitchburg, Mass., Waterbury, Conn., and Mt. Laurel, NJ.

Scout's Dream Results in Florida's First Official 9-11 Memorial


WINDERMERE, Fla. (February 20, 2010) - At first glance the structure appears as little more than a rusting, gnarled piece of metal peppered with bolts that would choke a 50-foot Frankenstein. But armed with the backdrop of where this artifact originated, an onlooker is transported and transformed.


The Town of Windermere, Fla. on Saturday unveiled a surprising Sept. 11 Memorial ... surprising not only for its focal point, but also for the visionary behind it.


The Windermere Never Forgets Sept. 11 Monument and Garden is the first official World Trade Center Memorial Site in Florida and features a 650-pound piece of a steel beam salvaged from the ruins of the World Trade Center. The energy behind this initiative that has rallied people from Windermere to New York City almost 1,000 miles away comes from 15-year-old Jeff Cox, a local resident and member of Boy Scout Troop #6.


Memories of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers when he was just 7, coupled with the recollection of his firefighting brother getting injured on the job in Brevard County in 2002 helped prompt Cox to pursue the Sept 11 Memorial as the Leadership Service Project that would help him obtain his Eagle Scout badge. His project has left an endearing impression on his community.

 

"Windermere is a small community and as such has always drawn upon volunteerism to achieve great things," Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn shared at Saturday's dedication ceremony. "This Memorial is not about September 11, 2001; it's about everyday we've lived since that tragic day, and insuring we are a better nation, a better community, a better neighbor and a better people because of it."

 

There's remarkable power in the simplicity of this shrine that can be found in a garden area along a gentle, landscaped pathway that connects the townhall to its library.

 

"At times our memories can be short term," says Michael Hanley, an executive with AXA Advisers and Rotary Club leader who's advised Cox. "Jeff's memorial project will offer a constant local reminder of what occurred on Sept. 11. It's a piece of history right here in our own neighborhood, and I envision school children visiting Windermere in the future to learn more about the tragic events of that day."

 

Along with the steel mass from the World Trade Center are 90 ceramic tiles on a short granite wall that surrounds the base of the structure. Each tile features an image representing the homeland of the almost 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

 

For Ocoee, Fla. resident Elsie Rosario, whose 25-year-old daughter was a victim of the World Trade Center tragedy, the memorial offers added significance.

 

"September 11 is a day that should never be forgotten, and a memorial like this will help people reflect on what happened that day and offer a reminder that we should never let our guard down again," Rosario shares.

 

As impressive as the Memorial is, equally impressive has been Cox's tenacity to see the project through. Part of that process required the Crenshaw School sophomore to identify key contacts at all the right touch points, including the sorting through procedures to obtain the World Trade Center artifact.

 

"Jeff demonstrated a great deal of maturity in his willingness to navigate a somewhat complicated process that took many months to complete," says Peter Miller of the Port Authority of NY and NJ who helped process the request for the steel.

 

Once secured, Cox had to figure out the logistics behind transferring a 650-pound mass from a hangar at New York's Kennedy Airport to Windermere.

 

As he found throughout the project, people and organizations have been eager to offer support once Cox presented his idea and plan. In the case of shipping, UPS stepped up to transport the metal at no charge.

 

"People kept telling me to dream big, and I've been amazed at the number of people who have offered to be a part of making this dream come true," says Cox.

 

The project's seismic ripples of support have also reverberated through Central Florida as organizations inspired by the initiative have offered design, engineering and landscape services, metal refinishing, and even the spotlight that illuminates the structure.

 

Cathy Carroll owns Studio 6 Pottery and donated her studio and supplies that allowed scouts to create the tiles that surround the base of the Memorial.

 

"Studio 6 Pottery is dedicated to bringing families and the community together," Carroll suggests. "The end result in this case is something that shows respect and remembrance for all the victims of the September 11 attacks."

 

Months of hard work culminated in a Patriotic dedication ceremony on Saturday that included representatives from the Families of September 11, a nonprofit organization founded in October 2001 by families of those who died in the September 11 terrorist attacks; hundreds of Boy Scouts; members of the Patriot Guard, a motorcycle club; and Pipes and Drums corps from Brevard and Orange counties.

 

Cox's Eagle Scout project takes place as the Boy Scouts of America celebrates its 100th Anniversary. The centennial includes a range of activities planned throughout the year to recognize scouting's foundation of leadership, service, and community for millions of America's youth.