The Orlando Melbourne International Airport (MLB) – like Port Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center – has long been a gem in our collective tourism portfolio that makes the Space Coast both economically-robust and internationally-inviting. With an aerospace industry presence that is envied around the world, in just a few years the impact of a budding new partnership will have the tourism industry just as green.
For decades, Brevard’s ability to match those of larger municipal airports to the north and south has been more of a trickle than a tsunami. Even spillover from the booming cruise industry here has been limited due to theme parks and other attractions outside of our community which beckon tourists away.
But, thanks to tenacity, successful negotiations and the tireless efforts of airport leadership, particularly Executive Director Greg Donovan and MLB Authority Chairman Jack L. Ryals, that story is poised to change. And soon.
Beginning in 2022, TUI (also known as TUI Group) is an Anglo-German multinational travel and tourism company headquartered in Hannover, Germany. Rated the largest holiday company in the world – with more than 1,600 travel agencies, six airlines with a fleet of over 150 aircraft worldwide, 380 hotels and resorts, 17 cruise ships and 70,000 employees – will make Melbourne the Florida gateway for all their customers traveling to the region, an estimated combination of more than 150,000 travelers each year.
Specifically, TUI plans to bring 126,000 beach and 30,000 cruise passengers to MLB annually on their fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners, using the Orlando Melbourne International airport as both the arrival and departure point.
Of all tourist types, statistics bear out that international travelers tend to stay longer (averaging nine nights) and spend more (averaging $3,241 per visitor). When those foreign visitors are not landing and immediately bussing over to Central Florida theme parks, instead planning to rent cars and visit local beaches, shop at area retailers and patronize Brevard’s hotels and restaurants, the economic impact is staggering.
According to Dawn Wilson, Managing Director at TUI Airways: “We’re committed to offering our customers an outstanding airline and holiday experience and we are delighted to be working with Orlando Melbourne Airport on their exciting expansions plans.” “Our new Orlando gateway will be perfectly situated to offer TUI UK customers total flexibility in designing their holidays.”
Rolling Out the Red Carpet
The effort to win TUI’s business was a process that unfolded over the past five years. Donovan and the airport authority leadership initially lost on their first attempt to lure TUI from Sanford, but afterwards redoubled efforts by carrying out over $100 million in airport infrastructure improvements, including a new U.S. Federal Inspection Station for international visitors, the complete refurbishment of three of the airport’s principal runways and the clearly-visible new air traffic control tower.
Terminal expansion will soon move from the planning to the construction phase and will include unique concessions, innovative passenger amenities and other family-friendly features that will provide an entertaining, speedy, stress-free and uncongested experience to travelers.
Offering a personalized introduction to Florida, holidaymakers will be welcomed to the airport by MLB’s team of multi-lingual international ambassadors with a glass of fresh Florida orange juice and before being assisted with any onward arrangements. Additionally, concierge services, public and private transfer options and major rental car companies will be immediately accessible upon arrival. These amenities will aid in the priority to recruit more international and domestic flights into the airport. And in what can best be described as a win/win outcome, just as the UK tourist season starts to slow in the fall, Central Florida’s Canadian snowbird season ramps up. MLB’s visionary expansion of the terminal will only help its efforts to attract Canadian airlines.
It is estimated that some 4.7 million UK visitors come to the U.S. each year, resulting in a travel spend of over $12 Billion. With the collapse of the 178-year-old UK travel giant Thomas Cook Group, TUI’s share of that market in the UK and throughout Europe has spiked. By making the Space Coast its Florida gateway, the benefits to area businesses and residents are varied and lucrative. Revenues from tourism tax fees will climb, likely resulting in infrastructure improvements and new crop of restaurants and destinations that will be attractive to both visitors and locals alike. “This is a major win for Melbourne and our entire region,” said Ryals. “Tourism is our region’s biggest asset, and I look forward to the day when UK travelers are admiring our beaches, enjoying our restaurants, relaxing at our hotels and catching a Space Coast thrill at our attractions.”
The global coronavirus pandemic has brought challenges with major impacts to airlines, airports and tourism. While international travel is on hold, MLB has a unique opportunity to overcome the latest travel challenges and become a leading international airport by future-proofing the terminal with the latest technologies. Plans are to incorporate the latest health and touchless technologies, automated screening, faster processing with advanced biometrics and enhanced queuing and spaced out shopping and waiting areas.
Welcoming Visitors to our Slice of Paradise
The introduction to the Space Coast for TUI travelers will be the opportunity to fly into what has been voted the most scenic of airport approaches in the U.S. by PrivateFly.com.
With incredible vistas of the Cape, jetsetters crossing over the Atlantic beaches and the Indian River Lagoon are set for an unparalleled experience during clear conditions. At night, the spectacle is even more dramatic, with twinkling lights dotting the coastal landscape.
To help make that travel experience more comprehensive, TUI is making plans to homeport one its cruise ships (branded under Marella Cruise Lines) at Port Canaveral. The 1800+ passenger Marella Discovery will have 11 ports-of-calls, including New York, Key West and New Orleans.
Greg Donovan has worked long and hard to position MLB as an exceptional Florida destination, not just for TUI passengers, but also as a state-of-the-art facility that other airports will emulate.
He summed it up saying, “TUI’s proven product, combined with MLB’s exceptional concierge services will make for an unprecedented customer experience for UK holidaymakers traveling to Florida. With more than $100 million of investment into MLB’s airport facilities over the last few years, and much more on the way, MLB will be practically the newest
and most modern airport in Florida.”
We are preparing for the future, even with today’s historic challenges, and are aiming for better
days in 2022.” •