Travel Weekly's Florida E-Letter: February 13, 2002

ORLANDO'S AIRLIFT is coming back, according to Fred Lounsberry, senior vice president of sales for the Orlando-based Universal Studios Recreation Group. He said that before Sept. 11, 50% of visitors arrived by air. Thus, with reduced air schedules and reluctant flyers, the area took a big hit in terms of meetings and leisure visitors during the final quarter of 2001. But now, not only are carriers restoring some of the flights they cut, they also are starting new routes and using larger equipment, he said. Meanwhile, the Universal Orlando parks and hotels envision a strong March and April., although a late-booking pattern continues with leisure reservations being made up to 30 days before arrival vs. the 60 to 90 days out that was the norm before Sept. 11. Universal will continue to offer value pricing at its hotels and theme parks, he said.

BAM! A second Emeril's restaurant -- this one called Tchoup Chop -- is slated to open on Universal Orlando real estate this fall. Specializing in cuisine with Asian and Polynesian influences, the upscale dining outlet will be part of the 1,000-room Royal Pacific Resort. The resort, as previously reported, will be run by Loews and will open in June, ahead of the second Emeril's. The first Emeril's at Universal Orlando is at the CityWalk dining-entertainment district. The original Emeril's is in New Orleans.

"AUGUSTA," a theatrical production staged by the Orlando Black Essential Theatre and Southern Winds, is set for performances from Feb. 14 to March 3, to coincide with Black History Month. The venue is the new 200-seat Church Street Theatre in downtown Orlando, which formerly operated as Church Street Station's Cheyenne Saloon. Standard tickets cost $12, but the price is $10 for seniors and groups of 10 to 49, and $8 for groups of 50 or more. For information, call (407) 788-6331.

AIR BYTES
• Northwest and its Northwest Airlink partner, Express Airlines, were set to launch nonstop Canadair regional jet service (two flights daily) between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Jacksonville starting Feb. 13. A third flight, starting March 2, will operate on Saturdays through the spring.
• Airtran on March 5 will add a fourth daily DC-9 roundtrip between Atlanta and Pensacola. On April 9, the carrier also will add new daily nonstop service between Rochester, N.Y. and Orlando and between Akron-Canton (Ohio) and Orlando.

THE NEWLY EXPANDED Greater Fort Lauderdale-Broward County Convention Center reported that every square foot of its added and original function space (totaling 600,000 square feet) was occupied Feb. 6 to 8 during the International Boatbuilders Exhibition.

HOOTERS OF AMERICA, the Atlanta-based, casual restaurant chain associated with chicken wings and -- ahem -- head-turningly clad waitresses, selected Lakeland as the site of its first hotel -- the 100-room Lakeland Hooters Inn. The chain is spending $1 million to upgrade the former Lakeland Motor Lodge and is now accepting bookings at $60 per night single or double plus tax. The inn is at 3410 U.S. 98 North, adjacent to one of the two Hooters restaurants in Lakeland. For room bookings, call (800) 233-3542. Note: Information on commission rates (or the lack thereof) was not immediately available.

STUART ARP, general manager of the Adams Mark Daytona Beach Resort, was named to chair a subcommittee assigned to determine the types and sizes of conventions best suited for a future expansion of the Ocean Center, across from the hotel. His subcommittee's report to the Volusia County Tourist Development Council, expected on April 17, in turn, will be the basis of a recommendation on how much of an expansion is warranted.

AAA OFFICES in major Southeast cities are being visited by 13 of SeaWorld Orlando's "Shamu Cruiser" vehicles, which are modified Volkswagens. The AAA visits, which began in Gainesville on Feb. 7, will end May 15 in Columbia, S.C. They will be coupled with other vehicle stops at schools and public functions. The Southeast swing is part of a 40-city nationwide Shamu Cruiser effort by the SeaWorld parks to bolster self-drive visitation.

THE 152-ROOM Hilton Garden Inn Tampa East-Brandon opened. Owned and operated by Tampa-based Noble Investment Group, it offers winter rates of $139 single or double Sunday to Thursday; $109 Friday and Saturday. Meeting space totals 4,000 (flexible) square feet and there is a 24-hour business center. For information, call (813) 626-6700.

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