Travel Weekly's Florida E-Letter: February 27, 2002

REVERSING of a decade of steady annual increases, Florida, according to preliminary estimates, posted a loss in visitor arrivals during 2001 when it welcomed some 69.8 million, a decrease of 4% vs. 2000. The largest decline occurred during the fourth quarter, following the terrorist attacks. Some 14 million came to the state then, a decrease of 19% vs. the same quarter of 2000.

PLAY BALL! The Florida Spring Training Guide 2002 is off the press. This free reference tool can be used to extend or enhance the stay of individual and group clients who are also baseball fans while they visit Florida during March. Twenty teams train in the Sunshine State: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Florida Marlins, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, Montreal Expos, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays. For a copy of the guide, contact the Florida Sports Foundation, 2390 Kerry Forest Pkwy., Suite 101, Tallahassee, Fla. 32309; phone, (850) 488-8347.

IN RELATED NEWS, Citysearch, a service operated by TicketMaster that provides online city guides through its Web site www.citysearch.com, selected the following as the Top 5 Grapefruit League Ballparks in Florida, based on criteria that included family environment, food selection and food quality. The choices are Chain O'Lakes, Winter Haven (Cleveland Indians); City of Palms, Fort Myers (Boston Red Sox); Holman Stadium-Dodgertown, Vero Beach (Los Angeles Dodgers); Joker Merchant Stadium, Lakeland (Detroit Tigers); and Legends Field, Tampa (New York Yankees).

GREATER FORT LAUDERDALE'S annual Scuba Month in May will be anchored by OceanFest, May 17 to 19, in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Highlights include dive-related seminars. Among them will be a presentation by Jean-Michael Cousteau. oceanographer and environmentalist. Other festival activities are the Dive Trade Show, an underwater photo contest and a treasure hunt. For information on the event, call (800) 327-8150 or visit the Web site, www.oceanfest.com. For related dive and accommodation packages, call (800) 22-SUNNY, or view the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site, www.sunny.org.

VANGUARD AIRLINES will inaugurate one daily nonstop to Orlando starting April 22 out of its hub in Kansas City, Mo. The carrier offers introductory fares from $99 each way. For information, call (800) 826-4827.

A CONVENTION CENTER with 250,000 square feet of exhibit space and 37,500 square feet of meeting space was recommended for Kissimmee-St. Cloud, in a study commissioned by Osceola County. As a result, the county government will begin looking for a developer to design and construct the facility, expected to cost $100 million. The study recommended that a midsize convention center be part of a mixed-use project that would include a 600- to 800-room headquarters hotel and parking for 3,000 cars. The study was undertaken by Conventional Wisdom Corp. and C.H. Johnson Consulting.

A 350-SUITE Residence Inn by Marriott opened in Orlando, within a half-mile of SeaWorld.

UNIVERSAL ORLANDO'S interim president and chief operating officer Robert K. (Bob) Gault Jr., who was took over the post last November, will now continue in that position permanently, according to Tom Williams, chairman and chief executive officer of Universal Studios Recreation Group. Before November, Gault had been executive vice president for operations planning for Universal's theme parks.

ANOTHER MALL is coming to Orlando -- the 1.2 million-square-foot Mall at Millenia -- at the Interstate 4/Conroy Road exit. Opening Oct. 18, the two-level, 150-shop facility will have as anchor tenants Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus. It also will offer a multilingual information center, a currency exchange service and dining (from a food court to upscale).

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