FOUR CORNERS – At this time of year, popular tourism corridors like International Drive and U.S. 192 can get very crowded, as visitors from across the globe flock here to taking advantage of Central Florida’s hotels, theme parks, shops and attractions.
During peak hours, these highways can resemble parking lots – the price local residents pay for living in one of the world’s top tourism destination, although the site of all those cars jammed together on a highway like U.S. 192 can be a joy to the eyes of local merchants and business owners.
But once the holidays have come and gone, how do those businesses go about remaining competitive and continuously drawing people in? Mary Ellen Kerber thinks the key could be in transportation after all.
For example, she noted, what if the Four Corners area of U.S. 192 had a special offer: a shuttle service that picks up tourists as they arrive at Orlando International Airport, transports them comfortably to their Four Corners hotel, and then gets them back to the airport when they’re ready to go home?
“Being the first area to have transportation from OIA is something that would really benefit us,” she said.
Kerber is the manager of the Formosa Gardens shopping plaza on U.S. 192, which is right in the thick of this highway’s tourism and hospitality corridor. Kerber is also a member of Osceola County’s special W192 Economic Advisory Committee, made up of business owners on the 15-mile stretch from Four Corners to Kissimmee. On Monday, Jan. 9, the committee will make recommendations to the Osceola County commissioners on ways to improve this highway, and make the entire stretch a thriving commercial corridor.
Kerber said one of the ideas that’s been talked about is finding alternative transportation options, so visitors don’t feel the need to rent a car once they get here, and don’t feel like they have to brave traffic jams on Interstate 4 during the busiest vacation months. That idea seems particularly attractive, she said, to the businesses closest to Kissimmee and St. Cloud – which happen to be farther away from the theme parks like Walt Disney World than their commercial counterparts in Four Corners. That area runs from the exit for Disney west, to the exit where U.S. 192 ends at U.S. 27.
Bringing a shuttle or van service to the Kissimmee area is fine, Kerber said, but she added that this is not going to improve the economic outlook of Four Corners business owners looking to bring more heads into beds.
“Transportation to the east side of Kissimmee isn’t going to benefit us,” she said. “It’s more important to our guests to have transportation to Disney than it is to have transportation to Kissimmee. That doesn’t help us.”
Kerber is a member, and the past chairman, of the Four Corners Area Council, a group of business owners who operate in the area along U.S. 192 and U.S. 27 where Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties meet. On Dec. 8, the council held its final meeting of the year at ChampionsGate Golf Resort, and explored the possibility of convincing a privately-owned transportation or shuttle service to set up operations here, giving the tourists in Four Corners more options for getting around.
Marc Reicher, the vice president of development at ChampionsGate and the past chairman of the council, said ChampionsGate and its Omni Resort Hotel have already discovered that tourists enjoy the convenience of shuttle services to the airport or theme parks.
“We use a direct car service and a shuttle service that has multiple stops to bring guests to our resorts,” Reicher said.
It’s also more convenient and practical, he added, than a bus. Although a bus can carry more people, he said, they often operate on a more limited travel route.
“The bus isn’t going to go directly to your door,” Reicher said. “And it’s still a long trip, 40 minutes, from the airport.”
Hector Lizasuain, the current chairman of the Four Corners Area Council and Osceola County’s West 192 coordinator, said the council should reach out to other business groups across the four counties to see if they can work together, and collectively come up with a plan to encourage more private transportation services to cater to the region’s visitors.
“We’d love to get all the boards together that are impacted by this,” he said.
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