by Michael C. Lowe | June 01, 2014
Why Here?
Central Florida offers a variety of theme parks, expansive beaches and world-class golf at properties like the Streamsong Resort (above), which has become a prime destination for serious golfers since it opened last year. For overnight groups, a new 216-room lodge opened this past January.

On the Fly
Orlando International Airport has begun work on a $1.2 billion expansion and renovation that calls for construction of a new 16-gate terminal complex, a 3,500-space parking garage and a cell-phone waiting lot. The project is set for completion in 2017.

Record Crowds
Orlando welcomed 59 million visitors last year, setting an all-time record for visitors to any U.S. destination. The latest economic-impact figures for the city will be released later this year, but they're expected to increase from the more than $52 billion that travel and tourism brought in for 2012.
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• The Orange County Convention Center is undergoing a $187 million renovation, to finish in 2018, that is adding new furniture in public concourses and a new flexible ballroom space. The 2.1 million-square-foot facility received LEED certification for existing buildings last October.

• The Westin Orlando Universal Boulevard recently opened a 5,576-square-foot conference center and event space. The 315-room property now has a grand total of 13,685 square feet of function space.

• The Kessler Collection opened its latest boutique property, the 214-room Castle Hotel, last October. A modern version of a European-style castle, the hotel has a pool, a spa, a lounge, two outdoor terraces and more than 8,000 square feet of function space.

• In February, Grande Lakes Orlando announced a multiphase renovation at its two properties. In July, the 582-room Ritz-Carlton Orlando will open Highball & Harvest, a new casual dining restaurant serving Southern-inspired and locally sourced menu items, while the 1,000-room JW Marriott Orlando also plans to add a new restaurant featuring ingredients from the 13,000-square-foot on-site Whisper Creek Farm and signature craft beer brewed by the hotel's executive chef. The complex also is renovating its more than 150,000 square feet of indoor meetings space, to be completed by year's end.

• Universal Studios Florida is opening a new Harry Potter-themed area that will bring to life some of the experiences and shops found in and around London as portrayed in the books and films. This new space will connect to the neighboring Potter-themed attraction in the Islands of Adventures park via the new Hogwarts Express train.

• The Alfond Inn, a 112-room boutique hotel in Winter Park, just north of Orlando, was awarded an AAA Four Diamond rating in April. The property, which opened last September, includes 10,000 square feet of meeting space, a pool, a restaurant, a fitness center and dozens of museum-quality pieces of artwork on loan from the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at Rollins College.

• The Villas of Grand Cypress Golf Resort completed a $14 million renovation early last year that included new furnishings and technology in guest rooms and the addition of a new fitness center. The 146-room property has 10,480 square feet of meeting space.

• Last September, the 800-room Rosen Plaza Hotel opened the new Gary Sain Memorial Skybridge, connecting the property to the Orange Country Convention Center's West Building. The $2.5 million project was named for the Visit Orlando president and CEO who died in 2012. The hotel has more than 60,000 square feet of function space.

• Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando recently completed a $22 million renovation of its 750 guest rooms, which now feature Italian-inspired furnishings and designs. The resort has more than 42,000 square feet of meeting space.     

• The new Element Orlando North will debut next July, becoming Starwood's third such property in the eco-centric brand to open in the Sunshine State. The 151-room hotel, designed for LEED certification, will feature a fitness center, an outdoor saline swimming pool and a 977-square-foot meeting room.

MEETING HOTELS: Downtown Orlando properties include the 290-room Sheraton Orlando Downtown and 247-room Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando.

Along International Drive and near to the Orange County Convention Center are the 1,641-room Hyatt Regency Orlando; 1,417-room Hilton Orlando; 1,334-room Rosen Centre Hotel; 650-room Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, a Loews Hotel; and 582-room Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes.

In the general vicinity of Orlando International Airport are the 510-room Florida Hotel and Conference Center, 486-room Orlando Airport Marriott, 347-room DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando Airport and 288-room Holiday Inn Orlando-International Airport.

In Lake Buena Vista, near Walt Disney World Resort, are the 2,004-room Orlando World Center Marriott, 1,338-room Caribe Royale All-Suite Hotel & Convention Center, 1,149-room Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort, 815-room Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress and 490-room Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort.

In Kissimmee and Celebration are the 1,406-room Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, 718-room Radisson Resort Orlando Celebration, 334-room  Embassy Suites Orlando-Lake Buena Vista and 115-room Bohemian Hotel Celebration. In Reunion is the 320-room Reunion, a Salamander Golf and Spa Resort.

To find and compare hotels, and send RFPs, visit

CONVENTION CENTER: Orange County Convention Center; exhibit space, 2.1 million square feet; number of meeting rooms, 74; (407) 685-9800 or (800) 345-9845;

AIRPORT TRANSIT: Orlando International Airport, about 13 miles southeast of downtown Orlando and 14 miles east of the Orange County Convention Center/International Drive. Transfer cost by taxi, $35 to downtown, $33-$39 to the convention center/International Drive; by shuttle, $19 to downtown, $20 to the convention center/International Drive

TAXES: Orlando/Orange County: room tax, 6%; sales tax, 6.50%; total taxes on hotel rooms, 12.5%

Walt Disney World Resort hotels in Orange County: room tax, 6%; sales tax, 6.5%; total tax on hotel rooms, 12.5%

Disney properties in Osceola County: room tax, 6%; sales tax, 7%; total tax on hotel rooms, 13%

GROUP VENUE: The Hilton Orlando recently opened The Promenade, a new multifunctional outdoor event venue spanning more than 50,000 square feet, accessible in any combination of four spaces: the 10,500-square-foot elevated Sky Terrace patio; the 9,800-square-foot Grande Lawn; an 8,200-square-foot circular plaza with several water features, and a 4,500-square-foot garden surrounded by trees and flowers. For large parties, the entire space can be rented to accommodate up to 3,000 people. The 1,417-room Hilton Orlando also has 175,000 square feet of indoor function space. (407) 313-4300;

CONTACT: Visit Orlando, (407) 363-5872 or (800) 972-3304;