United Kingdom visitors to Florida will have a new airport to choose from in 2022. TUI UK, the largest package tour operator in the UK, announced its intentions to shift its business to Melbourne, Florida effective a couple years hence. While final schedules remain in flux the airline and airport operator believe that flights from as many as nine European airports could touch down on the Space Coast as a result.
There’s just one catch: The Orlando Melbourne International Airport is not at all in Orlando.
At TUI we’re committed to offering our customers an outstanding airline and holiday experience and we are delighted to be working with Orlando Melbourne Airport on their exciting expansion plans. Our new Orlando gateway will be perfectly situated to offer TUI UK customers total flexibility in designing their holiday around any combination of theme parks, beaches or cruising.– Dawn Wilson, managing director at TUI Airways
For its part, the airport invested significantly to renovate and revitalize the airport. The tab topped $100 million so far and more is on the way as the main terminal realizes concessions and services upgrades to handle the inbound volumes TUI UK’s 787s will bring to the facility. The passenger experience at the airport should be top notch for these travelers. But the location may not be the best when considering the goal of most Orlando-bound tourists.
The airport is 30 minutes further away from the theme parks than Sanford, which TUI UK uses today. And that’s already 30 minutes further than Orlando International Airport. But there’s also a silver lining in that difference. The newly selected airport is on the beach rather than in the middle of the state. For travelers looking to visit the Space Coast, beaches or even Port Canaveral for a cruise departure the new airport comes up as a winner. Those choosing to split their vacation between Orlando and South Florida also benefit as Melbourne is closer to Miami than Orlando is.
This is a major win for Melbourne and our entire region. Tourism is our region’s biggest asset, and I look forward to the day when UK travelers are admiring our beaches, enjoying our restaurants, relaxing at our hotels and catching a Space Coast thrill at our attractions.– Airport Authority Chairman Jack L. Ryals
Increasing the passenger count and putting the renovated facilities into service is good news for the airport. So is attracting more travelers to the area and away from the theme parks, assuming that works. With its focus on tour packages rather than just airfare sales TUI could start to deliver flight/hotel/car deals focused more on the beaches, or a beach/theme park split. Getting that tourism spend to stay closer to the airport would be a huge win and help justify the airport improvements and investment. And at least for the fly & drive packages that’s now a much more likely outcome.
But it isn’t Orlando
The big question for TUI is just how much the travelers care that their flight to “Orlando” lands more than an hour away from Orlando. Sanford is also a schlep, but it is at least considered an Orlando airport by IATA standards. By those same metrics Portsmouth, NH is considered Boston, however the much larger Manchester, NH is not. Manchester uses Boston in its name, though.
Here's what the drive looks like from MLB to Disney or Universal Studios. Not great coming off an 8 hour flight, especially when a rental car is basically the only option. pic.twitter.com/5QhZKhh0KB— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) November 5, 2019
Ezeria is not in Buenos Aires and the drive is about an hour, but it is considered part of the BUE city code. Hahn airport outside Frankfurt and Beauvais outside Paris are similar. Even Narita airport outside Tokyo could be painted with the same brush. A key factor for all of those (save Portsmouth) is the integration of at least some transit options to get passengers into the city the airport is named for. Melbourne doesn’t offer that for Orlando.
Maybe it will develop as the new service takes place. Maybe it will be a non-issue because all the package tourists buy the hotel transfer portion of the trip as well and just roll off the planes on to their charter buses to Disney. And maybe they won’t mind the 90 minute drive to the parks after they land.
And, in the meantime, the two airports will continue their legal battle over use of Orlando in the Melbourne airport name. Assuming a settlement is not reached it is expected to see trial in 2021, still a year before TUI UK lands in its new Orlando, err, Space Coast Central Florida home.