Involved in politics for nearly three decades, Buddy Dyer is popular among his constituents.
He was representative for the Florida Senate between 1992 and 2002, including three years serving as Senate Democratic leader. Now in his 15th year as mayor of Orlando – having been re-elected to the position four times since taking charge – the theme park capital continues to thrive as the US’s most popular tourist destination.
“Tourism is the single most important piece of our economic pie,” Dyer tells Attractions Management. “People around the world know Orlando. If they think of Disney or Universal, they think of Orlando. It’s a fantastic brand.”
In 2016, Orlando welcomed a record 66 million visitors. Of those, 5.5 million were international and 60.5 million were from the US, driven largely by the area’s theme parks, with Orlando boasting six of the 10 most visited parks in the world.
“The market continues to increase in volume and our attractions continue to renew their offering,” he says. “They’re in the business of not just finding first-time visitors, but attracting returning tourists.”
Dyer says major operators such as Disney and Universal are excellent “corporate citizens”, with taxes helping to generate further revenue sources for Orlando. “One in every three jobs here is related to tourism. Universal is the largest employer and largest taxpayer within the city limits, and Disney is the largest single-site employer in the country,” he says.
“I interact with them on a daily basis on things that involve the greater community or the greater region – one, for instance, being the tourist development tax.”
The tax, which applies to all of Orange County, Florida, is a bed tax charged at 6 cents for every dollar earned. That tax generates $260m a year for Orlando. When the city built its three new venues in the Downtown area – the performing arts centre, the Amway Centre and the Camping World Stadium – about half of the $1.2bn capital investment was generated through the tourism development tax.
“We continue to improve our tourism infrastructure, which in turn benefits Orlando even more. Tourism has been extremely good to us in terms of supporting community assets. Tourism doesn’t just support tourism, it supports everything.”