ORLANDO (CBSMiami/AP) — It may not be the most visited place on Earth, but it continues to be one of the happiest.
Orlando had 75 million visitors last year as the theme park mecca continued to be the most visited destination in the United States, tourism officials said Thursday.
Orlando in 2018 had 68.5 million domestic visitors, a year-to-year increase of 4.1%, and almost 6.5 million international visitors, a year-to-year increase of 5.4%.
The overall 4.2% increase over 2017 figures was slightly smaller than the previous year-to-year increase of 5%. But there was a robust return of international visitors, a segment that had softened in previous years.
The international improvement was driven by Latin American visitors, especially from Brazil and Mexico, said George Aguel, CEO of Visit Orlando, the area’s tourism marketing agency.
“When folks are thinking about what they can and can’t do, we try to market why this is a good place for them to come. We focus on the feeling you get when you come here,” Aguel said. “There really is no place in the country … where you have the ability to make a connection emotionally. We play a lot on the memories we create.”
Orlando has been in the middle of a years-long expansion of rides and hotel rooms.
Accommodation expansion is at a 20-year high. The metro area already has more than 120,000 hotel rooms, the second highest in the nation behind only Las Vegas.
Additionally, attractions at the area’s theme parks are opening at a break-neck pace.
In 2017, a new water park, Volcano Bay, opened at Universal Orlando, and a new section, Pandora-The World of Avatar, opened at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
Last year, Disney World opened a Toy Story Land.
Disney World is opening a Star Wars-themed land in August, SeaWorld debuted a Sesame Street land this spring and Universal Orlando is opening a new Harry Potter-themed ride this summer.
“We think it will help us carry over in 2020,” Aguel said. “A lot of these things start to kick in the following year.”