Image: Claire, Graham and Tom Ablett
Phelan M. Ebenhack  /  AP
Claire Ablett, left, her husband, Graham, center, and son, Tom, 11, of England, look through a store directory while visiting the upscale stores at the Mall at Millenia in Orlando, Fla.
updated 2/18/2005 6:33:51 PM ET 2005-02-18T23:33:51

It wasn’t so long ago that fine dining for Orlando tourists meant the all-you-can eat buffet at Shoney’s, and luxury accommodations meant chocolates on the pillows at the mom-and-pop motels along U.S. 192.

But in the past decade, so many luxury hotels, stores and restaurants have sprung up in this tourist haven that local officials believe it can compete head to head with places such as New York and Las Vegas for the most well-heeled visitors.

The Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitor Bureau unveiled an $8 million marketing campaign Friday that seeks to attract visitors who want an upscale experience for a romantic getaway, a girls-only weekend of spas and shopping or a golf vacation.

The bureau in past years limited its marketing efforts to families, a segment they will continue to target since it makes up 45 percent of Orlando’s domestic leisure visitors.

“The good thing about a higher-income market group is that they travel more in general, they visit Orlando more frequently and they spend more money,” said Jose Estorino, the bureau’s senior vice president of marketing. “The more we present different product offerings and different vacation experiences, the hope is that we would get that incremental trip and put Orlando into consideration for those other kinds of vacations.”

Luxury hotels, celebrity chefs
As little as five years ago, a visitor could count on one hand the number of luxury hotels in Orlando, excluding resorts at Walt Disney World. But in the last several years, the Ritz-Carlton and three luxury resorts at Universal Orlando have opened their doors, bringing the number of luxury establishments to more than a dozen.

Restaurants conceived by celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse and Roy Yamaguchi are now cooking up white chocolate creme brulee and blackened ahi. Shoppers can purchase Jimmy Choo shoes and Cartier watches.

Shopping at The Mall at Millenia, home to Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores, tourist Suzanne Burks said she was surprised at the high-end stores found in the theme park capital.

“When you go out of town, it’s nice to see nice restaurants and shops,” said Burks, of suburban Detroit, who was staying at the Ritz-Carlton with her husband and two daughters. “You know, we have a certain style of living at home. We don’t want to rough it.”

Orlando tourism officials hope the marketing campaign helps spread the word, especially since a large share of Orlando tourists earn significantly more than the national real median household income of more than $43,000. Almost two-thirds of domestic leisure visitors to Orlando earned more than $50,000 a year, and almost 40 percent of them earned more than $75,000 a year, according to bureau research.

The marketing campaign includes a 30-second television spot showing a series of still images of golfers, swimmers in a shimmering pool, a roller coaster and a couple on a beach, emphasizing the aesthetic pleasures of a vacation. The spot, which has a tagline “Orlando — Sensational,” will run on ESPN, CNN, CNBC and The Golf Channel.

Advertising inserts placed in Golf Digest, Food & Wine, Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure will highlight Orlando’s luxury spots.

Burks and her family usually vacation in Naples and Fort Lauderdale because of their luxury shops and hotels. She planned to add Orlando to the list of destinations for the luxury-minded.

“I guess I just never would have thought about it for Orlando,” she said.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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