Norwalk, Conn.-based online travel company Priceline proudly welcomed the opening of a 24,000-square-foot call center just south of Orlando. In a press release, the travel company said that Orlando call center will focus on its European-based brand – Booking.com – created to serve customers traveling to and from Brazil.
The opening of a new call center is perfectly well timed, as a number of visitors heading to this region of the world are expected to spike, seeing how Brazil will be very busy preparing to host both the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, as well as the Summer Olympic Games in 2016.
The 24,000-square-foot call center facility is Booking.com's second in the U.S. and seventh worldwide. The center currently houses about 50 workers of whom 60 to 70 percent speak Portuguese. The company signed a 10-year lease on March 20 with plans to hire 100 local workers by December, according to Orlando Business Journal report.
The Connecticut-based company chose Orlando over Miami after a commercial real-estate company came up with statistics showing that the Orlando area's Portuguese-speaking population was large enough to support an operation the size of Priceline's.
In addition to the advantage of a bilingual workforce, Booking.com also plans to gain from the region’s low real estate costs.
Last fall, the firm took a tour over Orlando and came across the area’s large Portuguese-speaking population, according to Michael Sweeney, an office and retail services associate for Colliers International in Orlando.
“We are global, as many organizations, and one of our emerging markets is South America,” customer-service director of U.S. operations for Booking.com, Cindy Elenbaas, noted in a statement.
“There's certainly a plethora of Brazilian Portuguese speakers [in Orlando], and a lot of them are second generation, and they speak English well,” she added.
According to U.S. census data provided by the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, 13,962 people in the four-county Orlando metropolitan area speak Portuguese or Portuguese Creole at home.
About 2,400 of them are also concentrated in southwest Orange (News - Alert) County, where Priceline chose to settle its office. The call center is in SouthPark Center, a commercial development off John Young Parkway that's not far from where Florida's Turnpike and the BeachLine Expressway intersect. The company signed a lease for 24,000 square feet of Class A office space earlier this year, a deal brokered by Colliers International Central Florida.
The area's Portuguese-speaking community – mostly consisting of Brazilians – has grown slowly during the past 15 years. Though the growth was fueled originally by people hoping to make a better life for themselves here, affluent and educated Brazilians have been increasingly taking advantage of their country's strong currency to buy homes and take up residence in the U.S., said Vibert White, a University of Central Florida associate history professor who specializes in Brazilian culture and history.
Though local Brazilian immigrants used to cluster along International Drive – located in the area's tourism corridor – vibrant Brazilian communities now exist in areas such as east Orlando and Thornton Park, White said. And the new Brazilian transplants are also starting businesses – from martial-arts studios and steakhouses to investment firms, he added.
"They're buying up property, homes and so forth," White added. "I think Priceline – they have it right."
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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo