And President/CEO of Experience Kissimmee, DT Minich, shared those insights with Open Jaw at the tourist board's summer reception in Toronto on 19JUL.
"The amenities of a five-star resort but the convenience of a multi-bedroom home"
With travel habits and preferences shifting as a result of the pandemic, many Canadians have newly discovered or re-discovered the vacation home product. Now, they're dedicated fans of this accommodation offering, Minich told Open Jaw.
"They've always stayed in traditional hotels or motels, and once they try a vacation home and see the convenience and the economy of it, they think, 'Well, that's how we want to travel now.' So that's been great for us from a destination standpoint, to have first-time vacation home visitors," he said.
Vacation home rentals are purpose-built as vacation complexes that offer all the convenience of a resort and the intimacy of a private home. Encore Resort at Reunion, for example, has 800 accommodations that range between four and 13 bedrooms. The complex, just a 10-minute drive from Walt Disney World, comes with hotel-style amenities and free transport to all of Orlando's major theme parks.
"The cool thing is that these homes are professionally managed and professionally cleaned. Each home has its own individual pool, barbecue grill, and all that, but in the middle of the complex is a whole resort amenity. So you've got a concierge, a Disney desk, a workout facility, a restaurant and bar, a spa, a huge swimming pool with water slides, and poolside food and beverage service," Minich explained to Open Jaw.
"You get the amenities of a five-star resort but the convenience of a multi-bedroom home."
As more Canadians look to get away with family and friends, Kissimmee has its ear to the ground and is readjusting its real estate footprint to offer visitors just what they want. One example where this is taking place is right in the heart of the home: the kitchen.
"One of the trends that we're seeing is that we're no longer building islands in the kitchen area where people can gather around. Now, we're having to build continents, not islands, so that everyone can get together and come together," Minich said.
VoX International's President, Sue Webb, was one of these new-to-vacation-home visitors in Kissimmee on a recent business trip. Sharing her first-hand experience of staying in a 15-bedroom vacation home, she said, "It was a really incredible experience for meetings and executive getaways that I don't think people understand how conducive it is. Every bedroom had its own ensuite, so it's like your own hotel room."
Where does that leave travel advisors?
"Domestically, travel advisors aren't that big," OpenJaw was told, "But here in Canada, they are. What we found is that a lot of people who, before or during the pandemic, were booking things on their own, are now going back to having travel agents and travel advisors help them with their bookings.
"We don't like to talk about them, but there are issues with travel right now, so I think it's kind of a security blanket to be able to utilize the expertise of a travel agent and it kind of helps with the uncertainty of travel right now."
A "very busy" winter season with new lift
Minich, who's in Toronto with his team to attend Destination International's Annual Convention 2022, says he's looking forward to a "very busy" winter season for the Canadian market. New air lift is set to launch from Canadian destinations to MCO in the next few months. Here's an overview of what to expect:
- Air Canada will begin service from Halifax, Ottawa, and Quebec this OCT.
- WestJet is starting service from St. Johns, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver and Winnipeg this fall.
- Air Transat is set to add flights from Quebec in December and Halifax in FEB 2023.
- Swoop and Flair Airlines will begin service into MCO in the coming months.
Kissimmee: The heart of Central Florida
Minich shared with Open Jaw an insider's look at what Kissimmee's all about, and the types of experiences travel advisors can recommend to their clients.
1. "The best of both worlds": Where mother nature and man-made attractions reel you in.
Citing a TripAdvisor survey that found nature-based activities were highly in-demand among consumers in North America, Minich highlighted that this balance between thrilling attractions and nature-based eco-adventures is exactly what Kissimmee has to offer.
"We really have the best of both worlds because we have access to all the theme parks, but we also have a great combination with the eco. You can be standing in the shadows of the world's most famous castle, and literally, 25 minutes later, you can go kayaking in the shadows of 300-year-old cypress trees on the headwaters of the Everglades. So we have the best man-made attractions in the world, but we also have some of the most incredible Mother Nature-developed attractions," he says.
2. New MCO terminal and Brightline make the journey easier.
MCO is set to get a new, state-of-the-art terminal in SEP 2022, an addition Minich says will relieve some of the pressure at customs. The new Terminal C, accepting flights from both international and domestic U.S. carriers, will have its own dedicated TSA security checkpoint for customs.
"With Toronto, you clear customs here in Canada, but this will make it a lot easier and quicker for travellers from Calgary and Vancouver to clear customs because we're dividing it between two different terminals," Minich tells Open Jaw.
Also launching soon is the Brightline high-speed rail system connecting Orlando and Miami. Expected to hit the rails in Q1 2023, Kissimmee visitors will have a car-free option for exploring major neighbouring metropolises like Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach (and Tampa later down the line) from Orlando.
3. Surf and turf: The two-centre beach holiday combo.
Within easy reach of both the east and west coast of Florida, Kissimmee is perfect for two-centre stays.
"The east and Gulf coast beaches, which are totally different, are only about an hour and a half away," Minich notes. "A lot of people actually do this where they'll be staying in Kissimmee, get up at the crack of dawn, drive over to Cocoa Beach on the east coast, which is only about 45 minutes away, and watch the sunrise. Then, they'll come back to Kissimmee and in the evening, they'll drive an hour and a half to watch the sunset on the west coast."
And with Brightline launching soon, day trips to the east coast have never been more accessible.
A thank you to travel partners
Experience Kissimmee's summer reception was the tourist board's way of showing some love to its travel partners that support the destination.
"We just want to say thank you. This is all about partnerships," Minich said at the reception. "Thank you for all of the exposure and the things that you have done for our destination, Kissimmee, in the past. We appreciate that and we hope that if you've never visited, that we can host you soon. There's a lot of new things that have happened in the past two and a half, three years and the reason that we're up here right now, this week, is really to get Canadians re-engaged with us."