Having lived my whole life in Central Florida, I have always heard people bemoan the waves of tourists that descend on our communities for spring break, summer vacations, athletic competitions or during missile launches. However, when Clark Griswold and the like come to our communities, rather than bringing calamity, they usually bring and leave significant amounts of cash.
Not only is this an incredible infusion for the local economy, but it also stimulates a kind of creative energy and investment that makes the entire area as desirable for residents as it does visitors. Whether you enjoy walking the beaches, surfing, sunbathing or just dinner and drinks on the deck of a beachfront restaurant, the beach refurbishment that maintains our seemingly endless miles of oceanfront are funded locally by tourism revenues.
Infrastructure is to a region what the circulatory system is to our body. If it is inadequate or becomes clogged, you will have an economic stroke. Across Central Florida, our infrastructure is working to keep pace with our population growth. To some degree, that is happening because our out-of-town visitors help foot the bill. SR 528 was renamed the “Beachline” to remind the 75 million visitors to Orlando each year that the Space Coast is the closest and most convenient beach. It also connects Brevard residents with all the options living so close to metro Orlando affords.
What I really like though, is that I don’t have to spend a day driving to get to a place that is both fun and beautiful. Whether it is dinner in Downtown Melbourne or Cocoa Village, an evening at the Port watching cruise ships embark, or a day at the beach or on the water, we can spend time after work or on the weekends enjoying what people elsewhere save all year to experience.
Though we tend to celebrate tech entrepreneurs, Central Florida’s two homegrown billionaires came from the tourism and hospitality industry. Harris Rosen bought an ailing Quality Inn on International Drive in Orlando, with an investment of $20,000, after being let go from Disney back in the ’70s. Today, Rosen owns a portfolio of hotels including the Rosen Shingle Creek, the Rosen Center and the Rosen Plaza.
However, what he is more famous for is how he cares for his employees through his own medical clinic, along with educational scholarships for staff and their children. In the economically depressed community of Tangelo Park, he provides early education, through college scholarships. We should also mention he is the benefactor behind the Rosen School of Hospitality at UCF.
The other hospitality tycoon, and Rosen’s personality polar opposite, is David Seigel. He recently made a beachhead in Brevard County with the acquisition of the Cocoa Beach Pier and the Westgate Resort.
These two individuals are the tip of an entrepreneurial iceberg. We could talk about restaurateurs, hoteliers, chefs, individuals who have started transportation companies … the list goes on.
Who knows, perhaps the next major tourism thrust in the area will be space tourism? It will probably begin with the rich and famous. But eventually, like the price of cell phones or computers, soon it will be within the reach of everyone who has dreamed of looking down on earth from space.
I know it is on my bucket list!