Record 72 million tourists went to Orlando last year


By MIKE SCHNEIDER

Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla.

Even though Hurricane Irma forced the closures of its theme parks and airports and filled its hotels with displaced evacuees, a record-setting 72 million tourists still flocked to the Orlando area last year, tourism officials said recently.

The 5 percent year-over-year increase in visitors was powered by domestic travelers, while visits from international travelers remained soft. With those numbers, Orlando held onto its title as the most visited destination in the United States.

“The success in Orlando is great, not just for this iconic destination, but for travel as a whole,” said Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, who was in Orlando for the announcement of the 2017 figures.

Tourism in Orlando, and other parts of Florida, shut down last September for almost a week during the preparations for and aftermath of Hurricane Irma on the peninsula. The area’s theme parks closed for two days, and planes stopped flying out of central Florida airports. Millions of coastal residents were ordered to evacuate, sending many of them inland to hotels in Orlando.

Despite the short-term closures, Irma didn’t cause any widespread damage in central Florida, although the hurricane damaged other parts of the state, including the Florida Keys. After the hurricane, Visit Orlando, the area’s tourism board, launched social media and publicity campaigns that showed central Florida was open for business.

Orlando’s record number of visitors has been built on the continuous addition of new attractions and rides at the area’s theme parks, said George Aguel, CEO of Visit Orlando.

The theme parks have been on a recent building spree.

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