Opinion: Why not tech? Why not now? Tourism troubles open opportunity


A reeling tourism industry in Orlando provides an opportunity for tech to establish itself as a top industry in the region.

Yes, tourism is too big to ever be toppled as the driver of our economy, despite crushing declines caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

That should not be the goal anyway.

But after failing to capitalize on opportunity when the region seemed ripe for diversification multiple times before, tech’s time has come.

Here’s why: technology is expanding in directions that very closely align with the region’s strengths.

Tourism is struggling because of COVID

My former colleague at the Orlando Sentinel Scott Maxwell has a great column on this (he’s been all over this for years).

The thrust of Maxwell’s argument is that the region failed in the past to learn from adversity.

Despite multiple periods of uncertainty in the economy, this region still relies way too much on tourism.

Now, Walt Disney World is set to lay off more than 6,500 people as the region’s more than 500 hotels struggle.

That’s a terrible equation that city leaders should worry about.

But while we can rail against our economic environment for days, we should instead focus on strategies that help tech fill the void.

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Tech should lead resurgence

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has championed tech for years, at least in speeches, as a potential economic driver.

It’s hard to argue against that.

We have one of the deepest defense industries in the world, with each military branch’s simulation headquarters here.

We host the biggest defense and simulation conference here every year. That is, until coronavirus shut down I/ITSEC this year.

EA’s Maitland presence will move downtown next year, setting up a potential video game business hub right as gaming’s popularity hits an all-time high.

In addition, job ads indicate that high-profile gaming company Unity Technologies plans to build its East Coast presence here.

Then there is a growing startup community, the second-largest university in the country and Kissimmee’s push to become a hub for sensor research.

We need cohesion

So the components are here.

Now, long-disorganized and disparate industries need to push in the same direction.

It’s getting industry and academic giants publicly on social media, celebrating what companies unrelated to them accomplish.

That creates a unified megaphone.

I have said for years that if we have six major industries, we have six silos pushing in six directions.

Some organizations have started to address that. That’s encouraging.

But if this entire community comes together in messaging, tech can rival tourism as a driver of our economy.


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  1. I would love to see this happen, though I don’t know if there’s currently a strong enough foundation for this to happen at the moment. Many of the organizations that could possibly have helped drive this seem to have already been gone or weak or have been weakened by COVID themselves.

    I help run Orlando Devs for instance, with thousands of local developers needed to power these businesses, but we too have lost a lot of momentum due to COVID. Prior, our meetups were bringing hundreds of developers together each month. We were partnering with businesses to help connect them with talent. We were organizing a network of groups for developers to help connect them with jobs and further their careers. While we haven’t disappeared by any means, our momentum was completely blocked by how long this crisis has gone on.

    I know we are not alone in this…and I love Orlando but I wouldn’t have called the foundation for this to build Orlando tech particularly strong before all this happened.

  2. Great post.

    Local technology leaders and entrepreneurs need to see all the incredible opportunities to bring business back.
    The biggest problem is public perception. This is mainly by our own inaction. Many of the local business owners and corporate entities did not want to be the first to implement any additional technology measures unless mandated by state officials. The reality is that this has cost us visitors and business in the minds of American travelers.

    At CodeFirm we have spent the last 6 months approaching hotels, theme parks, and local hospitality leadership with new high-tech solutions to fight C19. We would love to help the hospitality industry find better solutions. Our local partnership network is filled with innovative business leaders just waiting for an opportunity to help venues turn the tide. At the OGS
    https://www.orlandogamespace.com/ you can find many of these companies working every day on new tech solutions.

    Central Florida is a hotbed of innovation. As trade shows fell apart small startups like ViewStub https://viewstub.com/ have taken the national spotlight. We should be helping these local companies and working together.

    Going beyond the virtual if we want to bring back visitors we should think about what will the post-Covid world require to win back the hearts of visitors? We have high-end cameras that can offer full large group monitoring of temperatures, heart rate, perspiration, PPE detection for employees/guests. This would give visitors a sense of security when entering a venue. We have frictionless, IoT connected, ethanol-free hygiene technology. We are teaming up with other local leaders such as https://www.bioassured.us/ based here in Orlando to bring a new level of certification to venues. We have the ability to throttle visitors into venues using simple mobile apps and lanyards developed locally. The truth is that this is an opportunity to embrace RFID/NFC wearables outside of the Magic Kingdom to bring cashless or mobile payments to more local venues. We have the local suppliers who can implement this across multiple verticals in a very short amount of time. We just need the community to come together and say we will embrace it as a business community. There is an incredible amount of local tech with wearables that could help bring back business.

    We would welcome talking to any local company or organization that needs help to develop a custom solution. If we don’t have the solution more than likely we know the local partner that does and we want to help bring them that business.

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