When you consider destinations for business travel, Orlando would have to be among the most appealing. Certainly the city is no stranger to kudos from a variety of sources. It’s been named AAA’s top domestic summer destination, as well as one of Travelocity’s “coolest places to go in 2018 for family travel.” But regardless of the time of year and even when association travel doesn’t include family, Orlando remains a top destination.
Last year, the city became the first U.S. destination to surpass 70 million annual visitors, according to info compiled by Visit Orlando. Some 72 million people (nearly 66 million of them domestic) traveled to Orlando in 2017, an increase of more than 5 percent over the previous year. That meant Orlando was once again America’s most-visited destination.
Figures for conventions and professional meetings are equally impressive. A total of 1.53 million people attended events at the Orange County Convention Center during the same time period. And Orlando International Airport handled 44.6 million passengers, a 6.4 percent increase.
Of course, Orlando is best known for its theme parks. But it also boasts 450 hotels with choices appropriate for any size group. The city also offers a variety of sports, water parks and entertainment venues, along with robust food and nightlife choices. The central Florida weather is another positive factor. Temperatures in the winter months average in the 50s and 60s, providing a welcome respite from colder conditions in much of the country.
“The convention center and hotels take pride in keeping the buildings in great shape to hold meetings. The variety of rates, locations and diverse properties makes Orlando a standout from other cities.”
AVP, Housing & Leadership Events
National Association of
For conferences scheduled in the area, the access to so many outstanding theme parks may provide a boost to attendance levels, as prospective attendees factor in the chance to combine a professional meeting with some family fun. Walt Disney World may enjoy the most visibility, but it’s far from the only one. In fact, Disney World alone includes four separate parks, including Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Add to that LEGOLAND, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld, and visitors have an impressive range of choices for enjoyable outings before and after meetings.
A strong point with the various parks is that they’re continually introducing new rides and other attractions. Just some of the latest developments are a Fast & Furious: Supercharged ride at Universal Studios Florida, the new Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the introduction of The Incredibles at Magic Kingdom and LEGOLAND’s The Great LEGO Race. At SeaWorld Orlando, the new Infinity Falls offers a white-water raft ride through a lost jungle.
With its location in the central part of the state, Orlando is also within easy driving distance of a variety of attractions. Several popular Atlantic beaches can be reached in less than an hour-and-a-half, and an additional hour puts the Gulf Coast in reach. For science lovers, Kennedy Space Center is located about 45 miles from Orlando. And another day trip destination is Port Canaveral, which offers waterfront restaurants, boat rides, beaches and fishing.
Depending on the time of year, attendees can choose from several professional sports opportunities. Most prominent: the National Basketball Association’s Orlando Magic. There are also minor league soccer and hockey teams, and the city plays host to the Atlanta Braves for baseball spring training.
Entertainment of a different type is offered by cultural attractions, such as the Orlando Museum of Art and the Orlando Science Center. Downtown’s CityArts Factory provides free access to four distinct art galleries featuring both visual and performing arts, and the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts is a 15-minute drive from downtown. Not much farther away is Winter Park, home of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, as well as the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at the Alfond Inn.
“Orlando is a convention city, and the venues offer all the amenities for meeting planners,” says Masuda Ranjber, director of conferences and meetings for the Mortgage Bankers Association. “There is a huge selection of properties, and it’s easy for our attendees to get to.”
For its 2016 National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo, the group chose the Hyatt Regency Orlando. With 2,200 attendees, the conference went smoothly, according to Ranjber. She speaks highly of the hotel choice.
“The Hyatt hotels in general, and the Hyatt Regency specifically, know how to run meetings and conventions,” she says. “The hotel is in great shape, and they are geared toward handling large meetings. The convention services team is amazing, the food is exceptional and the billing is easy and fast.” She adds that her organization is planning to use the same location in 2019 and 2020.
The National Association of Home Builders holds the International Builders’ Show in Orlando in rotation with Las Vegas. Over the past few years, attendance has varied from 58,000 to 72,000.
“The Orlando community of hotels, convention center, government, police and city administrators has really stepped up throughout the years to partner with NAHB to make the show a successful event,” says Barbara Rapp, AVP, housing and leadership events.
Since NAHB’s meeting takes place in January, Florida’s mild weather is always a plus, according to Rapp, who points to Orlando’s nice variety of hotels to accommodate all tastes and budgets.
“The small attractions and restaurants are another draw in addition to, of course, the major attractions like Disney and Universal,” she says. “The hotel (the Hyatt Regency) has also been a plus.
“Orlando is really a pleasant city to host a meeting,” Rapp adds. “The convention center and hotels take pride in keeping the buildings in great shape to hold meetings. The variety of rates, locations and diverse properties makes Orlando a standout from other cities.”
Located in the heart of International Drive, Hyatt Regency Orlando features 315,000 square feet of meeting space with direct connections to the Orange County Convention Center. Meeting space includes 105 breakout rooms, five pillar-free ballrooms and a 56,000-square-foot grand rotunda for networking and registration. More than 1,600 guest rooms are available.
For the Disability Management Employer Coalition, which held a conference in April with 475 attendees, the hotel of choice was the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. The group was pleased with the venue as well as the city itself, according to JoAnne Spitale, the organization’s director of conferences and events.
“The resort is beautiful and provides a ‘wow’ moment immediately upon stepping through the front lobby doors,” she says. “It’s evident through the entire planning process that employees of the resort take pride in the resort and in providing their clients with a top-notch meeting experience.”
Spitale is equally positive about the overall location.
“Orlando offered our attendees a fantastic location with amazing weather, and the opportunity to take time to relax and refresh between educational sessions and conference events,” she says.
The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals has also found Orlando just right for meetings. The organization held its 2018 Symposium at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate in March. Nearly 900 dietitians, therapists, doctors and nurses attended.
“It was a fantastic location,” says Marie Grover, the organization’s continuing education and events manager. “Our attendees loved the facility and the food. The staff was amazing to work with.”
Grover, like others, cites the wealth of activities the area has to offer.
“It’s suitable for business meetings, but also staying for a couple of extra days to play,” she says. “Many of our attendees will bring family along to enjoy the area.” She says attendees seem to love the resort feel of the location.
She also points out that Orlando is easy to get to, especially in terms of flying in and out.
As for the Omni Orlando at ChampionsGate, the resort has a new look thanks to a $40 million renovation completed last year. The addition of 93 new guest rooms brings the total room count to 813 guest rooms and suites, complemented by 49 two- and three-bedroom luxury villas. An additional 23,000-square-foot of pool deck and recreational space includes 16 new, pool-side cabanas and an expansion of the kids’ pool area and water slides, along with installation of a wave pool.
An expanded ballroom features 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, with six flexible breakout rooms and a market-style restaurant for the Osceola County Conference Center, as well as an outdoor terrace, promenade, patio space, event garden and grand lawn for large outdoor functions and special events. All told, the facility has 73 meeting rooms totaling more than 248,000 square feet of space.
The good news is that these are just two of the outstanding properties to be found in the area. Visit Orlando notes that the city offers more lodging options than nearly any other destination in the world, from large resorts to creatively themed hotels.
Attractive to small or mid-sized groups is the Wyndham Grand Orlando Bonnet Creek, a lakefront hotel with 320,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space. The most recent additions, brought online in 2016, include a 3,500-square-foot ballroom and a 2,115-square-foot meeting room that offers natural light and access to an outdoor terrace, with space for up to 100 people in a classroom format. These facilities complement an existing 8,000-square-foot ballroom that can be used for conferences and exhibitions as well as social events, a 3,200-square-foot grand foyer and a pool deck.
Looking for an abundance of space? The Orlando World Center Marriott boasts more than 450,000 total square feet of meeting and event space, most of it on one level. As the largest Marriott property in the world, it features the country’s roomiest pillar-free ballroom, along with 2,009 guest rooms and suites, nine restaurants and lounges, and a 1 million-gallon tropical pool complex.
Recently, the hotel has added new function space surrounding a cutting-edge, vertical hydroponic garden (Cube) with the Harvest Terrace, suitable for up to 250 attendees and as many as 750 guests in conjunction with the facility’s newest restaurant.
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel handles groups of all sizes. It features an impressive 331,000 square feet of meeting space, including four ballrooms, one covering 55,000 square feet. Also available is 110,500 square feet of contiguous convention-exhibit space and 86 total meeting rooms, including two executive boardrooms. A small meeting room is also available by the hour for up to four people for private conversations. Outdoor events can be planned to take advantage of 128,190 square feet of landscaped outdoor function space.
Among the nine Rosen hotels and resorts in the Orlando area are three properties serving as convention hotels.
The Rosen Centre has more than 150,000 square feet of meeting space, including three ballrooms ranging from 14,000 to 35,000 square feet. Thirty-five separate meeting rooms are also available, along with spacious areas for pre-function needs.
Rosen Shingle Creek offers three large ballrooms with 31-foot ceilings and column-free views. The largest covers 95,000 square feet, with the others offering 40,000 and 60,000 square feet of space, respectively. An additional 55,000 square feet of space is available as breakout rooms. All told, there is 410,000 square feet of indoor space, complemented by 114,000 square feet of outdoor space.
Included in the 60,000 square feet of meeting space offered by the Rosen Plaza Hotel are a 26,000 square feet grand ballroom, a 12,500-square-foot ballroom foyer and 22 meeting rooms ranging from 325 to 4,500 square feet. The various venues accommodate groups of 10 to 2,800 people.
Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, which has more than 1,000 guest rooms, offers 132,000 square feet of meeting and function space. Two ballrooms (one 35,925 square feet and one 27,300 square feet) are each divisible into 12 sections. Two boardrooms and 26 breakout rooms also serve groups of various sizes. It’s located two miles from Epcot, less than three miles from Disney Springs and six miles from Magic Kingdom Park.
Found within walking distance of the shops and restaurants of the Disney Springs resort area, the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace features 108,000 square feet of event space. Suitable for groups ranging from 10 to 2,000, the space includes an 18,360-square-foot meeting room. More than 1,000 guest rooms are available.
Still another great choice is the DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld. Situated on 28 acres near the Orange County Convention Center and close to other attractions, it offers about 100,000 square feet of meeting and event space. Rooms range from 600 square feet to an 18,669-square-foot ballroom. The hotel has more than 1,000 guest rooms.
Headlining the facilities of the Caribe Royale Orlando are a 40,000-square-foot grand ballroom and another 26,000-square-foot ballroom, along with 29 breakout rooms and two executive boardrooms. The main reception building has a 6,400-square-foot ballroom, four smaller breakout rooms and an executive boardroom. Suites that can support smaller meetings of up to 14 participants are also available.
Located in Kissimmee, the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center has 400,000 square feet of convention, meeting, exhibition and pre-function space. Facilities include three ballrooms and a 178,500-square-foot exhibit hall. Along with 72 meeting rooms, the resort offers 12,000 square feet of outdoor space including three fire pit alcoves. The hotel also features a boutique style “hotel within a hotel” designed for incentive, board and executive meetings. It has a ballroom, two executive boardrooms and 15 breakout rooms.
Loews Royal Pacific Resort, which features a tropical island motif, has recently expanded function space to a total of 132,000 square feet, all on one floor. Along with a 41,500-square-foot ballroom and a second one with nearly 36,000 square feet of space, a pavilion and patio support outdoor events.
Offering a Caribbean theme, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando expands meeting choices through its connection with the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. The combination creates a meeting complex with a total of 2,000 rooms and more than 247,000 square feet of meeting space between the two properties.
A major plus for the region is the spacious Orange County Convention Center. Its 7 million square feet make it the second-largest convention center in the United States.
Divided into two buildings (designated the West Building and the North/South Building), it has a total of 74 meeting rooms and 232 breakout rooms, not to mention exhaustive exhibition space and more than 6,000 parking spaces.
In what bodes well for the years ahead, the center has launched a five-year capital improvement plan that includes roof replacements, safety upgrades, digital signage upgrades and repurposing of underutilized meeting spaces.
In fact, the future looks bright for the entire region. For planners looking ahead to locate upcoming events, Orlando might well be on any association’s short list. AC&F