ORLANDO -- With occupancy skyrocketing and major expansions underway, theme parks want to provide visitors more places to stay.
The latest to jump into the game is SeaWorld Entertainment, which has announced a restructuring and said it created a separate resort development division, led by a theme-park veteran with experience in the hotel industry.
Steve Iandolo led development strategy for Dollywood's DreamMore Resort with Herschend Entertainment -- and was creative director for several of Universal Orlando's hotels.
Meanwhile, Walt Disney Co. has told analysts it is considering adding more hotels. Walt Disney World rival Universal Orlando is building its fifth hotel, expanding its fourth and looking at double or triple its inventory in the future.
The theme-park companies would not provide details on plans beyond what executives have already discussed.
"The hotel area has been very, very rewarding," said Abraham Pizam, dean of the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management. "A lot of them are very profitable and for the parks, they are interested in keeping everything in-house."
Orange County bed taxes jumped 12 percent last fiscal year, part of an overall tourism boom. Florida recently announced a record-breaking number of visitors -- 105 million last year.
That has generated strong hotel occupancy, and Disney's properties have outperformed the Orlando average, which was 75.7 percent in December.
In its fourth quarter ending Jan. 2, Disney reported 92 percent occupancy. Per-guest spending -- the average daily rate plus in-hotel food and merchandise expenditures -- jumped 9 percent to $314.
Discussing results with analysts last month, Chief Operating Officer Tom Staggs said executives "see opportunity, given the strong occupancy of room nights that we see, to consider expanding our hotel capacity down the road. So I think there are many avenues for us to continue to grow that business."
Walt Disney World has 23,000 hotel rooms throughout 18 properties. It also has 800 campsites at Fort Wilderness and 3,000 timeshare units. Worldwide, Walt Disney Co. has 47 hotel and timeshare properties.
Disney wouldn't provide further details on Staggs' comments. In a recent interview with Hotel Business, Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek said overall, the company has "only begun to scratch the surface of the geographic footprint for viable resort and theme-park opportunities for us."
ThemeParkInsider.com editor Robert Niles predicts growth would include new Orlando properties, "particularly things that are DVC (Disney Vacation Club) focused."
Disney World has not built its own new hotel since opening Art of Animation in 2012, but time-share suites have been added at the resort. Four Seasons opened in 2014 and SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites have opened at Flamingo Crossing just outside Disney.
Personalization and technology will become increasingly important, Chapek told Hotel Business. Asked about the possibility of a Star Wars-themed hotel, Chapek said, "don't take that too far that this means we're going to have a hotel based on any of these things, but we'll have specific experiences depending on what your affinity franchise is."
Both Disney World and Universal already have some themed rooms. Overseas, a Toy Story hotel will open at Shanghai Disney Resort.
SeaWorld Entertainment Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby's latest details emerged during last month's quarterly earnings announcement. He had cited the success of Disney and Universal when he told analysts in November the company wants to develop its own lodging.
"You're really just increasing wallet share of guests who are already coming to your park, already staying in the market," he said. "We can differentiate our product because we control all the benefits -- fast pass, early entry, pricing."
In San Diego, SeaWorld has moved quickly, partnering with Evans Hotel Group. Manby told investors SeaWorld Orlando has room for new buildings but would also consider acquisitions. "When the timing is right, if the deal is right, we will be prudent about it," he said. "We will partner with people and we will get third-party expertise to make sure we're doing the right thing and getting the right return on investment."
Right now, SeaWorld relies on eight partner hotels outside the resort. The hotels use "at SeaWorld" in their names, and guests there get benefits such as free transportation to the theme parks.
Universal's on-property lodging developed through a joint venture with Loews Hotels. Universal Orlando, which is owned by Comcast Corp., has a noncontrolling interest.
Universal does not disclose occupancy, though Loews recently reported increased quarterly profits from its properties at the Orlando resort. Speaking to analysts Tuesday, Comcast Chief Executive Officer Brian Roberts said Universal's hotels are "90-plus percent occupied, all the time."
The 1,000-room, Caribbean-themed Sapphire Falls debuts this summer near the site of Universal's Volcano Bay water park under construction. At Universal's Cabana Bay, which opened in 2014, 400 rooms in two new towers will be added next year.
That will bring Universal's total room number to 5,600. Executives from Universal's owner Comcast Corp. have previously said they see the potential for 10,000 to 15,000 rooms. The planned closing of its Wet 'n Wild water park nearby and recent purchase of 475 acres near the Orange County Convention Center would provide room for additional development.
For all the surrounding hotels, increased competition to house Orlando's more than 60 million yearly visitors means they will have to make sure their properties remain updated, said Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services.
"Those that keep up with the times certainly should do well with that number of tourists," he said.