Keprios, the Polk County tourism sales and marketing manager, ticked off the enormous changes that have happened to the county’s tourism market since the last destination analysis was done in 2003, two years after the industry was still struggling to overcome the devastating impact of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 and the shutdown in the nation’s airspace.
In the past decade, Keprios noted, Legoland Florida has replaced the former Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven, Northeast Polk County has become a booming area for vacation homes rented to tourists and business travelers, Haines City has opened the new Lake Eva Banquet hall, and Lakeland Linder Regional Airport has expanded commercial air travel options.
He cited one other very positive development for Polk County’s tourism industry.
“We have the Lake Myrtle Sports Park now,” Keprios said. “That’s one of many, many good things that have changed for us.’’
The Lake Myrtle Sports Park will be put in an international spotlight this summer, since it was chosen as the only location outside of Spain for the Campus Xavi World Tour 2012. Between July 10-19, the sports park in Auburndale will welcome world-renowned soccer player Xavi Hernandez, a mid-fielder for FC Barcelona.
Hernandez is bringing his Campus Xavi World Tour here, and it marks the first time that the Xavi World Tour is held outside of Hernandez’s native country.
Polk County Commissioner Melony Bell, who is also the chairman of the Polk County Tourism Development Council, said Auburndale has the honor of playing host to the only tour stop outside of Spain, a great achievement for Polk County.
“To have one of the world’s best soccer players choose Polk County as the only location outside of Spain to hold his annual soccer camp is truly a testament to the high caliber of sports facilities, accommodations and attractions that Polk County has to offer sports teams and organizations world-wide,” Bell said.
Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing and the City of Auburndale built the new multi-purpose sports complex, offering five collegiate-size baseball fields, each equipped with electronic score boards, oversized dugouts, home and visitor bullpens and batting cages. There are also a total of 11 lighted soccer fields, and the park is home to state headquarters for the Florida Youth Soccer Association.
The park has also served as a meeting place for others in the hospitality industry, including the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group that represents the fast-growing number of vacation homes rented to tourists on a short term basis. It’s a particularly strong industry in Northeast Polk County along U.S. 27.
The property managers are typically looking for special events and activities to promote to its guests, many of them from Europe, giving those visitors another incentive to return to Central Florida again and again.
Thanks in part to those special events, said An Flamand, the president of the CFVRMA and the owner of a property management firm in Davenport called USA Vacation Homes, bookings at vacation homes are up this year.
“This has been a busy year for us so far,” she said, adding that special events like the Star Wars Weekend at Walt Disney World prove to be an added draw for visitors.
Northeast Polk has already had one huge sports event that brought more visitors to the region: Ironman 70.3 Florida, a three-day event held last month, and the fastest growing triathlon series in the world. Previously held at Walt Disney World Resort, the Ironman Foundation announced last December that it was moving the competition this year to Lake Eva Park in downtown Haines City, with the Ironman 70.3 races enabling competitors to qualify for the Ironman World Championship 70.3.
Now the Campus Xavi World Tour is expected to keep the focus on Polk County, sports, and an added incentive for visitors to come to stay in Northeast Polk.
“This is huge,” said Mark Jackson, director of Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing. “This is a big deal for anyone in the U.S. who loves and plays soccer.”
The Campus Xavi World Tour will offer soccer training in two separate five-day camp sessions. The first runs from July 10-14, and the second, from July 15-19. The camps are open to boys and girls between the ages of 8-15. Soccer players of all abilities are also welcome to participate.
Registration fees for the camp are $2,000 per camper — accommodations are not included — and participation is limited to 300 youth per camp session. In addition to soccer instructions, each camp participant will get:
• Guaranteed personal time with Hernandez.
• One campus Xavi uniform provided by Adidas.
• An individual picture with Hernandez.
• The ability to get one item to be autographed by the soccer star.
• Lunch provided each day.
• Awards and trophies for all participants.
Hernandez is considered to be one of the best midfielders in the world and one of the top contributors to Spain’s first World Cup victory in 2010. He’s recognized for his professionalism to his team colleagues and to children across the world who dream of becoming elite soccer players.
“He is one of the most recognized soccer players in the world,” Jackson said.
Campus Xavi is based in Spain and has gotten plenty of offers to move or expand into other countries — including the United States and China. However, Hernandez opted to spread Campus Xavi know-how to other nations instead, and as the Polk County CVB noted, Central Florida has the honor of becoming his first stop.
To participate in the Campus Xavi World Tour 2012, pre-register at www.campusxavi.com. For questions or more information log on to www.centralfloridasports.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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