When the Inbound Report’s editor first visited Kissimmee Florida in 1989, the small city (estimated population today is about 50,000) was regarded by the travel and tourism industry as cozy place along State Route 192 lined with mostly budget hotels that had several thousand rooms for available for cost-conscious families visiting the nearby Disney attractions, whose main entrance at the time was not that far away.
Today, as a result of a decision made a decade ago to repurpose large tracts of undeveloped land, Kissimmee is officially known as the Vacation Home Capital of the World, with 20,000 rooms in large homes, resort residences and virtual mansions, as well as another 20,000 rooms available in conventional hotels.
And it’s not stopping there. D.T. Minich, president and CEO of Experience Kissimmee—he came to the destination in the summer of 2014, leaving his post as executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater—told the Inbound Report in a recent interview, said that the growth of the rental home market “has really taken off in the last two years,” and that another 3,000 homes of three to fifteen rooms each will be built in the next three years, bringing at least 20,000 more rooms into the destination’s inventory. Following are some highlights from our conversation with Minich.
How it got Started: Osceola County, Florida, which is adjacent to the southern border of Orlando/Orange County, Florida, was looking for ways to differentiate its lodging product from other jurisdictions in the Greater Orlando Area and to make the land generate tax revenue. At the time the vacation rental market had just begun to grow. Government officials reasoned that subdivisions with a residential character—but zoned for the purpose of attracting guests and visitors—wouldn’t clash with the residential character of the Kissimmee area that is not already part of the tourism industry.
They also reasoned, correctly, that such properties would attract investors who wanted a reliable investment. They were right. Wealthy investors have financed the growth and development of the areas of Kissimmee zoned for home rentals.
How it Works: Reunion Resort became the first community. It is the location of homes that range from what one might consider a traditional four-bedroom residence with added amenities for those who rent it to a 14,500-square-foot house with nine bedrooms, a two-lane bowling alley, fully stocked arcade, spa, racquetball court and a 12-seat in-home movie theater.
Jeeves Holiday Homes (www.jeevesfloridarentals.com), an Orlando-based luxury-rental-home management company, takes care of the homes, while scores of entities sell the rentals. Research has shown that families, especially well-to-do extended families who want to stay together (sometimes with their nanny) are a natural target. So are meeting planners for businesses who want to send employees to a place equipped with conference rooms and AV equipment, but also has built-in recreational facilities, such as in-house bowling alleys, game rooms and an adjacent golf course. Minich said it’s a perfect setting for team-building exercise and for incentive groups who want to combine work with entertainment options, including all the nearby Orlando attractions. As one industry observer told us, “Nowhere else do you have the concentration of 100 theme parks and attractions as well as year-round weather.”
Which International Visitors Like It and Why They Like It: Minich told us that the country markets of the UK and Brazil are number one and two. Number three is open to question for the moment. But Minich pointed out that this could change with the launch last month of daily service by Emirates airlines to Orlando from Dubai, UAE, which also is a connection point for travelers from through the Middle East and Asia. The visitors from UAE, for instance, like the ease of staying as a family or extended family and attendants in a single place. Minich also expects that MICE traffic will increase as tour operators become more familiar with the possibilities of the vacation home product.
Why Others Like the Model: Those receptive tour operators that sell the product like it because there is no rate parity to deal with. The units are owned by private investors who care about keeping their properties rented and keeping the revenue stream going. Receptives like the flexibility and packaging possibilities offered by rental homes.
Probably most important, the “locals” like it—really like it. This is because, despite all of the new home developments built in Kissimmee, and despite all of the property tax for Osceola County and its schools that that the new homes in new neighborhoods have generated in the past eight years, not a single property has produced a single school student.
Why Others are Imitating the Model: They aren’t. Despite the popularity and proven promise of the Kissimmee experience in Central Florida, it does not appear that any other U.S. destination comes close to incorporating the rental home market as a part of its travel and tourism infrastructure. We at the Inbound Report could not locate anything quite like the Kissimmee model, and Minich—who makes it a part of his job to be aware of what the competition is doing—did not know of any.
So, it is safe to suggest that no destination will threaten Kissimmee’s officially registered designation and de facto status as Vacation Home Capital of the World. (For more information, visit: