FloridaJune 1, 2017

The Sunshine State Checks All the Boxes Planners and Attendees Want and Need By
June 1, 2017


The Sunshine State Checks All the Boxes Planners and Attendees Want and Need
Spectacular sunsets make for memorable meetings at the Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers, Florida.

Spectacular sunsets make for memorable meetings at the Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers, Florida.

From Miami to Jacksonville and from Naples to Destin, Florida is a shining example of what planners and attendees need and want for successful meetings, incentives and events. Fortunately, the Sunshine State is developing more of everything as new-builds are in the works, and many venues are renovating and/or expanding. In addition, key destinations are improving their entertainment options, adding more exciting attractions, culinary hotspots and recreational opportunities — all the while boosting their marketing efforts.

Their efforts are paying off big time. Some destinations are setting booking and hotel occupancy records, and launching new marketing efforts to boost results even more:

During 2016, Jacksonville’s occupancy grew 4.7 percent. February 2017 was Jacksonville’s 40th consecutive month of RevPAR growth, according to a report by STR.

In 2016, Palm Beach County’s number of room nights sold through groups and meetings increased a record 94 percent, according to Discover The Palm Beaches.

During the first two months of 2017, Tampa Bay posted a record $70.6 million in hotel revenues, up 18 percent over the previous year, according to Visit Tampa Bay. In 2016, the region recorded a 6.5 percent growth in hotel revenue.

Destinations also are racking up kudos. For example, in Southwest Florida, Fodors.com included Sanibel and Captiva islands on its list of America’s Most Beautiful Barrier Islands. U.S. News & World Report named Sanibel Island one of the Top 10 family beaches in the U.S.

Island Beauty

Sanibel is home to one of the top properties on Florida’s Southwest Coast, the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa in Fort Myers, which recently hosted the annual Executive Conference of Rochester, Minnesota-based AgVantage Software Inc. It was the first time the two-day meeting was held at a Florida destination, says Lori Campbell, conference manager for AgVantage.

Why did AgVantage select the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa? “We chose this specific resort mostly for the beautiful meeting rooms,” says Campbell. “For example, the welcome reception was held in a glass octagonal room (Island Room) with a surrounding veranda during sunset. All of our breakfasts and lunches were also held in the Island Room. People could easily step outside for fresh air.”

The company also used a smaller ballroom, with a tropical view of palm trees, for meetings. And guests enjoyed networking and holding discussions in the numerous spaces both indoors and outdoors.

The layout of Sanibel Harbour fit perfectly with the meeting’s objectives. “Our main meeting goal is making a connection between our managers and customers,” says Campbell. “A casual, laidback, relaxed atmosphere is a good place for people to make those connections and solidify those relationships. Some of our customers have been with us for 30–40 years, and we never want to take that for granted.”

Top-shelf service helped attendees feel appreciated. “All of the food and beverage servers both for our group events and in the bar were especially nice and friendly,” says Campbell. “The food and beverage manager was easy to work with. When the conference was over, the AV guy even helped me pack up my extra brochures and notepads that were all over the meeting space.”

Attendees were encouraged to enjoy the variety of off-property activities. “We liked the idea of going during baseball spring training season to attract the baseball fans,” says Campbell. “Many of us really enjoyed heading over to Sanibel Island, since it’s just over the causeway from the Marriott. If you want night life, there was music every night at the hotel’s bar. There are other great hotels in the area, and there’s always Fort Myers Beach for more activity.”

Since most of Agvantage’s attendees live in cold-weather cities, one activity they found particularly relaxing was seashell hunting on Sanibel Island.

The Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa packed breakfasts to go and a trolley picked up the group early in the morning. The group arrived at the beach during low tide while the sun was rising. Afterwards, they had lunch and a tour at the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, a 21-acre botanical garden and museum adjacent to the winter homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Alva Edison.

Campbell partly credits the meeting’s success to The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel, the area’s CVB. “They were fantastic to work with,” says Campbell. “I originally went on their FAM trip in November, 2015.  Whenever I questioned anything throughout my planning process, I’d send an email and always get a quick reply with great resources.  They are one of the best CVBs I’ve ever worked with.”

Great Location on the Water

Resorts throughout Florida are known for their ability to provide complete attendee experiences while providing access to a wide range of nearby off-property activities. Such properties include The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, which recently hosted a service company’s meeting for about 300 top employees from across the country.

The company chose the Vinoy Renaissance partly because of its location and meeting spaces. “It is a great hotel in a great location on the water in downtown St. Petersburg,” says the company’s planner, a CMP. “The hotel is a great fit for our programs. There is enough space for small and significantly sized programs. The function space is broken up enough so that you can use it and be set apart from other groups.”

Proximity to offsite activities also was a factor. “There are lots of parks, restaurants and museums nearby,” says the planner. “It’s nice to have such great offsite venues within walking distance. We hosted a closing dinner at the Museum of Fine Arts. Attendees spent an hour or so strolling through the museum enjoying the collection, and then we ate dinner in the Atrium.”

The Vinoy Renaissance is so dedicated to providing the appropriate space that it acted rapidly to accommodate a last-minute change in the service company’s program.

“We had a space overlap with another group in the middle of the program, through no fault of the hotel’s but due to my program changing,” says the planner. “We had to flip a room full of exhibits to make it available for another group for a breakfast and then return the exhibits for our lunch. The hotel did a great job. Our group never noticed a thing.”

Orlando Is No. 1

While the beach and ocean play a key role in meeting activities at coastal destinations, theme parks are a crucial part of planner itineraries in Orlando. No wonder that Orlando ranked as the No. 1 meeting destination in the U.S. for the second year in a row, according to Cvent Supplier Network, a global meetings, events and travel technology leader. Mike Graves, the COO of metroConnections, a Minneapolis-based meeting and conference management firm, says Orlando “plays a very big role as the parks are highly visible, well-known attractions with large, world-class venues, which helps attract attendance.”

Graves cites an example of a group seeking an off-property venue in Orlando that was capable of hosting a large number of attendees. “The group wanted the event to include food and beverage, entertainment and activities, a sit-down full-group general session highlighted by a live band, and a well-known keynote speaker and comedian.”

Graves proposed a partial private buyout of SeaWorld Orlando. “It allowed for ample space for food and beverage stations throughout many areas of the park, live street entertainment, bands, strolling characters, and several park attractions and rides that opened privately for attendees,” explains Graves. “In addition, we coordinated all production elements for a general session of attendees in SeaWorld’s Bayside Stadium venue.”

The variety and spaciousness of Orlando’s properties provide the opportunity for planners to be creative with group events. For example, companies can imaginatively use unique signage and branding elements to decorate spaces and build attendee loyalty and morale.

Graves cites an example: “For a large outdoor event inside a large five-day program, our team had sand sculptors put the company logo and some fun sea creatures into the sand at the resort — definitely not something everyone is used to seeing,” says Graves. “It added an element of creativity and exclusivity for the guests.”

Incentive events can be equally creative says Graves. “They can go in any direction you like — island vibe, luxury resort vibe, wildlife tours, theme park days and high-end restaurants,” he says. “It truly depends on the direction your guests would most enjoy.”

Chic City Vibe

Groups seeking properties with a chic, bustling city vibe can find them in the Miami area. Kathy Miller, events manager at Kaseya, a New York City-based information technology management software provider, recently held a meeting at the 157-room Hotel Colonnade, located on the famed Miracle Mile in Coral Gables.

The group enjoyed the results of the Hotel Colonnade’s recently completed $18 million renovation, which included guest rooms and event venues as well as a new lobby bar.

“We had an annual sales kickoff meeting for 175 people for five days, all onsite,” says Miller​. “There were all-day meetings with food and beverages, an award ceremony and onsite dinners​. This is a beautiful hotel with lots of meeting space located right downtown with easy access to the airport and Miami​. Many restaurants were all within walking distance​.The staff and service is the best I have encountered. The value we received was excellent​.”

According to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, Miami is a constantly evolving global destination, providing meeting planners with exceptional options for meetings, conventions and events.

As William D. Talbert III, CDME, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, explains, “The unparalleled culture, accessibility, hotel rooms and diverse offsite venues set against a backdrop of beautiful weather and beaches are just a few of the elements that make Miami the preeminent locale for meetings and events.”

“Meetings and conventions held in Greater Miami have seen record international attendance due to the ease of air access to the destination,” Talbert says. “With three convention centers totaling more than 1 million sf, 75 additional meeting venues throughout the destination and more than 50,000 hotel rooms from intimate boutique hotels to luxury resorts and convention hotels, the GMCVB convention sales team is eager to be the meeting planner’s onsite, one stop for assistance with every detail from start to finish,” Talbert says. “Our experienced, knowledgeable team welcomes the opportunity to work with planners to identify hotels, venues, vendors and more to fulfill and exceed expectations for a highly successful meeting in Miami.”

Notably, the Miami Beach Convention Center is undergoing a $615 million renovation and expansion, which will result in a new facility perfectly designed to host large-scale business, trade, civic and cultural events. The renovation will include a mixed-use, 60,000-sf grand ballroom, 500,000 sf of exhibit space, 81 new breakout rooms spanning 190,000 sf, a 20,000-sf glass rooftop junior ballroom, advanced technology and new versatile indoor/outdoor public spaces.

“The renovation and expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Center adds to the attraction of the destination for meeting and convention planners by offering a totally transformed state-of-the-art, technologically advanced facility with enhanced amenities, service and an extraordinary sense of place that reflects the stunning local environment, culture and community,” Talbert says. “In addition, hotels such as the Loews Miami Beach, The Sheraton Miami Airport Hotel & Executive Meeting Center and The Betsy South Beach are just some of the properties that continue to cater to the meetings industry, completing multimillion-dollar renovations to their event spaces.”

Here’s a roundup of what’s new and noteworthy throughout the Sunshine State.


Margaritaville Resort Orlando, a waterfront destination, is set to open late this year with 187 guest rooms, 1,000 Margaritaville-themed vacation homes and 300 timeshare units. The resort also will feature a new entertainment and dining district and 12-acre waterpark.

The 1,000-room Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando opened last July with 115,000 sf of meeting space, a 41,000-sf ballroom, 30,000-sf hall and 16,000-sf outdoor event area. An air-conditioned bridge connects Loews Sapphire Falls meeting space to Loews Royal Pacific Resort. Both properties combined offer a total 247,000 sf of meeting space.

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort recently completed a comprehensive $5 million renovation of its total 329,000 sf of meeting space at both the Swan and Dolphin properties. The makeover is part of the Swan and Dolphin’s multiphase $140 million redesign, including all 2,267 guest rooms. The Swan’s guest rooms were finished in 2015. The Dolphin’s rooms will be completed by the end of this year, and the $12 million lobby redesign will be done by this fall.

Rosen Hotels is renovating its three convention properties — Rosen Centre, Rosen Plaza and Rosen Shingle Creek. Rosen Plaza completed renovation of its 800 guest rooms and suites, and added 3NINE, a 5,000-sf state-of-the-art entertainment venue, to its flexible indoor and outdoor event space. 3NINE together with the nearby patio, pool deck and ’39 Poolside Bar & Grill can accommodate groups of up to 1,500 people.

The Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace’s multimillion-dollar upscale makeover includes a redesigned lobby and guest rooms, as well a new lobby bar and outside terrace. The renovation also includes the Float Lagoon lazy river; new pools and cabanas; and Shades, a new poolside restaurant. More than 90,000 sf of meeting space is available.


The Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront serves thousands of groups a year with 963 newly renovated guest rooms and 110,000 sf of meeting space, including 30 rooms and a 27,894-sf ballroom, the largest in Northeast Florida. More than 20,000 sf of deck space overlooks the St. Johns River. In addition to last year’s multimillion-dollar renovation, Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront completed three additional upgrades to the property, including a more contemporary front desk, a revamped Grand Ballroom and the installation of digital reader boards in multiple meeting spaces

Just 30 minutes from Jacksonville, the Ponte Vedra Beach Resorts — the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club and The Lodge & Club — boasts a renovated conference center featuring eight rooms that accommodate up to 350 guests and nine dining choices. Guests can enjoy a full menu of activities good for teambuilding, including golf courses, tennis, kayaking and paddleboarding.

The Westin Daytona Beach Resort & Spa, which will reopen this year in the former Desert Inn after a $20 million renovation, will feature 200 guest rooms, 25,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and function space, and a 5,000-sf spa. Guests are close to the Daytona Beach Convention Center, Daytona Boardwalk and the Main Street entertainment center

The Daytona Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (DBACVB) is cranking up its marketing efforts in key markets, including Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. The DBACVB signed race car driver Danica Patrick as a spokesperson.


The 360-room Trump International Beach Resort Miami boasts 22,000 sf of flexible meeting and function space — ideal for corporate events, teambuilding activities, meetings, training workshops, leadership seminars and executive retreats. Meeting spaces, which are bathed in natural light, include the 5,075-sf Ocean Ballroom overlooking the Atlantic, the 5,160-sf Bay Ballroom and 16 meeting rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean or bay. There are five outdoor event spaces to choose from, including on the beach, pool deck and terraces, lawn and a rooftop for small gatherings.

Trump International Beach Resort, a member of Preferred Hotels Lifestyle Collection, is independently owned by the Dezer family — real estate developers and major stakeholders in many South Florida and New York developments.

After the Trump organization acquired Trump National Doral Miami in 2012, the iconic 800-acre resort began an extensive top-to-bottom $250 million renovation, which encompassed 643 guest rooms, lobby, meeting and event space, 48,000-sf spa, pool complex and restaurants. The property’s four championship golf courses, including the famed Blue Monster course, were redesigned as well as the clubhouse, which features an 8,000-sf open-air veranda. The new BLT Prime opened with three private dining rooms featuring indoor and veranda seating with golf course views. The debut of 48 Trump Spa & Suites last spring marked the official completion of the resort’s restoration.

Trump National Doral’s 100,000 sf of indoor function space boasts six ballrooms, three of which are brand new: the Ivanka Trump Ballroom, the White & Gold Ballroom and the Crystal Ballroom, which overlooks the Blue Monster golf course. The largest is the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom with 24,079 sf. Additionally there are 15 breakout rooms, five executive boardrooms, 11 meeting venues with natural lighting and a dedicated event concierge. The meeting facilities offer individual or master controls for heat/AC, telephones, multiple electrical/microphone outlets, high-density internet, with the ability to dedicate bandwidth, and special lighting effects.

There’s also 75,000 sf of outdoor event spaces to take advantage of the balmy Florida climate. In a league of its own, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa is one of only six new hotels in the nation to be recognized as one of Forbes Travel Guide’s 2016 Five Star Hotels. Sitting on seven Atlantic-fronted acres, the resort’s commitment to “new-fashioned luxury” translates to such prime amenities as 309 guest rooms “re-envisioned” by designer Jonathan Adler, Eau Club level (private concierge, separate check-in and checkout with champagne, daily pressing service, VIP pool service and access to the club lounge), more than 30,000 sf of meeting and event space (from traditional meeting and ballrooms to poolside cabanas and Eau Spa’s “Self-Centered” garden with water features and private courtyard), Forbes Five Star Eau Spa (42,000 sf with 19 treatment rooms), two outdoor oceanfront swimming pools with luxury cabanas, four restaurants and three Har-tru clay tennis courts (enhanced by an onsite pro).

Unveiled in spring 2016 is Breeze Ocean Kitchen, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa’s latest eatery. Its cuisine “reflects the sun-splashed Palm Beach lifestyle and celebrates the Atlantic’s bounteous fruites de Mer” — all with a focus on Floridian flavors brought to life by spices, styles and preparations that infuse hints of the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia.

The 1,500-room Fontainebleau Miami Beach renovated its Versailles Bay View Junior Suites to match the tower’s original architecture and introduced two new room categories — the Executive One-Bedroom Suite with 270-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay, and the Grand One-Bedroom Suite.

The Loews Miami Beach Hotel, located in South Beach’s Art Deco District, completed a $50 million renovation that includes 790 upgraded guest rooms, and 65,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space that accommodates up to 2,700 people. Attendees also can enjoy a new lobby experience and new pool.

The 253-room Hyatt Regency Coral Gables completed a four-month renovation that converted a former nightclub into the 3,711-sf Alcazaba ballroom, and refurbished all mezzanine level meeting rooms and boardrooms. More than 19,000 sf of meeting space is available.

In the Palm Beaches, the PGA National Resort & Spa completed a $4 million renovation of its 33,000-sf Sports and Racquet Club. Improvements include new exercise equipment, an indoor racquetball courts, three aerobics studios and a five-lane saltwater pool. Other additions include an indoor volleyball courts, 18 tennis courts and a spin room with video roadmapping.

The AAA Four Diamond Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa completed a $6.8 million renovation of its meeting spaces, guest suites, lobby and dining areas.

The 86,000-sf Warehouse District, a sprawling new food and beverage district, will open by early 2018 in downtown West Palm Beach later this year in eight vintage-style buildings housing food and beverage vendors, artists, fitness outlets and entrepreneurs.

In Fort Lauderdale, a new dual-branded Starwood property is scheduled to open in downtown Fort Lauderdale in spring 2018. The property will be divided into two hotels: The Element by Westin (114 rooms) and the Dalmar, from the Starwood Tribute Portfolio (209 rooms). The two properties will offer a total of 323 hotel rooms, 12,000 sf of meeting and ballroom space, and a high-rise rooftop bar.

The Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort is scheduled to open this fall with 290 studio and suite accommodations, 20,000 sf of meeting space, four alfresco dining experiences and a 4,000-sf oceanview spa.

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, is building a $1.8 billion, guitar-shaped tower that will add 800 guest rooms to the property’s existing 500 guest rooms. When the project is completed by late 2019, it will add 50,000 sf of function space and new dining and entertainment venues, including the 5,500-seat, 18,000-sf arena Hard Rock Live arena.

Also in Hollywood, just south of Fort Lauderdale, The Diplomat Beach Resort Hollywood, Curio Collection by Hilton has completed a $100 million dollar-transformation. From the Atlantic coast to Intracoastal, the reinvented resort pays homage to the hotel’s storied past as a social hub, which began in 1958, with a modern take on design and amenities, including more than 10 new culinary concepts. As part of Curio Collection by Hilton, a global set of remarkable upper upscale hotels handpicked for their unique character, The Diplomat Beach Resort redefines comfort and style with 1,000 re-imagined guest rooms and suites and indoor and outdoor public spaces, bringing the resort’s sunny, beachfront location to life.


The Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach opened this year with 343 rooms facing either the ocean or Intracoastal Waterway. Housed in two towers, the Wyndham offers more than 22,000 sf of meeting and function space, including the largest ballroom in Pinellas County.

By this fall, Clearwater will get a $100 million, 166-room JW Marriott luxury hotel on space once occupied by DreamView Resort. Thirty-six one-, two- and three-bedroom furnished JW Marriott Residences ranging from 850 to 1,350 sf will occupy four upper floors. The JW Marriott will be Tampa Bay’s first five-star hotel.

Another new Clearwater property The Opal Sands Resort opened with 230 guest rooms, 17,000 sf of waterfront meeting space, the elegant Opal Ballroom and breakout spaces with Gulf views. Opal Sands is ideal for indoor and beach events, as well as networking and teambuilding activities.

The Hyatt Place Downtown will open later this year as a condo-hotel in the former Plaza Beach Hotel after it undergoes renovation. The Hyatt Place will occupy 13 stories of the building’s 41 stories and feature 175 guest rooms and 253 condominiums. The new property will offer 17,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space, including a 7,650-sf ballroom, a 3,366-sf event lawn, and 9 breakout rooms.

The Naples Grande Beach Resort completed an $18 million renovation that includes an enhanced lobby lounge and Vista Ballroom, new guest room décor, and a new restaurant, Catch of the Pelican. The property offers 83,000 sf of meeting space, five restaurants, three heated pools and fitness center.

On Marco Island, The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort has completed an extensive $320 million renovation. This fall, the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort will unveil a 12,000-sf indoor entertainment center and a 94-room, adults-only tower with a restaurant and rooftop pool. The 726-room resort offers 100,000 sf of meeting space.

This fall, the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort & Spa will debut its redesigned 5,200-sf Grand Ballroom and a beachfront event lawn. The improvements follow a $40 million renovation that includes new luxury family suites, a newly designed pool and the remodeled indoor and outdoor deck at 560 Bar & Restaurant.

On the barrier island of Sanibel, Sundial Beach Resort & Spa is a unique tropical island destination with miles of shell-strewn beaches. Directly onsite are restaurants and shops with panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico. The resort features conference facilities with more than 12,000 sf of meeting space.

Following the popularity of its Japanese Steakhouse, Sundial Beach Resort & Spa has unveiled a new sushi-inspired takeout market located in its main lobby. Shima Grab N Go fuses the healthful benefits and delicious taste of fresh sushi with the convenience of to-go ordering. Sundial’s Shima Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar was named 2016’s Best New Restaurant and Best Sushi; the new Grab N Go market carries a full line of the same award-winning sushi.

The resort recently completed a 12-court Pickleball stadium. The Plexicushion system courts provide tournament-grade facilities in a beautiful, waterfront setting accessible to both resort guests and the public. A combination of tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball now claims the title of “fastest growing sport in North America.” Suitable for all ages and skill levels, the sport is a game of shot placement rather than strength and may be played at a leisurely pace or highly competitive tournament level.

Additional amenities include HydroGrid tennis courts, multiple heated swimming pools, a state-of-the-art fitness center, Kay Casperson Lifestyle Spa & Boutique, Sanibel Sea School at Sundial, Bailey’s Marketplace and much more.


The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort, opened in November. Nestled next to the 208-acre Henderson Beach State Park, the Henderson is the perfect destination for groups seeking a range of outdoor and teambuilding activities, including kayaking, jet-skiing, charter boat fishing, scuba and parasailing. The 170-room Henderson offers 30,000 sf of indoor and outdoor event space.

Another luxurious property The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa has it all, including more than 40,000 sf of award-winning flexible meeting space that accommodates groups ranging from 10 to 2,000 attendees. Meeting space includes spacious ballrooms, breakout rooms, prefunction spaces, an elegant boardroom, hospitality suites and a theater.

Florida is the ultimate corporate meeting destination because a group could meet in the state every year seemingly forever and have distinctively different experiences each time. What more could a planner want? C&IT

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