Efforts to revitalize U.S. 192 running into the same problem: money.

The attractions on U.S. 192, like Capone's Dinner Theatre, could benefit from a long term plan to revitalize all of this tourist corridor. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

KISSIMMEE – Just a few years ago, Shelley Maccini said, the vacation home industry attracted very strong feelings within the busy tourism corridor on U.S. 192 – all of them negative.
“Vacation homes in 2007 were identified as a threat,” said Maccini, the strategic research and marketing manager at the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The reason, she said, is that vacation homes – which were becoming more frequent and easy to find in Northeast Polk County and Northwest Osceola County – seemed like a potential threat to older hospitality establishments, including local hotels.
Now, Maccini said, the view is exactly the opposite.
“Nobody is saying that anymore,” she said. “Now they are saying the vacation homes are an asset to the region.
“The biggest threat now,” she added, “is transient rentals” – meaning hotels that no longer market to tourists or business travelers, but rather to people unable to afford to live in an apartment or house. So many of the hotels have made the switch in order to stay in business, Maccini said, that Osceola County officials are considering ways to get them to switch back – or find another location to operate in.
“We want to get those hotels that have gone into the extended stay business to get out of the extended stay business,” Maccini said. “Let hotels be hotel. Let hotels get back into the hospitality industry.”
On Thursday, Maccini was the guest speaker during the monthly meeting of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group representing the small business owners who manager vacation homes. Those are houses rented on a short term basis to tourists, who want more room than what a hotel or motel offers. The houses are usually fully furnished and provide guests with several bedrooms, a kitchen, game room, and private pool.
This has been a booming industry in Northeast Polk County, which vacation homes are easy to find along U.S. 192, U.S. 27 and County Road 54. In fact, there are so many vacation homes in Northeast Polk County that they make up the bulk of the county’s tourist development tax collections today.
Maccini noted that the CVB is working on a plan to revitalize U.S. 192, from Kissimmee to Celebration and then into Four Corners, where the tourist-friendly highway also cuts through Polk, Orange and Lake counties. The goal is to make the entire tourist corridor someplace that continues to attract visitors, while also encouraging them to stop and see the area on their way to someplace else, whether it’s Walt Disney World near Orlando or Legoland Florida on the way to Tampa.
Called “Destination Osceola 2022,” “This project kicked off a year ago,” Maccini said. “If you’ve been following the political climate in Osceola County and our tourist tax dollars, you know there was no plan. Money just got spent.”
A plan was approved five years ago to make U.S. 192 more competitive, but “There was never any buying into that new plan,” Maccini said. “It sat on a shelf. So we went back in and decided to do it again.”
The CVB hired the firm CSL International to do a new strategic plan for tourism, which was completed in March and calls for establishing a U.S. 192 redevelopment agency, focusing on the international tourism market, looking for ways to bring more sports activists to the region, and creating and hosting more special events along the corridor.
“It’s great to have festivals and events that bring prominence to the community,” Maccini said.
In the meantime, Maccini said she wants the vacation home managers in both Osceola and Polk counties to talk about what they think should be done to bring more motorists to U.S. 192 and U.S. 27.
“If we do nothing else as a community, we need to fix 192,” she said. “It is certainly the front door to our tourist corridor. And we need input from the vacation rentals. Where do you play a role in this? I want you to think about how this impacts you.”
Jeff Chase, the secretary of the CFVRMA and the moderator of Thursday’s meeting, held at the Capone’s Dinner Theatre on U.S. 192, agreed that property managers should let their voices be heard as the business community starts working with the CVB to fix U.S. 192.
“We have participated in many of the steps she was talking about,” Chase said, adding that as recently as seven years ago, some of the key players in the convention and tourism promotion world didn’t even know what vacation homes were.
“Now the vacation home market is equally at home with everyone else,” Chase said. “It’s accepted as an option in Osceola County, Polk County, and even Orange County.”
Maccini said one of the ongoing challenges is that entrepreneurs and investors coming into U.S. 192 often can’t find parcels of land available to purchase that they can build on.
“Land development is an issue,” she said. “One of the challenges of people coming in to invest now is we have small parcels of land. There’s starting to be a hint of private redevelopment capital dollars coming back in, but that’s a concern.”
Maccini said she believes the region’s tourism corridors can be revitalized, and she noted the ways that Anaheim, Calif., where Disneyland is, developed a long range revitalization plan that worked.
“We know there’s a model for being successful,” she said.
The biggest challenge, she added, will likely be money – and the lack of it.
“In 2007, we at the CVB had our budget cut by 40 percent and our staff cut by 40 percent,” she said. “We needed to go back and look at our marketing strategy. There will be a lot of discussions on how do we pay for this. Once we have a vision, it won’t be cheap. It is not going to be an easy political process, either. Everyone says ‘Oh, this is great,’ but the first person who shows up at a commission meeting and says ‘I can’t do this,’ then it becomes hard.”
The CFVRMA will hold its next meeting, on the third Thursday in May, at Legoland Florida.

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5 Responses to “Efforts to revitalize U.S. 192 running into the same problem: money.”

  1. Having been a part of the process for the last 12 months I rather fear that Osceola County will use the lack of money as an excuse for “same old, same old.” At various meetings over the last twelve months I’ve heard some interesting comments from those operating at the budget end of the market and it seems to me that is where Kissimmee will stay. Effectively the cheap neighbor to Disney.

    It’s worrying and troublesome that the County and the CVB fails to see the example set by the vacation home industry. Sure a few homeowners and management companies discount their homes but the vast majority actually set the example that not everyone who visits Osceola County is actually looking for the cheapest deal.

    Further, it’s interesting how much of the CVB budget gets spent at the budget end trying to attract tour operators and guests who want to pay around $50 per night. Osceola County will never have any money until it realizes that there are people out there willing to pay for a great experience. Until the CVB wakes up and starts doing something to attract a different type of visitor then investors and businesses won’t be opening up because they can’t see a return on investment in what is essentially a “broke” mentality.

    What’s even more troubling is that a year has passed since the CVB embarked on it’s latest course of getting another study done. The process concluded in March and what has been done since? Answer: Next to nothing.

    The bottom line: Business owners need to be able to make a profit to even think about opening a business. Osceola County does not do enough to support that ethos and if it wasn’t for the vacation home businesses, the county would have an even bigger problem. The county has been extremely lucky as the vacation home businesses in the area have continued to surge ahead and contribute more and more to the TDT, while hotels, timeshares and campgrounds have gone backwards.

    It’s now time for the CVB to do something to help the area. It should start with proper marketing campaigns that attract visitors to all of the county’s businesses rather than just the budget minded.

    Nigel Worrall
    Florida Leisure Vacation Homes

  2. Trip Wheels says:

    “Now they are saying the vacation homes are an asset to the region”

    At long last :-)

    Lets hope that this goes ahead.

    Tim

  3. The US 27 can do with more prominent restraunts and the Posner Park Mall area needs to be more attractive to the tourists as well as locals and pushed to get businesses into it as there is nothing to get people in there, they could get some sports venue like Ten Pin bowling and the long talked about cinema complex. Pitty they couldn’t develope a similar thing to Epcot like haveing a lake with shops and bars around it the sort of thing tourists would like.

  4. I agree it needs to improve as a tourist area but the hotels are not at fault here, the bankers and lenders are they evict people from homes, what are these people supposed to do. It would be worse if they created camp grounds for themselves along the verges instead. Most of these people are working in menial jobs and have no way out Changing the hotel status won’t help Uncle Sam needs to
    We as owners of Rental homes bring a lot of revenue into the area and we are treated as if we do not exist unless we fail to pay the tourist taxes of course The rates by tour operators has to rise because the owners are not prepared to fund big company profits and strangers holidays, so better support would be a good idea and would cost very little in proportion to what the guests will spend

  5. Very Interesting.
    The bulk of visitors from overseas are now coming through Wholesale companies.
    The rates are really not good enough for owners to maintain the high standard that these companies demand.
    It will need a mamouth effort by all tourism outlets to be able to force an increase in the prices, the airfare from the european areas has doubled but the accomadation prices have not and there lies a problem.

    Will Posner Park ever develop further, the number of empty units is sad, compare it with Winter Gardens, this is a thriving area built on similar lines to what Posner was supposed to be in the original plans.

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