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Business travel up, shows Orlando's changing face

More and more travelers through Orlando International Airport are here to conduct business.
More and more travelers through Orlando International Airport are here to conduct business. (Tom Benitez / Orlando Sentinel)

While Orlando is still by far a tourist destination, the area is also seeing an increasing amount of business travelers, a sign that efforts to make the area a hub for professionals is panning out.

The relatively new phenomena is attributed to businesses that have expanded here, like Verizon in Lake Mary, and growing professional centers, like Medical City at Lake Nona. These and other facilities are bringing people in to conduct business and also get a feel for Orlando, which could lead to re-locations down the line.

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Numbers from Orlando International Airport show that while leisure travel has held steady, at about 45 percent of overall passenger traffic over the past five years, business travel has been increasing, to 26.4 percent in the airport's most recent survey, from just under 20 percent five years ago.

When those saying they are doing some business in Orlando are added, the number rises to about one-third of all travelers.

Mark Mednansky, chief executive of Del Frisco's Restaurant Group, which is opening one of its restaurants on International Drive in August, chose Orlando, in part, because of the "vibrancy that business travel activity has seen in the market," Mednansky said.

Patrons at other Del Frisco's throughout the country "have told us they are increasingly traveling to Orlando," Mednansky said.

One reason professionals are coming to Orlando is because it has a leading, and growing, convention center.

In 2009 roughly 1.1 million people attended 186 events at the Orange County Convention Center. Last year, it was roughly 1.3 million for 189 events, for a 200,000 person increase.

But it is not just the conventioneers coming here.

"Orlando is diversifying as a community and that is bringing business people here,," said Mekael Teshome, economist at PNC Bank. "It also means more money is flowing into the region, which brings more economic opportunity."

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