DAVENPORT – if there’s one thing to keep in mind about the Labor Day Weekend, it’s that this is the last big vacation hurrah for the summer, and then the kids go back to school, the parents go back to work, and the vacations and traveling are over.
Well, in Central Florida, anyway …. not necessarily.
Across this region, Labor Day will be a holiday, all right, but it doesn’t mark the end of the efforts to bring flocks of tourists here. In fact, for this region, the fall can be very big business, indeed.
“There’s always something going on, thankfully,” said An Flamand, who runs USA Vacation Homes in Davenport, which manages vacation homes in the region. “There are so many different things going on in Orlando.”
Although September can sometimes be a slow month as the kids get back into the classroom, by October, the fall tourism season begins to kick into high gear with a host of Halloween events at the theme parks, including Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney’s Magic Kingdom and Halloween Spooktacular at Seaworld.
And today, Universal Studios Orlando unveiled its television commercial for the annual Halloween Horror Nights, which this year will feature Lady Luck, who transforms from a seductress into a bloodthirsty demon. Halloween Horror Nights starts on Set. 23, and it has — along with the entire Halloween season — been a big draw for this region.
“Halloween generally starts the special events season and the holiday season here,” said Sylvia Oliande, public relations representative for the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau.
This year, Halloween Horror Nights will feature eight new haunted houses, six “scare zones,” and two new live shows – plenty of terror to deal with.
“It’s a game of wills to see if you can survive the odds while a horde of mutants, monsters and maniacs roam the darkened studio streets,” Universal boasts on its web site.
As someone in the region’s lucrative hospitality industry, Flamand said she can’t wait for it to start.
“People underestimate the impact Halloween Horror Nights has,” she said. “Halloween definitely has an impact on our industry, and then we’re back to Christmas and New Year’s, which is our peak season. It’s still going to be a busy season for us.”
Of course, Halloween Horror Nights won’t be grabbing all the headlines in October. As Oliande noted, the region is awaiting the grand opening of Central Florida’s newest theme park, courtesy of Merlin Entertainments.
“We’ve got Legoland coming,” she said.
Legoland Florida is opening in Winter Park where the former Cypress Gardens theme park used to be. It will be modeled after the popular theme parks in Europe and California.
It’s going to be the big event this fall in Polk County, said Hank Longo, visitor services manager for Polk Outpost 27, the visitors information office on U.S. 27 in Davenport.
“We’re waiting for Legoland, that’s definitely the big thing coming,” he said. “We’ve got big murals of Legoland on our walls, and a lot of literature on it.”
It should all be a recipe, Flamand said, for bringing plenty of tourists to this region over the next four months.
“The European market comes over here around Easter and stays through the summer, and the more domestic market comes here around Labor Day and is here through Thanksgiving to New Year’s,” she said.
Flamand now serves on the board of directors for the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group representing the fast-growing number of vacation homes in Central Florida. This has been a solid growth industry, particularly in Osceola and Polk counties.
Flamand, who will serve as the association’s president next year, said the industry does quite well during the holiday season from Halloween to New Year’s, as families look to book their vacations in a fully furnished home with multiple bedrooms and a kitchen, private pool and game room – particularly if they also happen to want to invite other members of their family over for special days like Thanksgiving, Christmas or New year’s day.
“People book the bigger homes for family gatherings,” she said. “We’re seeing more vacations where people book vacation homes and then invite their entire family over.”
Although the hotel and motel industry traditionally dominated the region’s hospitality field, the vacation home industry is building its own solid reputation, she added.
“I think more and more people are getting used to the idea and are experiencing it,” Flamand said. “The only thing is, a lot of the people who have never tried it before, they have a lot of questions – ‘Is there linen, what do we have to bring with us,’ and so on.
“But it’s the perfect family vacation, to be honest,” she added. “You don’t have to watch for the pool hours. At a hotel, the pool closes at such and such a time. At the house, the pool is so conveniently close to the house that the kids can sit outside in the pool and the dad can stay inside and watch TV right next to the pool deck.”
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