Orlando ranks among largest tourism markets in the world, but the city's reliance on the industry could be a problem

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Massive crowds wait to enter Halloween Horror Nights 28 at Universal Studios Florida - IMAGE VIA OLIVER GREEN | TWITTER
  • Image via Oliver Green | Twitter
  • Massive crowds wait to enter Halloween Horror Nights 28 at Universal Studios Florida
Orlando and New York dominate tourism in the U.S., but a new report shows the increasing dominance of Asian cities when it comes to tourism.

The World Travel & Tourism Council’s annual City Travel & Tourism Impact Report focuses on the global impact of tourism within the top 72 cities, and there is plenty for Orlando to learn from the 2018 report.

The world’s population continues to move to cities at an unprecedented pace, and the role of global tourism in urban areas remains a fast-growing sector. While Orlando and Florida as a whole continue to celebrate record tourism growth, the WTTC’s new report shows the Sunshine State soon to be overshadowed globally.



The key message in the report is the rapid growth of Asian cities, especially those in China. Half of the globe’s top 10 cities in terms of tourism market size based on GDP are found in Asia with Shanghai ($35 billion) and Beijing ($32.5 billion) taking the first and second spots. Paris comes in third with $28 billion. Orlando is fourth, just ahead of New York, with both recording $24.8 billion in tourism spending.

The report notes that out of the top 15 spots, nine were held by cities in the Asia-Pacific region. The only other U.S. cities to make the list of top 15 for tourism GDP were Las Vegas, which comes in at ninth place with $19.5 billion, and Miami, with $13.6 billion, taking spot 15. Los Angeles was considerably lower on the roster, taking the 18th spot with $11.9 billion, less than half of Orlando’s tourism GDP.

While Orlando and New York are neck and neck in tourism spending, the type of travelers the two cities host is notably different – 86.2 percent of Orlando’s tourism GDP is from domestic visitors, while nearly half (45 percent) of New York’s tourism GDP comes from international guests. Las Vegas sits just above Orlando in domestic spending with only a tenth of a percent difference. Chicago is the American city with the highest amount, 89 percent, of its tourism GDP coming from U.S. visitors.

Tourism remains a crucial part of Orlando’s economy, making up 18.9 percent of the city’s total GDP. Only three other major cities have a higher percentage: Macau (29.3 percent), Marrakech (30.2 percent) and Cancun (49.6 percent). Vegas isn’t far behind Orlando, coming in at the seventh spot with a 16.7 percent.

Miami just misses the top 10, with 8.8 percent, placing 11th.

Orlando does remain off one list that both Miami and Vegas are found on. The cities with the slowest tourism growth have Miami in the fourth spot, with a negative 6.3 percent. Vegas sits just behind Miami with a 3.5 percent decline. Three other American cities made the 15 slowest-growing travel and tourism GDP: San Francisco (-0.2 percent), Chicago (0.6 percent) and New York (1.1 percent). One possibility for the slow growth in Miami is the struggling Brazilian market. The South American country saw two of its cities in the top three slowest-growing/declining metropolises for travel and tourism with Brasilia (-10.5 percent) taking the top spot.

Not only is tourism a significant part of Orlando’s GDP, but the sector also is a major contributor to local employment with 17.1 percent of the metro’s employment being within the industry. Both Honolulu (17.3 percent) and Las Vegas (20.2 percent) rank higher than Orlando, but Miami (13.8 percent) sits two spots below the City Beautiful.

Four of the five fastest-growing tourism markets are within China. Shanghai, home to world’s newest Disney resort, has seen their travel and tourism GDP skyrocket with the city moving from the eighth spot global to now having the world’s largest. It is expected to hold the title for at least the next decade.

The report notes, “As the Chinese middle class continues to expand and the travel market matures, lower percentage growth rates will become a reality, but this will still represent larger incremental volume increases. Continued investment and increasing connectivity will aid city growth, but to a lesser extent than in prior years.”

While business travel has become an increasingly important part of Orlando’s overall tourism market, globally 78 percent of travel spending remains within leisure travel.

Orlando's high reliance on the tourism industry for employment and GDP could be concerning in a time when some experts speak of a coming slowdown within the overall national economy. The report estimates tourism spending becoming increasingly important for Orlando, with it increasing from 18.7 percent to 20.6 percent by 2027.

With nearly four out of five visitors to Orlando coming from within the country, any national economic slowdown could cause many of the same issues that plagued the city in the months after the September 11, 2001 attacks, or during the Great Recession.

Overall, the report shows that for now, Orlando’s tourism industry shows few signs of slowing with it increasingly distancing itself from its U.S. competitors, including Miami.

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