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A BETTER HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Kissimmee offers something for everyone

DT Minich, Kissimmee’s dynamic CEO was in town last week hosting media and partners on consecutive warm sunny evenings in Toronto. This is all about partnerships he said, thanking everyone for their past support of the destination and inviting them to visit. Minich’s was here essentially to get Canadians reengaged with Kissimmee. Winter is high season for the Canadian market and he emphasized that, “a lot of new things have happened in the past two and a half, three years,”

Multi-generational travel – getting together with family and friends is becoming a huge vacation trend post pandemic, and Minich stressed Kissimmee is the ideal destination for this sector.

Vacation homes are where it’s at

“All of the vacation home product is what we call purpose built. These homes are built to be vacation homes. They’re not built for people to live in them (permanently). One of the trends is that we’re no longer building islands in the kitchen, like a bar where people can gather around – now we’re having to build ‘continents’, not an island.” He said to laughter, “they are massive … so that everyone can get together and cook together and be together.”

VoX International represent Kissimmee in Canada, and president Susan Webb, added, “Just a personal experience, if you’ve never stayed in a vacation home in Kissimmee, they’re unbelievable. We were there for meetings and instead of us staying in one of the resorts or hotels, the team for (Kissimmee) international offices, all got together in a 15-bedroom vacation home. 15-bedroom! Every bedroom had its own en suite, so it was like your own hotel room.”

Every morning, she said, the group were able to have coffee together and when they returned to the vacation home in the evening, there would be friendly conversation and collaboration with different associates from different countries around the “continent island’ or at the pool.

“it was a really incredible experience for meetings and executive getaways,” she said adding that it was very conducive to business and business relationships.

Minich said that Kissimmee has become popular with the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) market and for corporate retreats. A lot of the big homes are on championship golf courses, and many of the 12 to 18 bedroom ones, have en suites, and a lot of them even have door codes on each bedroom so they can be locked for privacy.

Team Kissimmee in Toronto

“The large ones all have movie theaters and bowling alleys and arcades,” he said, “so you can do a PowerPoint presentation in the movie theater for everybody and then have a bowling competition, or have something in the swimming pool. It’s been really popular with the extended families, but again, also for the MICE market and the corporate retreat or an executive sales retreat type situation.”

Cost effective and appealing

In an earlier conversation, in response to our query as to how Kissimmee fared during the pandemic, Minich told Travel Industry Today, “the houses were what saved us.”

“During the pandemic, people did not want to stay in hotels and have their kids in pools with 100 other kids, or walking through lobbies and eating in restaurants.” He explained, “So, the vacation homes were booming and they still are.”

“And it was great for us because for so many it was their first time vacation home. They’d never stayed in a vacation home before and now that they’ve done it once, they’re like, ‘This is the way to go because we can cook. We can gather around and be together.’ There are even homes with kosher kitchens for Jewish families.”

And the cost of some vacation homes is very attractive compared to a hotel. You can, for example, with the Encore product, get a four bedroom home with your own little pool, for around US $400 a night, which is the price of a hotel room in Lake Buena Vista.

The homes are all professionally managed, and again, using Encore has an example, it has 800 homes with from 4 to 10 bedrooms There’s a resort complex in the middle with a restaurant, a bar, pool service, and the big pool with the slides. There is also a fitness center and a concierge desk. Babysitting service is available, as is a Disney desk. There are all the conveniences of a resort.

Minich says Kissimmee has about 40,000 vacation homes right now, with another 10,000 under construction. The largest home is under construction right now. It’s 35,000 square feet.

“They’re all custom built for rental, for vacation, but (in keeping with current requirements) now they’re adding Zoom offices. So most of the new homes will have one or two little offices.”

Minich laughs that he was “the Rockstar” at the Vrbo conference in Las Vegas “because we have more inventory with Vrbo than any other destination in the world.”

Not the same old Kissimmee

We asked what the biggest misconception was about Kissimmee.

“I think that if people haven’t been to Kissimmee in many years, they still think of it as these just little mom and pop hotels along 192 and they think that’s all there is. The vacation home boom really started happening about eight years ago.” He said, explaining that when you have these really upscale homes people want better restaurants and better shopping.

“Margaritaville, Sunset Walk didn’t exist. It was cow pastures basically. And now we have restaurants and shopping and fine dining and things like that. The destination has really evolved in the last 8 to 10 years. And it’s becoming more and more upscale in having more to offer for visitors.

As for the ‘mom and pop shops’ such as the old motels – many are being converted into much needed low cost housing.

Who goes there

The source market for Kissimmee over the pandemic, has been the Florida drive market. “It has been massive for us.” In fact says Minich, even before the pandemic, Kissimmee’s number one market from anywhere in the world is Tampa/St. Pete.

“Massive numbers of them have annual passes to the theme parks, and they’ll come over twice a month and they love the vacation home product and they’ll stay. It’s like a little mini vacation.”

Then of course there is the traditional markets of New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia.

However, Kissimmee is reopening with a focus on international and Minich is working with all the tour operators and airlines in Canada.

“It’s great to see the Canadians coming back and I mean the biggest hindrance right now, still as you know, is just trying to get this testing dropped, the testing requirements.”

However, this winter he is hoping to see an increase in air capacity into Orlando from Canada. Terminal C will open in August which will alleviate some of the capacity issues that MCO has had.

Minich gave us an interesting statistic. Prior to the pandemic- 50% of the bed tax was coming from the hotel/motel segment and 50% was coming from vacation homes. Then came the pandemic and there were four months in the height of the pandemic, that 90% of the bed tax came from the vacation homes and 10% from the hotel/motel sector. And during the whole pandemic, it ranged anywhere from 70% up to 90% coming from vacation homes.

He believes that was because of the essential disappearance of the MICE market during the pandemic – no meetings or conventions and no international market.

However, he says there was an earlier rebound in meetings and conventions than initially expected, “especially in Florida because we were the first in the entire country to lift all the mandates.”

Meanwhile the domestic market always provides a huge summer business i for Kissimmee

“Soon as those kids are out of school.” He says, “then by August 15th, summer’s done because the US goes back to school.”

But they are replaced by the British market from August (their summer holidays) through the end of September.

“It’s our big Brit time,” says Minich, “And then the Canadians come in all winter long – all winter long.” he repeats with a smile.

Noting that there is a lot of new lift this winter, coming out of different Canadian gateways including the west, he smiles, “We’re looking forward to a very busy and robust winter.”

Undoubtedly he’ll get it.

First published at Travel Industry Today

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