Kissimmee Going Upscale? Maybe

When I first started covering the Orlando scene, Kissimmee, especially the US 192 strip, was a guady temple to the tacky. There were the cheapo motels that made Arthur Frommer wax rhapsodic and there were the downscale alternatives to Disney World with admission prices that the non-rich could actually afford.

And cheap it certainly was. I remember staying on 192 for $19 a night! The attractions were equally downscale and forgettable, with a few exception like Wild Bill’s dinner show and Water Mania. But most of them are gone now, including Wild Bill’s and Water Mania. The Haunted Mansion. Jungleland. Xanadu. Gone. And does anyone remember Maze World?

Kissimmee may still be Orlando’s bargain basement when it comes to cheap sleeps, but the winds of change are blowing and coming smack up against the area’s downscale image, as a fascinating article in the Sentinel documents.

“The current image of Osceola County must be overcome. . . . Is the Kissimmee area locked in to the ‘cheap and cheerful’ side of tourism? The county must convince developers otherwise,” the study says. “Developers/owners avoid the ‘Kissimmee’ address because of the stigma attached.”

Changing Kissimmee’s image will likely take more than a new name. International travelers can’t fly directly to Kissimmee because the city’s airport lacks a U.S. Customs agent. Limited public transportation and congested roads make it difficult for visitors to get around.

The county also lacks upscale shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Condos have replaced the tacky attractions, but discount T-shirt and souvenir shops still far outnumber boutiques in Osceola.

“You can market all you want, but if you get to the community, and it looks like a place for bargain travelers, you’ll feel like it’s bait-and-switch,” said Otis White, president of Civic Strategies, an Atlanta-based public-policy consulting firm. “If you want to sell a Cadillac, it better look like a Cadillac.”

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