When it comes to the ideal location for an association meeting or event, Florida reigns supreme, thanks to its beautiful weather, easy accessibility and awe-inspiring venues.
Just ask Lisa DeGolyer, meeting planner and deputy executive vice president at the Association of Destination Management Executives International (ADMEI), which recently held its annual conference at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. Association members from around the world gathered for education, networking and collaboration to further define and advance the industry. The three-day conference included in-person networking events, tailored education, three team-building events — two of which were CSR activities — fantastic food and beverage and an awards program for DMCs and their professionals.
“Tampa is a very attractive destination, especially in February. The city has great airlift, which helps with members who are flying in from all over the world,” DeGolyer says, adding that ADMEI makes a point to take its conference to a region with plenty of association members. “ADMEI is so fortunate to tap into the creative talents of its DMC members in Tampa and around Florida while planning this annual conference.”
When it comes to mixing business with pleasure, no city does it quite like Miami. Miami’s world-class meeting facilities, surrounded by a sophisticated tropical playground, draw convention and business travelers in droves each year — more than 1.3 million to be exact.
Carol Motley, senior vice president, convention sales and services at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), says by offering great business amenities and an endless array of entertainment day and night, Miami is a sure bet for meeting planners looking to build attendance.
“Our destination has more than 58,000 hotel rooms — from chic boutiques to the luxury beach and golf resorts for all budgets and ample meeting, convention and trade show options — along with truly unique and stunning off-site venues that offer flexible indoor and outdoor meeting spaces,” Motley says. “Our destination also provides easy accessibility, with over 400+ flights daily through Miami International Airport.”
The Miami area also offers a wealth of hotel and resort options. According to Maria Daniel, director of sales for Trump International Beach Resort Miami, one of the biggest reasons meeting and event planners should consider their resort for events is because of its privileged location.
“We are a beachfront resort located just north of Miami Beach, but on a much quieter area, on the beautiful barrier-island of Sunny Isles Beach. Not only do we offer captivating indoor and outdoor venues, but attendees can combine business with pleasure with a variety of water- and land-based sports, full-service spa, eclectic dining and more,” Daniel says.
Trump International Beach Resort Miami just recently added a new dining venue to its offerings, Azurro Italian Restaurant & Bar, offering dishes that draw inspiration from Italy’s great cities, such as homemade pastas, Mediterranean seafood dishes and a perfectly cooked selection of meat plates.
“My advice to association meeting planners is to begin planning as early as possible to secure the desired venue and date in Florida,” Daniel says. “When planning an outdoor event, keep in mind that the weather in South Florida can be unpredictable. Be sure to stay in communication with the venue host and have a backup plan in case attendees need to move indoors.”
Maria Orozco, director of group sales at Trump National Doral Miami, says there are a number of reasons to consider the resort when planning a meeting or event. In addition to its convenient location, minutes from Miami International Airport, as well as South Florida’s beaches and attractions, Trump National Doral Miami also offers first-class recreational opportunities for groups.
Attendees can enjoy four championship golf courses, including the famous Blue Monster, which has hosted the PGA Tour for 55 consecutive years. This course also recently hosted the 2022 LIV Golf Miami Team Championship. The resort also boasts Har-Tru tennis courts, retail shops and a full-service spa.
“Meeting planners will have a choice of more than 100,000 sf of reimagined meeting space, including more than 75,000 sf of outdoor space,” Orozco says. “In addition to state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, groups have access to full-scale production services. Events are complemented by modern accommodations and world-class catering.”
Orozco advises association meeting planners to work hand-in-hand with the resort team to come up with memorable, creative, out-of-the-box activities, such as moonlight golf, golf and tennis clinics and uniquely South Florida-inspired banquet menus. “We advise planners to build enough free time to enjoy the on-site resort amenities such as the pool and spa,” Orozco says. “Planners don’t have to worry about losing a captive audience as everything is on-site.”
For organizers looking beyond conference dates — great weather, beaches, more than 1.1 million acres of outdoors to explore, eclectic dining options and a thriving cultural scene throughout Miami’s unique neighborhoods are only some of Miami’s endless possibilities for entertainment and exploration.
“The Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) sits on a slice of paradise with spectacular beaches, world-class hotels, fine dining, exciting nightlife, diverse shopping experiences and historic architecture, making Miami one of the most sought out meetings destination in the world,” Motley says.
Recently, the MBCC underwent a $620 million renovation and expansion, and includes nearly 500,000 sf of exhibit space, a new 60,000-sf Grand Ballroom, up to 84 breakout rooms, a 20,000-sf rooftop specialty space, and 9 acres of green space that can serve as incremental event space.
Along with the MBCC as its anchor, the Miami Beach Convention Center District will also feature a new headquarters hotel, the Grand Hyatt Miami Beach, an 800-room property set to offer visitors attending events at MBCC with another hospitality option by fall 2025.
In addition to the MBCC, the Miami Convention Center (MCC) is one of Greater Miami’s most functional meeting, exhibit and entertainment venues, boasting 34 well-appointed meeting rooms, including a 444-seat auditorium and a 117-seat lecture hall and can accommodate from 20 to 5,000 attendees in a variety of configurations.
Another option is the recently redesigned Miami Airport Convention Center (MACC), which is adjacent to Miami International Airport and features 172,000 sf of high-tech meeting, conference and trade show space, including a 29,000-sf social catering ballroom — second largest in the region — and 100,000 sf of exhibition and function space.
Jeff Stutts, CMP, director of catering & conference management at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, points out that the hotel’s premier oceanfront location in the heart of South Beach, with direct beach access, make the hotel an ideal canvas for planners to create one-of-a-kind events.
“We offer 65,000 sf of well-planned function space, with plenty of indoor and outdoor, flexible options. Our indoor space alone spans two floors and includes a 27,000-sf ballroom that allows a seamless flow for attendees throughout indoor and exterior event areas. These venues also make it possible to get creative with event locations and allow us to execute memorable daytime and evening programs,” Stutts says.
Loews Miami Beach Hotel’s top four suites were recently redesigned, offering planners fresh spaces for top VIPs to enjoy. The property is also now offering enhanced wireless internet, additional branding opportunities throughout the hotel and, later this year, they will be enhancing the meeting rooms with new carpeting, design accents and other touchpoints.
As the second Loews in South Florida, the Loews Coral Gables Hotel recently opened its doors, ushering in a new level of hospitality to the city of Coral Gables. The 242-room hotel offers 31,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space that includes the 9,000-sf Alhambra ballroom, private and flexible meeting spaces, as well as a ninth-floor event deck with spectacular views of downtown Coral Gables. This unique rooftop lawn is a big differentiator for the hotel and planners.
“Attendees have an effortless arrival experience with our proximity to Miami International Airport, and can easily access the best of Coral Gables, with the iconic Miracle Mile just four blocks from the hotel,” says Felix Llibre, director of sales at Loews Coral Gables Hotel. The hotel is part of The Plaza Coral Gables, a 2.1 million-sf, mixed-use development on 7 acres that includes the hotel, plus 161,000 sf of high-end retail stores, premium dining and a highly curated public collection of art.
Looking for a “cool” vibe that will provide your association event attendees memorable experiences? Check out the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Located north of Miami in Hollywood, Florida, the hotel is complete with 120,000 sf of meeting space, including a 38,000-sf, carpeted exhibition hall capable of hosting any size trade show, association convention, large corporate group and social fundraisers. In addition, the Seminole Hard Rock’s flexible meeting space can be reconfigured to accommodate groups as large as 5,000 attendees or smaller, more intimate meetings for 15 individuals.
After a day of meetings or conference events, attendees can unwind in Seminole Hard Rock’s memorable nightlife scene, which is complete with music events and a 14,000-sf casino with more than 3,100 slots and nearly 200 table games.
The Palm Beaches offer Florida travel experiences packed with diverse activities and a welcoming community. As Kelly Cavers, chief sales officer for Discover The Palm Beaches, explains, the area provides meeting and convention attendees easy accessibility, a walkable convention and entertainment district, fewer crowds, and most importantly, unique opportunities to connect.
“We have an array of unforgettable ‘between-the-sessions’ experiences that focus on wellness, sustainability, community and fun. Imagine your attendees starting their day with an energizing [high-intensity, interval training] HIIT workout and motivational presentation from locally headquartered Orangetheory Fitness, learning to play croquet dressed in whites, exploring sea turtle rehabilitation and marine life conservation, or even taking part in a community-based ocean clean up,” Cavers says. “We want meeting attendees to feel relaxed and inspired, and to leave The Palm Beaches having felt a sense of place and community.”
The Palm Beaches has new hotels recently opened or set to open, including the new AKA West Palm, the Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences and Banyan Cay Resort & Golf. Several of the area’s iconic hotels and resorts also underwent multimillion-dollar transformations, including PGA National Resort, The Boca Raton and The Colony Hotel Palm Beach.
“The Palm Beaches are in high demand, and there are 17 planned hotel openings between now and 2025 throughout the county,” Cavers says. “We are also very excited to be welcoming the first Oetker Collection hotel in the U.S., The Vineta, [this] year in Palm Beach.”
Cavers stresses that the Palm Beaches offer stunning natural beauty, great year-round weather and spectacular outdoor venues, so don’t be afraid to use them. There is nothing like enjoying the ocean breezes during your cocktail hour, sticking your toes in the sand during your team-building activities or feeling the sun on your face during your wellness activity.
“Also, embrace the diversity of our community — your event is making an impact in that community and destination partners are always eager to help provide customized experiences and wow moments that will make visitors feel special and welcomed,” Cavers says.
Michelle Elise Whitworth, CMP, DES, manager, strategic event management at the Association Management Center in Chicago, has helped plan events for such associations as the American Association of Neuroscience Nurses, the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses and the Psychonomic Society. Recently the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses conference was held in West Palm Beach.
“The conference rotates on the West Coast, East Coast and Midwest. West Palm Beach was a new location that we had not been to that was beautiful and a desired location for our nurses to explore while they were at the show,” Whitworth says.
Whitworth recommends association meeting planners lean on and utilize the destination services managers at The Palm Beaches. “They have the best suggestions and offerings to help produce a dream meeting,” Whitworth says. “The destination is the best of a ‘resort/vacation’ vibe with the amenities and resources of a city central venue.”
Continuously ranked as Cvent’s No. 1 meeting destination in the country, Orlando offers a state-of-the-art convention center, world-class event spaces and venues, 480+ hotels, MICHELIN-recognized dining and world-renowned entertainment and attractions.
Linda Adams, FCHP, COO with the Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association (FNGLA), recently selected Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) for the association’s annual event, The Landscape Show.
“The convention center has wide loading docks, high ceilings and all the needed meeting space for an event,” Adams says. “The center amenities are excellent, and the facility is always well maintained and welcoming. The Central Florida location with easy access to major roads, proximity to a major airport and a wide range of hotels is another plus for us.”
FNGLA produces The Landscape Show annually at the OCCC. It is a trade show which showcases trees, plants and supplies relative to the commercial horticulture industry. Attendance is typically 7,500 to 8,500.
“Take advantage of the team at Visit Orlando, as they have a long tenure of serving meetings in Orlando and can save planners much time, offer helpful information and added value when meeting in Orlando,” Adams says. “The team at the Orange County Convention Center also provides exceptional service and can be counted on to go the extra mile to help a meeting be successful. They understand that each meeting is unique, so don’t be afraid to share any special needs your group may have.”
Casandra Matej, president and CEO, Visit Orlando, says it’s now even easier to travel to and from Orlando with the recent opening of Orlando International Airport’s South Terminal Complex. The new facility adds 15 gates and includes a seamless, low-touch environment with a state-of-the-art radio frequency baggage system, numerous shops, restaurants and lounge facilities.
The terminal also includes the Intermodal Terminal Facility (ITF), which is designed to accommodate up to three train systems, including the high-speed Brightline train. Brightline’s Orlando extension construction is nearly complete, and trains soon are expected to begin carrying passengers from Miami to Orlando International Airport.
“With new restaurants opening every year, the destination is home to more than 6,000 restaurants representing 40 international cuisines found throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods,” Matej says. For the first time ever, the area’s culinary scene — led by talented chefs and their teams — captured the attention of the MICHELIN Guide, known around the world for their famed star rating system.
As far as what’s new in hotels, Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace recently completed renovations to its entire 120,000 sf of meeting space, with modern décor complemented by state-of-the-art technology. Also recently completed, Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek unveiled a new arrival experience for guests, with a new front entrance and lobby.
“Set for completion late 2023 or early 2024, Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek has also commenced on elevating the meetings experience with the new Waterside expansion,” Matej says. This two-story addition of more than 90,000 sf of meeting space will be located directly adjacent to the existing meeting space, overlooking the Bonnet Creek waterway. The Waterside expansion includes one ballroom, a screened lanai with incredible views of the Walt Disney World fireworks, an outdoor patio, event lawn and seven additional meeting rooms.
Conrad Orlando at Evermore Orlando Resort will debut this year with 433 rooms, including 51 suites and 10 spacious family suites. Other features include 65,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space, a tranquil spa and numerous dining options, including a signature rooftop experience.
Waldorf Astoria Orlando is redefining modern luxury in the meetings industry with the new Central Park Ballroom. Recently completed, the expansion features an elegant 8,436-sf ballroom, 2,565 sf of pre-function space and an 8,712-sf tented pavilion. The B Resort & Spa, Sheraton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Resort and Renaissance Orlando Airport Hotel are also undergoing renovations to be completed by the end of the year.
“Fairmont Orlando, a new Fairmont Hotels & Resorts-branded hotel, is slated to open in early 2025 in the heart of Orlando’s entertainment district,” Matej says. The new seven-story property is expected to include 550 rooms; seven elevated dining experiences, including a specialty Mediterranean restaurant, an upscale steakhouse and gourmet cafe; a 12,000-sf spa and wellness center; more than 44,000 sf of meeting space and three swimming pools.
Of course, Orlando has the magic of Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando, all of which attract guests who wouldn’t normally travel for a conference. For those looking to enjoy the Disney environment, the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort and Walt Disney World Swan Reserve are options many meeting planners embrace.
The venues offers expansive meeting facilities, including more than 333,000 sf of combined meeting space, with 87 meeting rooms, including outdoor function areas, executive boardrooms, 110,500 sf of contiguous convention and exhibit space and two business centers. And, best of all, the resort offers close proximity to EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, to name a few.
Marissa Weaver, public relations coordinator at Visit Tampa Bay, says visitors and meeting and event planners are invited to relax boldly in the heart of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Attendees can accomplish important business while they enjoy this premier destination with sunshine, world-class attractions, waterfront activities, luxury shopping and unique culinary experiences.
New luxury hotels and an expanded convention center await in Tampa Bay. The recent openings of JW Marriott and the Tampa EDITION contribute to the destination’s more than 26,000 rooms ranging from waterfront resorts to intimate, unique venues.
“Tampa Bay is large enough to host tens of thousands of attendees during Super Bowls, yet inviting and convenient for that small board meeting,” Weaver says. “Visitors also can step into the past, sip on café con leche and see how Ybor City put Tampa Bay on the map by becoming the ‘Cigar Capital of the World.’”
The Tampa Convention Center (TCC) is expanding its beautiful waterfront meeting space with a $38 million capital improvement plan. This innovative renovation project plans to improve customer service, increase efficiency and cost savings.
Scheduled to be completed later this year, the addition will include renovated meeting rooms and new waterfront meeting rooms. “When planning your meeting or event, flexibility is key as the demand to host major conventions and events is high,” Weaver says.
From Tampa Bay to Miami to the Palm Beaches, Florida offers something for everyone — associations and their constituents alike. | AC&F |