| Destination - September 2006|
Best Meeting Value Under The Sun
By John Buchanan
Florida. In a word association game, it typically conjures up “beach,” “golf” and “amusement parks.” But for an ever-growing number of pleasantly surprised meeting planners, the Sunshine State is forging a new association — “value.” Across the state, from Miami to Naples, Fort Lauderdale to Orlando, Jacksonville to the Emerald Coast, Florida offers an unparalleled menu of meeting options, many of them unexpectedly affordable. But most of all, for planners Florida creates the currency of memorable outings that rate highly with both attendees and executive decision-makers.
From sunrise to sunset, beauty abounds in the Sunshine State. Planners will find Florida to be an affordable paradise from the Emerald Coast to the Gold Coast.
Photo courtesy of Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
The greater Jacksonville area has emerged over the last few years as one of the best-kept secrets in the meeting industry. Its many options encompass the ever-growing urban skyline on either side of the gorgeous St. Johns River, as well as the natural wonders of Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island, located 32 miles to the northeast and featuring 40-foot sand dunes, breathtaking ocean vistas and untamed wilderness. South of the city, in St. Johns County, are elegant, historic Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Augustine, the oldest continually occupied city in the U.S. For two years running, AmericanStyle magazine has named Jacksonville one of the country’s top 25 arts destinations, and its many golf courses are among the most celebrated links in the U.S.
Major meeting hotels include the 966-room Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Waterfront, located in the heart of the business district along the northern boardwalk of the St. Johns River, with 110,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and a 28,000-square-foot grand ballroom; the 292-room Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront, on the south bank of the river and close to the shops and museums of historic San Marco, with 12,000 square feet of meeting space; and the 354-room Omni Jacksonville Hotel, with more than 25,000 square feet of meeting space.
Joe Stiglich, president of San Diego, CA-based DM Consulting, which provides training and consulting services to the international drydock industry, was sold on Jacksonville’s incomparable value. He held an international training conference for 90 attendees at the Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront in March. “The price is less expensive,” said Stiglich, who has held previous conferences in Seattle, Baltimore and New Orleans. “It’s less expensive for rooms and food and everything else. That’s a big advantage of Jacksonville.”
Erin Sjoquist, event manager at Minneapolis, MN-based Capella University, an online educator, was similarly surprised by the cost-effectiveness of Jacksonville. Capella held a follow-up one-week residency for 500 Ph.D. candidates at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Waterfront in June, after a successful trip with 400 last September. “You definitely get a lot of bang for the dollar,” said Sjoquist, “A big advantage to Jacksonville is that you can go there at some nice times of the year and still get nice rates.” Capella’s Jacksonville experience has been so positive, in fact, that the company plans to go back for a third time next year.
Planners with a taste for unique local history can look just south of Jacksonville Beach to Ponte Vedra Beach where the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club has been captivating well-heeled resort-goers since its 1928 debut. The 300-acre 250-room oceanfront resort offers 36 holes of golf, 15 hydro tennis courts, four heated pools, an oceanfront fitness center, luxury spa, four restaurants and three lounges. Unique meeting amenities include a putting green, coffee breaks, corporate beach Olympics, challenge rope course and oceanfront cookouts.
|(Clockwise from left) With “Flipper” and Lolita the killer whale close by, the Miami Seaquarium hosts group picnics in a 40’ x 80’ tent with seating for 120. At the Miami Metrozoo, behind-the-scenes tram tours can be reserved for groups of up to 100, and specially designed picnic and party facilities are available for corporate and after-hours functions. Two Metrozoo outdoor venues accommodate 7,000 and 2,000 for receptions. Airboat tours offer attendees a uniquely Floridian adventure.|
Photos courtesy of Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau — www.gmcvb.com
North of Jacksonville near the Georgia border, is the popular beach destination Amelia Island, which boasts six championship golf courses, an historic downtown shopping district and endless opportunities for water sports such as kayaking and sailing. Meeting planners can choose from the 26-acre, 449-room Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, with 32,000 square feet of meeting and event space; or the 1,350-acre, 660-room Amelia Island Plantation, with more than 30,000 square feet of meeting space under one roof.
“What surprised me was that price-wise, Amelia Island was comparable to, if not better than, what I could find elsewhere, and they had more to offer for the price,” said Peggy Norton, corporate events product manager at SunGard’s Relius business unit based in Jacksonville, FL. SunGard is one of the world’s largest providers of software and IT services. SunGard held its annual two-day users conference for 240 attendees in June at Amelia Island Plantation. “It was very reasonable,” Norton said. “It’s really beautiful, so you wouldn’t think it would be so affordable.” The resort features 72 holes of golf, 23 clay tennis courts, biking, nature trails, fishing, sailing, kayaking, 31⁄2 miles of beach, and a 13,200-square-foot spa with 25 treatment rooms.
Norton also cited the service as a big benefit. “The staff is wonderful,” she said. “They really know what they’re doing. Any time you’re at a new venue, it can be a little risky, but I did not have any problems whatsoever. It felt like we’d been holding our conferences there for years. The service was that good.”
Greater Miami And The Beaches
The greater Miami area, including the City of Miami Beach, offers some of the world’s best beaches, fine dining at an eclectic array of restaurants and cafes, as well as internationally renowned nightlife.
Major meeting hotels in Miami include the 327-room Mandarin Oriental, Miami, a AAA Five-Diamond property with 15,000 square feet of meeting space; the 300-room JW Marriott Hotel Miami, with 15,000 square feet of meeting space; the 305-room Four Seasons Hotel Miami, with 14,210 square feet of meeting space; the historic 276-room Biltmore Coral Gables, featuring the world-class Conference Center of the Americas, with more than 76,000 square feet of meeting space; the 242-room Hyatt Regency Coral Gables, with 13,700 square feet of meeting space; the 612-room Hyatt Regency Miami, with more than 100,000 square feet of meeting space; the 641-room InterContinental Miami in downtown Miami, with more than 66,000 square feet of meeting space; and the 601-room Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay, with more than 17,000 square feet of meeting space and a full-service marina. The 392-room Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort & Club in Aventura will reopen December 15, 2006 after completinig a $100 million transformation to rooms, golf courses, spa, conference center and more.
Owens & Minor attendees pose during their five-day incentive trip to The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood. Owens & Minor is a Mechanicsville, VA-based distributor of medical supplies.
Photo by Robert James Photography
Major meeting hotels in the Miami Beach area include the four-star, four-diamond, 790-room Loews Miami Beach Hotel, with 65,000 square feet of meeting space and the 424-room Miami Beach Resort & Spa, with more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space. The Fontainebleau Suites, South Florida’s largest hotel, is undergoing an extensive renovation to be completed in 2008. Improvements include remodeling all 190,000 square feet of existing meeting and conference space as well as adding a 45,000-square-foot ballroom. With 400 rooms currently open, the Fontainebleau Suites will have a total of 1,600 condo/hotel rooms once the renovation is complete.
Craig Strauss, customer care liaison for Stamford, CT-based ArisGlobal, a software developer for the pharmaceutical industry, chose the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables for a four-day user conference for 100 attendees in May. Like the other planners who found value in Florida, Strauss accomplished a very successful meeting on an economical budget. “The rate we got at the hotel was fantastic,” he said. “It definitely surprised me.
“Our group is an international group, so Miami had appeal as a city with an international flavor,” said Strauss. “It’s also very accessible in terms of air travel and that had been another of our important factors in picking a destination.”
Strauss added, “I think one of the strengths of Miami is that it has a lot of different areas that encompass the greater Miami area,” he said. “You don’t just have South Beach and the beach area. You also have Coral Gables and Coconut Grove, as well as shopping in Bal Harbour within the metropolitan area that have a different feel to them, so, as a meeting planner, that gives you a lot of different options in terms of hotels, restaurants, shopping and places to go for offsite events.”
ArisGlobal’s primary offsite event this year was to the acclaimed South Beach restaurant Wish. The Mobil Four-Star restaurant has garnered numerous awards for its imaginative international cuisine. “After dinner,” Strauss said, “people were able to go out and check out the bars and nightclubs on South Beach, and we had shuttle buses to take them back to the hotel whenever they wanted.”
The now almost mythical allure of the international celebrity playground known as South Beach — which is actually just the lower 23 blocks of the City of Miami Beach — was both a draw and distraction for attendees at Owens & Minor’s national sales meeting last year. The Mechanicsville, VA-based distributor of medical supplies brought 350 employees and 250 suppliers to Loews Miami Beach. “It was great,” said Elizabeth Ricketts, communications specialist, corporate meeting planner for Owens & Minor. “All the attendees loved the location and had fun. We had over 600 in attendance and most spent their free time experiencing South Beach’s vibrant night life. A few were distracted, but the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the location outweighed any distraction that surfaced!”
Located 45 minutes north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale is a booming meeting destination that offers accommodations and attractions for every budget and taste. The Fort Lauderdale area is renowned for its cultural arts facilities, including the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Museum of Art, Las Olas Art Center and wildly popular Las Olas Riverfront, a charming shopping and dining complex along the Las Olas River.
Major new meeting hotels making their debut between now and 2008 include the 166-room St. Regis Resort, Fort Lauderdale, with 20,000 square feet of meeting space; the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, a 373-unit, five-star condo hotel with 10,000 square feet of meeting space that is slated to open in fall 2006; and the $220 million, 346-room W Fort Lauderdale Hotel, the first W hotel in Florida, with more than 13,000 square feet of meeting space and a 10,000-square-foot spa.
Major meeting resorts include The New Bonaventure Resort & Conference Center in Fort Lauderdale, with 496 guest rooms and 45,000 square feet of meeting space; the 224-room Coral Springs Marriott Hotel, Golf Club & Convention Center, with 17,000 square feet of meeting space, fitness center and golf course; and The Westin Fort Lauderdale, with 22,000 square feet of meeting space and 293 guest rooms.
In nearby Hollywood, the majestic yet modern 1,000-room Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa houses a 209,000-square-foot convention center that features a 50,000-square-foot, column-free Great Hall, four ballrooms and 39 breakout rooms. Amenities include an 18-hole championship golf course, two beachfront pools, a spa and marina.
Last spring, Owens & Minor selected The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa to host a five-day incentive trip for 45 attendees. “The main reason we chose the Fort Lauderdale area was the convenience of the air travel,” Ricketts said. “Its airport is a major hub and Miami is not that far away, so we could get a lot of direct flights. The second reason was for the beach and golf.”
Adventurous attendees can check out SkyVenture Orlando, a state-of-the-art vertical wind tunnel that creates a realistic sensation of free falling during skydiving.
Photo courtesy of Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc
For Ricketts, another major advantage of Fort Lauderdale was the exemplary service provided by the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB. “That was the number-one thing about my own experience as a planner,” said Ricketts. “They were very supportive in the planning stage. The CVB is very instrumental in terms of where we make our selection of destinations, and Fort Lauderdale was excellent.”
Another big plus was the range of cultural arts activities Fort Lauderdale offers. “For example,” she said, “the King Tut exhibit was in Fort Lauderdale while we were there, and it only visited three U.S. cities. We wouldn’t have even known about it if the CVB hadn’t told us about it. It turned out to be a hugely popular activity for our group.”
The trip also delivered big and important golfing and spa benefits. “Golf was a major activity,” Ricketts said. “The spa at the Diplomat Country Club was also a big draw,” she said. “We gave everyone gift cards to do whatever they wanted at the resort,” she said. “They all did that. The spa there is terrific.”
Naples, located at the epicenter of Florida’s famed Gold Coast and billed as “the golf capital of the world,” was named “America’s Best All-Around Beach” by The Travel Channel last year. It has also been dubbed “The #1 Small Art Town in America” in the book The 100 Best Art Towns in America. It’s no surprise, then, that Naples can claim the highest population of retired Fortune 500 CEOs anywhere in the country. Nearby Marco Island offers its own tropical treats, including saltwater fishing and kayaking.
Major Naples meeting hotels include the 295-room Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, with 15,000 square feet of meeting space; the 463-room Ritz-Carlton, Naples, with 35,000 square feet of meeting space; the 474-room Naples Grande Resort & Club, with 43,020 square feet of meeting space; the 189-room La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, with 11,000 square feet of meeting space; and the 199-room Hilton Naples, with 18,000 square feet of meeting space. The Ritz-Carlton, Naples has recently added a $4.5 million 3,000-square-foot beach house, ideal for business guests with the versatility to stage receptions, dinners or parties.
Marco Island offers the 727-room Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, with 60,000 square feet of meeting space; and the 297-room Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort, with 12,000 square feet of meeting space.
Kathy Gilfeather, manager, meetings and exhibits for Lowell, MA-based medical equipment manufacturer Bard Electrophysiology, found that surprising economy does exist in the exclusive and elegant Naples-Marco Island area. Bard held a five-day national sales meeting for 80 attendees at the Marco Island Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa earlier this year, the company’s second trip to the property.
“The thing that was surprising was that it was such an affordable destination,” said Gilfeather, “because Naples has a reputation for being very upscale. The service at the Marco Island Marriott Resort is excellent,” she said. “The convention services department goes above and beyond the call of duty.”
The climate offers another benefit. “Our meeting is usually in January, so we do look for a warmer destination for our meetings,” Gilfeather said. “And the weather around Naples and Marco Island is usually warmer and more predictable than other locations in the U.S. at that time of year.”
Yet another advantage of Naples, she said, is “an abundance of activities. There are a lot of great golf options, the spas are wonderful, and they have excellent shopping along Fifth Avenue in Naples. The recreation choices were also great. They have fishing, Everglades tours, water sports and excellent teambuilding activities. Both our meetings there have been very successful, so it’s a venue that could always be considered for future meetings.”
Orlando is to meetings what Disney is to entertainment, both literally and symbolically. The city features superior meeting facilities of all sizes including 65 meeting hotels, nearly 40,000 rooms in convention hotels alone, and a total of 113,000 hotel rooms at 500 properties. Getting there is easy, as the award-winning Orlando International Airport is located close to meeting facilities, attractions and hotels. Attendees can enjoy a roster of attractions that includes five of the top 10 in the world — highlighted by Walt Disney World and its sprawling and peerless lodging and meeting complex — as well as 168 challenging golf courses in the Greater Orlando area.
Orlando boasts the nation’s second largest convention center with the Orange County Convention Center’s 7 million square feet of exhibition, meeting room and public space. Conference hotels and freestanding event facilities add another 2.9 million square feet of meeting and exhibit space.
There’s always something new and exciting in Orlando. This year it’s the 230-acre Rosen Shingle Creek Resort & Golf Club, which opens this month. Located within minutes of Orlando International Airport and the Orange County Convention Center, Rosen Shingle Creek Resort & Golf Club features 1,500 luxury guest rooms, 445,000 square feet of meeting and function space, and a spa. Attendees enjoy privileges at Shingle Creek Golf Club, named by Golfweek as one of “America’s Top 40 New Courses for 2005.”
Another unique golf option in Orlando is Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge, which features a 70-room lodge, spa, salon, fitness center, pool, tennis courts and 27 holes of golf, including one of the most popular 18-hole championship courses on the PGA Tour. The complex, which combines the intimacy of a luxury bed-and-breakfast with the exclusivity of a private club, includes more than 9,000 square feet of meeting space.
The Emerald Coast
The sales team for the Fenton, MO-based Tacony Corporation’s Regency Ceiling Fan division enjoys the sights at Destin Harbor. The Pelican Beach Resort & Conference Center accommodated the group in its spacious gulf-front condos.
Photo courtesy of Tacony Corporatio
Located on the northwestern coast of Florida, the Emerald Coast includes Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island. The area claims 24 miles of powdery white sand beaches perennially voted among the best in the world, clean emerald-green waters, and recreational activities that include fishing, golf and tennis. For 11 consecutive years, the Emerald Coast has been named “Best Beach & Family Destination” in the U.S. by Southern Living magazine.
Most of the area’s resort properties are actually condo complexes that include meeting facilities. Among the best is Pelican Beach Resort & Conference Center in Destin. The resort features 340 one- and two-bedroom accommodations and more than 11,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as a spa, fitness center and tennis courts.
The Emerald Coast Conference Center on Okaloosa Island is a pleasant two-mile drive from Destin and features 35,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, including 12 meeting rooms ranging from 450 to 1,800 square feet and a 21,500-square-foot Grand Ballroom.
Kim Noerteman, marketing manager for Fenton, MO-based Tacony Corporation, has used Pelican Beach Resort & Conference Center four times in the past five years for a four-day, 60-attendee annual sales meeting for Tacony’s Regency Ceiling Fan division. Tacony will go back next year.
“It’s very inexpensive and casual, and it’s not touristy at all,” said Noerteman. “We have typically gone after Labor Day, so it has always been quiet. It’s less expensive because we get two-bedroom, two-bath condos that are very large, and we can place two manufacturer’s reps in one condo. It’s nicer because the condos are much bigger and more beautiful than what you get in a regular hotel room.”
For Tacony, Destin delivered kudos from its golfing attendees. “Our manufacturer’s reps are passionate about golf,” Noerteman said, “and they’ve told me several of the places in Destin are the best courses they’ve ever played. From attendees at our annual trade shows, all we hear is, ‘Are we going to Destin next year?’ ” said Noerteman. “Most of our reps have now turned the trip into a personal vacation. And our management loves it because from a budgetary perspective, we’re able to do a lot for less than it would cost us in any other comparable destination.”
Norton got an even better response on Amelia Island. “At the opening night reception, the president of our business unit came up to me and said, ‘We need to have it here again next year.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if we can get these dates.’ And he said, ‘Change the dates. Do whatever you have to, but we need to come back here next year.’ ” C&IT