From the stunning beaches of Miami to the never-ending amusement options in Orlando, to the island experiences of Amelia Island, Florida offers a wealth of options for meetings and events of every kind.
Located along a 26-mile stretch of sugar-white sand beaches and turquoise water on Northwest Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, South Walton has welcomed generations of visitors seeking an upscale and relaxing place to unwind. Imagine planning a meeting steps away from beautiful, award-winning beaches and surrounded by gourmet dining, boutique shopping and 207 holes of championship golf. “Now, imagine that meeting is in a modern facility with premium accommodations and exceptional service,” says Karen Morris, CMP, director of sales, Walton County Tourism Department/Visit South Walton.
As Morris points out, each year meeting planners travel to South Walton’s 16 unique beach neighborhoods, which boast more than 15,000 guest rooms and 155,000 sf of meeting space — ideal for everything from a 20-person executive retreat to a 1,500-person convention.
Thanks to four state parks, the 15,000-acre Point Washington State Forest, 15 rare coastal dune lakes and easy access to the Gulf of Mexico along the area’s stunning beaches, there are plenty of outdoor activities for attendees to enjoy in South Walton.
What’s new in South Walton? Hotel Effie Sandestin, located at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, opened its doors early last year, and features the only rooftop pool with lounge and event space on the Emerald Coast. In addition, this luxury hotel features 250 guest rooms with hand-selected furnishings and sophisticated décor. “A bright and airy meeting space, chef-curated dining and a luxury spa, as well as coastal charm, Southern elegance and exquisite details are sure to leave a lasting impression on your attendees,” Morris says.
With new properties and new experiences, plus affordability and accessibility, Daytona Beach is a destination that exceeds all expectations for hosting events and conventions. With more than 12,000 guest rooms and 300,000 sf of meeting space in hotels located both on and off the beach, Daytona Beach checks all the boxes in providing a first-class experience. From large meeting spaces, anchored by the premier Ocean Center convention complex, to flexible and creative venues such as Daytona International Speedway, there’s a space and a place for any group.
“Attendees can quickly go from the boardrooms and ballrooms to the beach — especially when they’re gathering at the Ocean Center, the fifth-largest convention center in Florida,” says Linda McMahon, director of group sales at the Daytona Beach area CVB. “This world-class venue serves as the area’s convention, entertainment and sports complex just 400 feet from the Atlantic Ocean.” The venue features more than 200,000 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space. It is conveniently located close to major hotels and popular restaurants, and is just 10 minutes from Daytona Beach International Airport.
No matter where you meet in the Daytona Beach area, you’re always within minutes of adventures. “Attendees can walk along 23 miles of white-sand beaches, experience high-speed thrills at Daytona International Speedway or revel at one of our many famous annual festivals,” McMahon says. Other experiences include climbing 203 steps to the top of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, Florida’s tallest, for a spectacular 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean, going off-shore for exciting deep-sea fishing, or relaxing while sunset cruising in inland waterways.
Many hotels are within walking distance of the Ocean Center, including the new Daytona Grande Resort — a 27-story, 456-room oceanfront property with Daytona’s only infinity pool, and the 744-room Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort, which recently completed a $25 million renovation.
Daytona continues to evolve by investing more than $2 billion in renovations and construction — which includes new beachfront hotel developments and major upgrades to attractions and restaurants. McMahon says that among many projects on the horizon, planners and attendees can look forward to a new four-star oceanfront hotel — the Renaissance by Marriott Daytona Beach Oceanfront, which is slated to open next year. The Max Beach Resort, which is now booking for summer, will offer spacious one-, two- and three-bedroom, residence-style suites, with an array of lifestyle features and amenities.
Other conference hotels include the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach, which has 200 rooms and offers 20,000 sf of meeting space, and The Daytona, Autograph Collection, located at ONE DAYTONA — the dining, shopping and entertainment destination across from the recently renovated Daytona International Speedway.
Marjaneh Majarwitz, CMP, QAS, president of MarjaNet Inc., recently orchestrated an annual conference in Daytona Beach. The event was held at The Shores Resort & Spa, with overflow at Hard Rock Hotel Daytona. “There are a variety of properties for all types of clients/budgets in Daytona, with ample amenities and attractions — such as the beach, speedway, sightseeing — and ease of access when traveling to and from,” Majarwitz says. “Florida’s weather, beaches, resort amenities and hospitality is what brings guests not only nationwide, but also from all over the world. This is the state that is best known for its attractions, hotels and excursions, and Daytona Beach should always be on a planner’s radar.”
Orlando has shown tremendous growth in the last few years, offering even more reasons for planners to host their next event in the city. In fact, Orlando offers more than 480 hotels and resorts, including more than 150 convention hotel properties featuring more than 5.8 million sf of event space, in addition to the area’s award-winning Orange County Convention Center (OCCC). “Our destination’s dining scene has also evolved, boasting more than 6,000 restaurants, with new offerings from award-winning local restaurateurs and celebrity chef-driven concepts,” says Casandra Matej, president and CEO, Visit Orlando. “This year, for the first time, MICHELIN will release a Florida Guide that will include Orlando.”
Of course, when it comes to entertainment, Orlando is second to none. The destination continues to unveil theme-park expansions, thrilling new attractions beyond the parks and a world-class performing arts center. “Our walkable convention district continues to grow with new thrilling attractions ideal for evening entertainment, as well as access to more than 75 restaurants, within a 2-mile radius, for a variety of casual and fine dining options,” Matej says.
Hanna Mantel, meeting planner at Tangerine Meetings & Events, has organized a number of events in Orlando, including a national sales meeting and an executive retreat — both at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resorts. “I’ve been planning meetings and events in Orlando for nearly 25 years now, and this property by far has the best, most consistent staff I’ve ever worked with. They make an effort to get to know you, understand your objectives and find a way to strategically partner with you to manage an incredible event,” Mantel says.
When there is as much tough competition as there is in Orlando because of the number of hotels, rooms, convention and meeting spaces, it is very important to find a hotel that fits. “They will all offer rooms; they’ll all say their meeting space is the best. But who wants to be your partner? Who is vested in your success?” Mantel asks. “Who understands your client objectives and respects the relationship between you and your client? These are the things to look for, really anywhere, but even more so in a city with so many options.”
Orlando has welcomed several new properties, including The Swan Reserve at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resort, JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa, Lake Nona Wave Hotel, AC Hotel Orlando Downtown and Tru by Hilton Orlando Convention Center Area. Renovated and reimagined properties with meeting enhancements include the Caribe Royale Orlando, Orlando World Center Marriott and Hyatt Regency Orlando.
Located just minutes away from Walt Disney World Resort and Disney Springs, Caribe Royale is emerging from a $127M reimagination that includes a full remodeling of the property’s 1,215 one-bedroom suites, the all-new 50,000-sf Palms ballroom, and an inviting new lobby that includes an elevated arrival experience, complete with an art installation and Rum Bar by Bacardi. Set to become the heartbeat of the resort, the lobby is the ideal location for guests to work, play, drink coffee, collaborate and indulge with additional offerings, including an on-site Starbucks and multilevel sports bar equipped with private VR suites coming next year.
Caribe Royale Orlando’s renovation also includes a revamp of the property’s group programming. The resort now offers group experiences led by the hotel’s innovative pastry kitchen team, as well as a Curated Cocktail program, which provides groups the opportunity to create unique, hand-crafted beverages based on their corporate colors, palate preferences and more.
Beyond Orlando’s hotels and resorts, exciting new venues offer unique meeting space or options for buyouts. Steinmetz Hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts opened early this year in the heart of downtown Orlando. The hall is available for groups and can accommodate 850 for a reception, 600 banquet and 1,700 theater-style. “Our destination was built to be a center of hospitality, and we want every group to feel that welcoming spirit from the moment of their arrival,” Matej says. “There is an assumption that DMOs only assist with larger groups hosting their event at a convention center, but we can provide resources to every group meeting in the destination — whether it’s an in-house or city-wide event. Visit Orlando’s Destination Experience team can become an extension of a planner’s own team. Our meeting professional experts can provide customized support for every step of the event, from arranging site visits to distributing RFPs and even making venue recommendations for an unforgettable reception or dinner event.”
The Palm Beaches is a region that offers exciting and distinct “between-the-sessions” experiences where planners can not only elevate meetings, but redefine what it looks like beyond the boardroom to provide memorable moments for attendees during their entire visit. “We offer a multitude of open spaces and outdoor places where guests can enjoy the Florida sunshine in an ideal year-round climate, cool ocean breezes, and 47 miles of beautiful pristine beaches,” says Kelly Cavers, senior vice president of group sales & destination services for Discover The Palm Beaches.
With the 350,000-sf Palm Beach County Convention Center, more than 200 hotels offering 18,400+ guest rooms, and proximity to three international airports, Palm Beach County offers a variety of options for planners. “We offer planners a vibrant and walkable convention district in downtown West Palm Beach where guests are within steps to exceptional arts and culture, plenty of nightlife, a robust culinary scene and world-class shopping, as well as beaches and outdoor recreation,” Cavers says. “Planners can also opt for more luxurious, secluded and private meetings at one of our elevated signature properties where our destination services team will help bring the entertainment to them.”
Rhonda Brewer, vice president, sales with Motivation Excellence Inc., is planning an incentive industry event at The Boca Raton early this fall, and just recently completed the site inspection. The event will be for about 320 attendees, and will also use other properties within the area for various activities and events. “The greatest draw to the Palm Beaches is all the incredible options. There truly is something for everyone with every kind of budget and desired experience,” Brewer says. “Your first contact should be with [Discover The Palm Beaches]. They are incredibly supportive of not only buyers, but all their local partners in the area. They can help guide you to the right property for the experience and you are looking to deliver.”
Key properties in the Palm Beach area have recently undergone an evolution, and are ready to welcome business travelers for an entirely new and elevated experience. As Cavers explains, The Boca Raton reopened after completing a $200 million reimagination and ushered in a luxurious lifestyle that pays homage to the resort’s remarkable history. “PGA National Resort has also undergone a stunning and extensive $100 million transformation, revitalizing every feature and creating another luxury travel experience,” Cavers says. “We are looking forward to the opening of Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences [next year] and Banyan Cay Resort & Golf later this year, and are excited to showcase new indoor meeting space and outdoor event space at one of our star attractions, Loggerhead Marinelife Center.”
The Jacksonville area is another Florida gem that offers incredible value and an easy experience for visitors. “We have unique meeting spaces with everything from [the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center] in a historic train depot, to rooftop restaurants and bars with views of the skyline and the oceanfront, museums and riverfront gardens, sporting arenas and live music venues,” says Michael Corrigan, president and CEO of Visit Jacksonville. “Jacksonville also consistently has some of the lowest hotel rates in the state of Florida. Depending on the time of year and the part of town you book in, it’s easy to get an affordable rate to stay within budget.”
Outdoor activities are so abundant in Jacksonville — from hiking, running and biking trails, to kayaking, paddleboarding and surfing in the ocean, St. Johns River or Intracoastal Waterway — that many people find themselves spending time outdoors when they visit. “Our beaches are wide, allowing plenty of space for people to relax and enjoy the scenery or have a picnic lunch,” Corrigan says.
Jacksonville also is made up of diverse neighborhoods, each with their unique offerings, and most people find at least one neighborhood that speaks to them. The Riverside & Avondale and Ortega neighborhoods are rich in history and architecture, with stunning views of the St. Johns River. The Beach communities offer the relaxed vibe one would expect of a beach town. Springfield, Murray Hill Heights and the Rail Yard District offer a creative scene with many local artistic touches. “If visitors would like to attend a stage show or musical performance, we have historic, as well as state-of-the-art, venues,” Corrigan says. The Florida Theatre is rich in history — Elvis performed there — and regularly hosts comedians, musical acts and thought leaders. The Alhambra Theatre is the oldest continually operating dinner theater in the U.S.; the Ritz Theatre & Museum is an iconic part of the area’s Black history and regularly hosts blues, jazz and R&B performers; Daily’s Place is an outdoor amphitheater welcoming major country, rock, alternative and hip-hop acts; and Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena is home to many major musical acts as well as sporting events.
As Corrigan explains, the newest options in meetings within Jacksonville are off-site, indoor and outdoor venues. Jacksonville has a thriving craft beer and distillery scene, and several offer the perfect evening activity for a large group. Riverfront Plaza in Downtown is a wide-open green space available for a group to make their own. Strolling receptions can be set up along Downtown river walks on both sides of the river, and the St. Johns River Taxi can host groups on their boats for sunset cruises or river tours.
Coming soon, Downtown Jacksonville will have its own Navy destroyer, the USS Orleck, as a museum and events venue situated right on the Northbank Riverwalk. “The destroyer is here, and we’re hoping it will open for business this summer,” Corrigan says. In addition, construction is underway for Dennis + Ives, a mixed-use development in Jacksonville’s Rail Yard District. The space is large — 7.15 acres — and will have space for meetings and events, as well as a new live entertainment venue.
Thanks to Tampa Bay’s ability to host high-profile gatherings safely and successfully last year, including Super Bowl LV and Wrestlemania 37, numerous organizations have considered Tampa or moved their meetings to the destination. As an added bonus, Tampa Bay’s sunny weather, vibrant downtown, cultural attractions and water-based activities have enticed meeting attendees to book pre- and post-stays.
According to Adam DePiro, vice president of convention sales at Visit Tampa Bay, after a refresh completed in 2020, the Tampa Convention Center (TCC) is undergoing its largest expansion ever. Next spring, 18 new waterfront meeting rooms will debut. “The Tampa Convention Center is also conveniently located along the Tampa Riverwalk, which links together some of downtown Tampa’s most popular attractions, parks, venues, restaurants, as well as several hotel properties, making it easier than ever for convention-goers to explore all that Tampa’s downtown has to offer,” DePiro says.
As DePiro explains, another reason planners look to Tampa for their meetings is the city’s walkability. The compact convention district has thousands of rooms within five blocks of the Tampa Convention Center, all connected by the 2.6-mile Tampa Riverwalk, which links some of the city’s hotels, restaurants, attractions, parks and venues.
“As one of the most up-and-coming cities in the nation, Tampa Bay offers a diverse array of dining, nightlife, history and award-winning attractions,” DePiro says. While there is a wide array of new developments in the destination, Tampa Bay also offers authentic arts and culture. The Straz Center for the Performing Arts is the largest performing arts center in the Southeast United States, and venues such as Amalie Arena, Raymond James Stadium and the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre regularly bring in world-renowned performances. Just east of downtown Tampa is the fourth-largest casino in the U.S.: 245,000 sf of gaming space at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino – Tampa. The hotel recently underwent a massive $700 million renovation that added a new hotel tower, events center, multiple pools, eateries, a spa and expanded the casino floor.
New high-end hotel openings are giving meeting planners more options than ever. Highlights include the highly anticipated The Tampa EDITION, opening later this summer, the first hotel to open in the destination as a five-star; the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street, which opened early last year; and the boutique Hotel Haya in Ybor City, Tampa’s historic Latin Quarter, named one of USA Today’s 10 Best New Hotels in 2020. “Encompassing more than 70 acres, with some 9 million sf of space under development at a cost of $3.5 billion, Water Street Tampa is the neighborhood transforming Tampa’s downtown,” DePiro says. Water Street unveiled a handful of major components since late 2020, including two new residential towers, an office tower and a JW Marriott hotel.
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 hotel features 226 rooms, a rooftop terrace, pool and lounge.
Central Florida’s Polk County — between Orlando to the east and Tampa to the west — is proving to be a wonderful option for those seeking a quieter region of the state. As Al Snow, tourism sales representative, conventions, meetings and events at Visit Central Florida, explains, the area’s claim to fame is its wide-open spaces and outdoor amenities. “Being removed from the beaches and theme-park corridors, our cities are uncrowded, walkable and our region is home to 550 lakes,” Snow says. “Planners like the ability to offer something different for off-site events and recreation offerings after the meeting agenda has ended each day rather than the ‘normal’ Florida theme park or beach vibe. Our venues, such as our convention center, are big enough for large conferences and meetings to social distance, but small enough to offer exclusive use.”
Indeed, Central Florida is home to more than 7,000 hotel rooms, as well as more than 7,000 vacation rental homes. In addition, the RP Funding Center boasts more than 100,000 sf of space, including conference/meeting/event spaces plus an arena and full Broadway production theater. Other favorite meeting and event venues in central Florida include the Streamsong Resort, which features 228 guest rooms and suites, more than 25,000 sf of indoor meeting space and 60,000 sf of outdoor space, three championship golf courses all ranked in the Top 26 courses in U.S., six restaurants, a grotto-inspired spa, as well as sporting clays and trophy bass fishing on site. Also, as the largest dude ranch east of the Mississippi River, Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo features 200+ rooms, including standard hotel rooms, glamping tents, railcar cabins and cottages. The venue also boasts 16,500 sf of indoor meeting space and is situated on more than 1,700 acres with many unique outdoor meeting/team-building options.
The SUN ‘n FUN Expo Campus includes 200 acres with more than 100,000 sf of meeting and exhibit spaces, including a 727 airliner converted into an executive boardroom. And Advent Health Fieldhouse includes more than 37,000 sf of expo/exhibit space, 7,000 sf of meeting spaces, and a 330-seat theater.
The RP Funding Center is completing the final phase of a renovation of its arena, theater, public spaces and all of its meeting/expo spaces. “In addition, a unique SpringHill Suites hotel opened in July 2020 at the convention center,” Snow says. “Many upgrades have taken the property beyond a standard limited-service hotel with the addition of pool cabana rooms — poolside rooms with their own private cabana — 7,000+ sf of meeting/event space, expanded food and beverage options, indoor/outdoor lounge and expansive presidential and hospitality suites.”
The Terrace Hotel, a historic boutique hotel just off the city square and overlooking Lake Mirror in Lakeland, reopened late last year as The Terrace Hotel Lakeland, Tapestry Collection by Hilton. And Streamsong Resort recently announced the addition of a fourth golf course at the resort. Late last year, the resort completed renovations to the property to increase seating at one of its award-winning restaurants, rebranded two other restaurants, and added a new lobby bar to its food and beverage offerings.
Carol Motley, senior vice president of convention sales and services at the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), says today’s meeting planners are becoming more selective in their decision process on destinations. “They want to ensure the destination they select will offer a return on investment and create business-to-business opportunities for their attendees,” Motley says. “Miami is easily accessible and offers exceptional meeting places, including Miami Beach Convention Center, which has undergone a $620 million renovation. Miami also offers a diverse community and endless entertainment possibilities, increased attendance and beautiful year-round weather.”
If a meeting planner is looking to boost international attendance, Miami is the gateway to Latin America. With more than 400 daily flights in and out of Miami International Airport, it is an amazing opportunity to attract more international attendees. “Besides amazing beaches, Miami offers many cultural areas so that attendees can come early and stay longer after their meeting,” Motley says. In addition, the region offers a wealth of venue options meeting all budget and space needs.
One of the biggest areas of renewal within the meetings and events space in greater Miami is the reimagined, state-of-the-art Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC). The convention center campus features the Fillmore, New World Symphony, the Clubhouse and Collins Canal Park. Coming in the fourth quarter of 2025, the campus will open an 800-room headquarters hotel, which will be attached to the convention center via a skywalk. “When planning an event in Miami, utilize the CVB,” Motley says. “We are your one-stop shop, an extension to your team that can assist you in maneuvering through your initial RFP process and offer world-class service once your meeting is booked.”
A combination of island life and Southern hospitality make Amelia Island the perfect destination for planners and attendees. Marilou Welling, director of interactive engagement at Visit Amelia Island, says that Amelia Island is just 30 minutes from Jacksonville International Airport, and is an unparalleled corporate getaway destination. “Adventurous activities, explorable historic sites and excursions on the water get your attendees engaged and refocused,” Welling says. “Relax along the 13 miles of beautiful shoreline, swing away at our championship golf courses or shop for treasures and keepsakes in our walkable downtown, Fernandina Beach.” She adds, “You can design and deliver unforgettable business experiences to craft the perfect stage to showcase your organization beyond the presentations and speakers.”
According to Jon Snider, manager of curriculum at HCA Healthcare, the Omni Amelia Island Resort has been home to HCA Healthcare’s service line’s national meeting three out of the last five years. “Each year has been a success, but we continue to elevate the overall experience in partnership with the entire team at Omni Amelia Island. The property’s staff embodies what it means to serve others with quality, authenticity and professionalism,” Snyder says. “What I have enjoyed about working with the property’s staff is that they become a member of my planning team, willing to coach me to utilize the conference and meeting spaces to its fullest capacity based on my agenda, but push me with innovative solutions to solve challenges in my programming.” He continues, “My meeting participants love what Amelia Island has to offer. The amenities, such as the pool area, mini-golf, luxurious golf courses and a gorgeous beachfront, are often reflected throughout my post-meeting evaluations.”
Courtyard/SpringHill Suites Amelia Island by Marriott opened early last year and features 239 total hotel rooms between the two properties. Amenities include a fitness center, business center, resort-style pool, three dining outlets, walking distance to the beach and neighbor to Fort Clinch State Park. The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island recently renovated all guest rooms and meeting spaces, and the pool-deck restaurant and poolside cabana experience finished early last year.
Located in Lee County, the Fort Myers area is on Florida’s southwest coast abutting the Gulf of Mexico. It is home to an array of islands, as well as the cities of Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Bonita Springs. Here, meeting planners will find more than 12,000 hotel rooms, ranging from inexpensive to full-service resort properties, 290,000 total sf of meeting space and 50 miles of white-sand beaches. There are also spectacular natural attractions, as well as historical and cultural gems that provide unique entertainment options for meeting attendees. For example, when it’s time to take a break from meetings, attendees can experience guided wildlife, sunset and shelling eco-tours, or explore the more than 90 golf courses dotting the region.
A top-to-bottom conversion of the former Hotel Indigo is underway, as it is transformed into the Banyan Hotel Fort Myers, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, featuring new meeting and event options located a mere two blocks from the Caloosa Sound Convention Center & Amphitheater.
For an interesting meeting and event space, the new Topgolf in Fort Myers features 70 climate-controlled hitting bays, full-service restaurant and bars, 200 HDTVs, rooftop terrace, meeting rooms and private event space. C&IT