News Column

Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn., Travel Scene column

July 5, 2014

By BOB RETZLAFF, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

July 05--Florida attracts some 90 million tourists a year -- more than any other state. And it has attracted visitors for years with its sunshine, beaches and family-fun destinations.

The main destinations are Orlando, with its theme parks, and Miami, which essentially has different attractions to suit almost anyone. But they are a couple of hundred miles apart and most visitors, or so it seems, travel to one area but not the other.

But that may change. Tourism's future in Florida, say marketing agencies, is to entice visitors to develop a new mindset that the state is a series of interconnected destinations rather than just a one-stop trip.

In order to link the main destinations and make it easier for tourists to travel to both and spend more time -- and money -- in the state, marketing agencies have come up with a new option. It's a high-speed rail system that All Aboard Florida believes is the answer.

Once completed, it will link the state's two largest tourism draws, Orlando and Miami, with hourly rail service. Now, says All Aboard Florida's chief marketing officer Julie Edwards in a Travel Weekly article, "Central Florida to Miami is too long to drive and too short to fly. This (rail system proposal) is a great answer for the state of Florida."

The current interstate auto route between the two cities is 235 miles long and normally is heavily congested with traffic, making the trip a non-starter for many visitors, officials say.

All Aboard Florida, a privately-owned, operated and maintained venture, offers clean-diesel-burning locomotives and WiFi onboard. It would take riders from one city to the other -- with planned stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach -- in under three hours at speeds of up to 110 mph, according to Travel Weekly article.

The service is scheduled to begin in 2016 and work on the project is already underway. The firm is updating and outfitting the current rail lines in the southern portion of the line and building 40 new miles of track.

In addition to WiFi, riders will enjoy larger seats than first-class airlines, food-and-beverage service and reserved seating.

Neither the cost of the project nor ticket pricing has been announced. Officials did say that ticket pricing will be "competitive with other modes of transportation."

The project involves more than just transportation. New train depots will help revitalize the surrounding areas with an increase of new retail and dining options for travelers and will include "unique businesses," say officials. All Aboard Florida is also exploring ways to make travel seamless with one-stop shopping for airline and train tickets.

The firm also believes that the rail line will take as many as 3 million cars off the road each year. Officials added that the project "is a combination of a transportation and hospitality project. It's an opportunity to connect the state and think of Florida as a destination, not just a pick one location."


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Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)

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