For years millions upon millions of tourists, myself included, called International Drive home while on holiday in Orlando. Located almost between Disney & Universal, with Sea World in between, not to mention countless restaurant choices, endless tourist shops, bars, shopping malls and many other attractions (including the Orlando Icon, Sea Life Centre & Madame Tussauds now) and the never ending list of hotel, ranging from budget to high end. Back in the 90’s and 00’s with a great exchange rate this would be where the majority of British & Irish tourists would stay, avoiding the dramatically more expensive Disney Resorts (this was in a time while the Disney Resorts line up was nowhere near as large as it is now, and Universal didn’t offer many, if any hotels on site).
Indeed the Disney All Star Resorts opening would be too entice ‘Value’ guests away from International Drive, and base them on Disney property, with benefits including free parking and free transportation all across Disney property there would be little to no need to leave the site. Even better, the introduction of Disney’s Magical Express service shuttling guests flying into Orlando International Airport directly to their Disney hotel, for free, would then reduce the number of hire cars on site, again reducing the need to leave Disney property. This also added a more economic resort option in Disney’s portfolio.
Towards the end of the 90’s with Universal Studios readying the opening of Island’s of Adventure in 1999, the same year their first onsite hotel, Loews Portofino Bay would be the first step in competing with Disney, and International Drive for resort guests. With the addition of a further 2 hotels by 2002, Universal had done well but all the resorts were upmarket 4 or 5 star hotels – so many still decided to stay on International Drive. Combine this with the economic downturn after 9/11, it would be a further 14 years before we would see any further hotels built on site, but this time aimed at a different audience.
In the late 00’s and early 10’s both Disney and Universal were rapidly expanding their hotel networks, but again both aimed at different guest demographics. Universal Orlando Resort have went after the family and budget conscious demographic – in a big way. Since 2014 nearly 3,000 rooms have been added at 3 new resorts (the newest, The Aventura Resort opened in 2018) with a further 3,000 rooms being constructed just on International Drive, on the former Wet N’ Wild site at the under construction Endless Summer Resorts to open this month.
At the same time Disney have moved away from ‘Value’ & ‘Moderate’ Resorts in favour of building high end Disney Vacation Club Resorts. These exclusive properties offer great rewards and benefits such as Annual Pass discounts and exclusive in park events. The Resort has built 11 new properties since 2000, 1 a new ‘Deluxe’ category, 2 in the ‘Value’ category (although it could be argued Art of Animation is not a ‘Value’ resort giving the prices are continually equal to some ‘Deluxe’ Resorts with the remaining 8 all being Vacation Club’s.
I really think Universal in the coming years have the better strategy, with the exchange rate staying low for British guests a holiday to Orlando has become a once in a lifetime holiday for many. With the location, facilities, quality of the product and most importantly the price point of these new hotels I cant see why people on a strict budget wouldn’t stay here. You will be in the heart of International Drive with the ability to walk to non Universal shopping and dining options, but still have all the perks of staying in a resort hotel. Sometimes its nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of staying at an on-site resort. The Endless Summer Resorts will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the surrounding area hotels on International Drive.
Disney and its Vacation Club strategy may hold the key to long term success but I would worry about this market becoming over saturated. They themselves have recently had to take action against people reselling Vacation Club points, those who buy such points will not have access to the same benefits or rewards as those buying directly from Disney. With Bay Lake Tower at The Contemporary Resort in 2009, the construction was only months away from being completed before Disney were able to officially announce the details of the project because of the slow uptake in sales at The Animal Kingdom Villa’s. (Laws prevent sales of a new timeshare property until a certain percentage of the previous property are sold). With the total number of Vacation Club rooms now reaching over 5,000 and with new Resorts under construction there appears to be no end in sight for Vacation Clubs soon. These effectively build on guests loyalty for Disney, by locking them in to returning year after year and are an absolute money making machine.
With both resorts investing big on new attractions in the coming years, the hotel expansion is great infrastructure for what is too come, either way, International Drive looks to be the only loser, with guests having ever more options and reasons to stay on site.