Whether your meeting attendees are outdoor adventure seekers, foodies, theme-park junkies or sports enthusiasts, one of Florida’s most exciting destinations — Tampa Bay — has something for people of all ages.
As Santiago Corrada, CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, explains, meetings and conventions in Tampa consistently deliver above-average attendance. Combined with a community dedicated to the success of the event, Tampa Bay’s events lead to multiple repeat partnerships with large association conventions. “Tampa Bay has a great combination of accessibility, affordability and amenities to unlock your next meeting in our destination,” Corrada says. With a host of unique dining experiences, leisure and recreational choices, as well as venues like no other, attendees can explore the Tampa Riverwalk, enjoy a host of water activities on the Hillsborough River, or venture into one of the many museums and learn about the art and culture of the destination. Looking for more? “Ybor City is a great place to experience the historic hand-rolled cigars, the famous Cuban sandwich and mingle with the Ybor City chickens,” Corrada says.
From the first touchdown at Tampa International Airport (TPA), attendees can bask in the sun of Tampa Bay. Located in the heart of the city, the airport is within close proximity to the downtown area as well as attractions. TPA provides a significant quantity of nonstop flights to Tampa that are very affordable. Recently, TPA underwent a major expansion of its main terminal and the addition of a new rental car facility. Phase two of its expansion includes new curbside express lanes, an atrium, a new pedestrian bridge and a 170-acre commercial development with two new hotels — all of which streamlines the travel process for attendees.
Likewise, the award-winning Tampa Convention Center (TCC), in its beautiful waterfront location, showcases natural light and a stacked center design providing the ease of navigating the 600,000-sf meetings and conventions facility. The unique setting of the convention center provides an ideal locale for meetings, events and conventions of all sizes. And the best news is that the convention center is undergoing a $30 million capital improvement plan that includes new waterfront meeting spaces, upgraded facilities and the addition of local restaurants. Eighteen waterfront meeting rooms will span 16,000 sf, and there are two stories with a terrace and outdoor spaces for attendees to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Tampa Bay.
Business aside, being set on Florida’s Gulf Coast means Tampa Bay offers the best of Florida’s year-round warm weather, a stunning waterfront, world-class chefs and renowned cultural institutions, such as the Straz Center and Tampa Museum of Art. Visitors can also take advantage of a variety of outdoor activities — from golf and tennis to kayaking and fishing. “Whether attendees are here for a few days or a week, Tampa Bay offers incredible activities attendees can enjoy outside of their convention,” Corrada says. Some of the ‘must include’ attractions would be Busch Gardens in the north part of Tampa, the Westshore area, where Beach Party at Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill takes place, and further east is TopGolf, iFly or Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa. The downtown Tampa Bay area plays host to magnificent food options, as well as Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf, located as book ends on the Tampa Riverwalk. The Riverwalk, which stretches 2.7 miles, links downtown Tampa’s most popular attractions, and is also home to numerous museums, attractions and water activities along the Hillsborough River.
Meeting attendees can also explore the nearby Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, or visit the various permanent and visiting exhibits at the aforementioned Tampa Museum of Art. For live performances, visitors will revel in the many offerings at the aforementioned Straz Center for the Performing Arts, which is home to Broadway productions and the Florida Orchestra. History buffs will also enjoy time spent in the Tampa Bay History Center, which houses 12,000 years of Tampa Bay history.
Groups of attendees — up to 600 passengers — can also venture aboard the Yacht StarShip, a 180-foot dining super yacht offering the best views on the waters of Tampa Bay and award-winning cuisine. The yacht offers a unique venue option for hosting a dual purpose meeting and dining experience.
Of course, no visit to Tampa Bay would be complete without sauntering around Hyde Park Village, the city’s delightful turn-of-the-century-style shopping village and neighborhood, complete with historic homes, shops and restaurants aplenty. Jen Pace, sourcing manager, consulting solutions with Event Travel Management (ETM), says Tampa has been in a revitalization mode for the last few years, which is evident in the many renovations, upgrades and expansions of hotels, dining and entertainment amenities. “I think it’s finally got the momentum it needs to drive change and perception to put Tampa on the map as a top destination in Florida,” Pace says.
In the last few years, the surge of interest has really grown for the entire West Coast of Florida. The fabulous beaches and weather have always been a constant. Now, new hotels are being built and existing ones renovated. “Urban design is coming to life, attracting top chefs to open new restaurants and developers to build up the area with great infrastructure that drives not only people wanting to move to the area, but also vacation and meet in the area,” Pace says. “Airlift has been strengthening, and if air carriers can add more direct flights, it will really help take Tampa to the next level. It’s clear that people love to visit and meet in Florida, and we, as travel experts, love to have more great options to share with our clients.”
Tampa Bay has experienced a “boom” of sorts in the hotel and resort venues dotting the region. Pulling together Westshore and Downtown with an energetic, contemporary neighborhood, the $500 million Midtown development offers 1.8 million sf of retail, residential, entertainment and hospitality space, including Tampa’s second Aloft property and Element by Westin. The seven-story, dual-branded Aloft & Element Midtown Tampa features 226 rooms, a rooftop terrace, pool and lounge.
Conveniently located between the airport, shopping malls and downtown Tampa Bay, Aloft & Element Midtown Tampa offers a great option for meetings attendees who want to take in the city’s views from its rooftop restaurant and bar. The hotel also boasts meeting space on the seventh floor and 24,000 sf of street-level retail.
Ideally situated on the Tampa Riverwalk, the nearby Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel provides guests with ease of access to the city’s most popular attractions, including the TCC, Florida Aquarium and Raymond James Stadium, to name a few. Featuring more than 12,000 sf of total events space and six events rooms, Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel is the ideal locale for hosting both large and small meetings. The meeting spaces offer oversized windows, meaning attendees can enjoy views of their scenic surroundings, and state-of-the-art meeting amenities.
According to Corrada, Tampa Bay also features a variety of accommodation brands and product types that are appealing to the preferences and needs of all attendees. From historic luxury boutique hotels, such as the new Hotel Haya, to large waterfront properties, such as the Tampa Marriott Water Street, Tampa Bay has a wide selection to meet the needs of every audience. The city also offers a walkable convention package, as most hotels are located in the downtown area and are within walking distance to, or a TECO Line Streetcar System ride away from, the TCC.
The opening of Tampa Bay’s first JW Marriott Tampa Water Street in 2020 transformed the destination’s meeting capabilities. The luxury hotel, located adjacent to the TCC, opens up immense opportunities to welcome larger city-wide conventions, with 519 rooms and 100,000 sf of meetings space in the heart of downtown. What’s more, connection to the recently renovated Tampa Marriott Water Street via skywalk creates even larger opportunities with a combined 1,256 guest rooms, 150,000 sf of event space, and eight food and beverage offerings. The waterfront venue features 20 redesigned events spaces and is located near the Tampa Riverwalk, Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena and Sparkman Wharf. “Tampa’s luxury hotel profile continues to expand in 2022 with the opening of the Tampa EDITION, the fifth U.S. property from Marriott’s ultra-luxury brand,” Corrada says. “These new offerings coincide with the complete renovation and meeting space expansion of the waterfront Tampa Convention Center to be completed in 2023.”
If you are looking for an expansive venue to host a convention, trade show, private event or entertainment, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa boasts a 1,500-seat venue on the second level of the venue’s casino complex, and nearly 29,000 sf of meetings and events space. Seminole Hard Rock Tampa also offers an array of entertainment and gaming options to keep meetings and events attendees engaged for hours.
Another venue adjacent to the TCC is the Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Downtown Convention Center. Also a waterside hotel, the Embassy Suites hotel is connected to the TCC by a skybridge. And although the hotel is mere steps away from ample meeting and event spaces at the convention center, the hotel offers more than 11,000 sf of flexible meetings space all on one floor, including the Bayside Ballroom, capable of accommodating up to 375 people. Embassy Suites is also located less than a mile from the Florida Aquarium and Port Tampa Bay. The TECO Line stops outside the hotel’s front door, providing easy sightseeing opportunities for attendees between meetings and events.
Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay is a mere 3 miles from the airport, and recently renovated its host of meeting rooms with large windows and natural light that can accommodate from 10 to 600 people. In addition, the hotel — with 33,000 sf of events space — features a series of unique outdoor spaces with waterfront views surrounded by 35 acres of natural environs.
Hilton Tampa Downtown also offers a wonderful array of event options, including ballrooms, breakout rooms and pre-function space — more than 38,000 sf of events space. Located a half-mile from the Amalie Arena and the TCC, Hilton Tampa Downtown is also located near the University of Tampa campus.
While Tampa boasts more than 100 golf resorts in the region, with an impressive ratio of over 300 guest rooms for 65,000 sf of indoor events space, the Tampa area golf resort Innisbrook, A Salamander Golf and Spa Resort, offers flexibility, variety and space that you wouldn’t typically find in the marketplace. Boasting beautiful views of Innisbrook’s lush landscape and signature golf courses, the resort offers more than 100,000 sf of indoor and outdoor events space — including a secluded garden for a romantic wedding ceremony, ballrooms and breakout rooms for trade shows, and more. “Whether it’s an intimate meeting or a national golf championship, the resort serves as the ideal backdrop for events all year long due to Florida’s year-round summer weather. Across its 900 vast acres, the resort has diverse indoor and outdoor spaces for clients to choose from, including the largest ballroom in Pinellas County,” says Jessica Pearson, director of catering and conference services at Innisbrook. “We also offer unique team-building activities, and one-on-one golf lessons with Dawn Mercer, the resort’s director of instruction and a PGA professional. The property is also ideally situated near local attractions, beaches and Tampa International Airport.”
When it’s time to relax and unwind, meeting attendees can enjoy an adventure at nearby Busch Gardens Tampa, which is the ideal spot for attendees — and any family members in tow — to enjoy rides, live entertainment and one of the country’s largest zoos. Across from Busch Gardens, visitors can also enjoy the water works at Adventure Island, which boasts 30 acres of water-themed thrill rides and tropical, tranquil surroundings.
Beer aficionados in the group will enjoy Tampa Bay’s more than 40 small craft breweries, many of which offer tours of their breweries and distilleries. For more adventure, check out the Kraken Cycleboats, which features the peddle pub concept, but on water. This tour boat offers a two-hour cruise of Tampa’s downtown from the water, as well as local craft beer.
Smaller groups can also embark on a sea-faring fishing adventure via a fishing charter, many of which offer orchestrated fishing adventures.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter the meetings and events experience. As such, Visit Tampa Bay recently introduced the new “Hybrid Meeting Grant,” providing financial support to help attendees connect and minimize hybrid technology costs. At its core, the grant provides event organizers with a customized sponsorship marketing package that includes such things as a custom landing page, exclusive partner offers, sponsorship items and other perks. Grants will be awarded based on estimated economic impact, anticipated attendance numbers and other factors. “Business travel has historically been the bedrock of our hotel occupancy in Hillsborough County, helping us achieve record-breaking numbers prior to the pandemic,” Corrada says. “While our recent recovery efforts have helped boost leisure travel and keep us above our comp set, the key to full recovery is getting business travel back, and we are excited to see meetings and events return, rebook and relocate to Tampa Bay.”
From the moment visitors arrive, health and safety remains paramount. Tampa International Airport was recently ranked as one of the most hygienic airports — one of five airports in North America to receive the recognition. Additionally, the TCC recently achieved Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR accreditation, the gold standard from the worldwide cleaning industry association, for its cleaning and disinfection protocols. With increased safety measures at partner hotels, attractions and open-air experiences, Tampa Bay is poised to safely and responsibly welcome meetings and events attendees. | AC&F |