FloridaJune 26, 2023

The Sunshine State Offers Something For Everyone By
June 26, 2023


The Sunshine State Offers Something For Everyone
South Walton’s white sand beaches are a top attraction in Florida’s Panhandle. Courtesy Photo

South Walton’s white sand beaches are a top attraction in Florida’s Panhandle. Courtesy Photo

Meeting planners and vacationers alike are sold on Florida. The numbers tell the story.

The state, which reopened faster than most following the peak of the pandemic, can boast of a booming tourism infrastructure. Last year, a record 137.6 million visitors (domestic and international) came to Florida, an increase of 12.9% over the year before.  More importantly, 2022 numbers were up about 5% overall since 2019, despite international visitor numbers still being down substantially from pre-pandemic arrivals. Visit Florida reports that room demand for meetings and conventions recovered dramatically last year, rising 76% from the previous year to 27.1 million while revenue more than doubled to $4.5 billion, representing higher revenue than was produced in 2019.

Emerging Destinations

While some of Florida’s major meeting destinations — Orlando, Miami and Tampa — earn the lion’s share of business, it’s worth shining a light on some of the secondary and emerging locations that meeting planners like to call home. Consider Lee County and the greater Fort Myers area. Despite the considerable destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian last September, it’s a destination Minnesota-based VerticalXchange, returned to multiple times during the winter of 2022-23. The company, which provides custom matchmaking appointment scheduling to enable one-on-one networking in such industries as agriculture and housing, held five of these events with Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village. LeAnn Koenig Olson, vice president, operations for VerticalXchange, says the company was lucky to have a team member based in the area.

She says the greater Fort Myers area has been a staple in the meeting rotation for VerticalXchange since 2014.  “We found ourselves comparing Florida, Texas and Arizona locations when picking our event location and decided upon Fort Myers because of The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village. The Westin provides the perfect size venue with the right type of rooms for our unique private meeting format.”  VerticalXchange bases its site selection around properties offering specific room types; air accessibility and weather are additional considerations. “The Westin has a large quantity of one-bedroom suites, making it perfect for our breakout space needs. We make double use of the rooms as both meeting space and sleeping room, which really gives us more bang for our buck. Also, we’re not breaking up large ballrooms into small sections that are still too big for our breakout sessions.  The resort’s size is large enough to accommodate our bigger group that is slightly over 200 but small enough that we are not overrun by other guests or other groups.”

For planners seeking more traditional meeting spaces, the Westin Cape Coral Resort offers 29,910 sf of indoor meeting space, including the 12,250 sf Tarpon Point Ballroom, plus an open-air rooftop terrace and additional lawn space for groups.  The 308-room resort, which occupies a 19-story tower, completed a $15 million renovation two years ago.

Consider emerging destinations like Fort Myers when thinking about having a meeting or event in Florida. Brian Tietz Photography, Inc. / Courtesy of Fort Myers - Islands, Beaches and Neighborhoods

Consider emerging destinations like Fort Myers when thinking about having a meeting or event in Florida. Brian Tietz Photography, Inc. / Courtesy of Fort Myers – Islands, Beaches and Neighborhoods

Although only cosmetic damage was sustained at the resort during the Hurricane Ian last fall, hurricanes were still something that Koenig Olson said they were concerned about. “Given the hurricane at the end of September and our first program scheduled for November, there was a lot of high communication between us and the Westin’s leadership, discussing construction, damage, operations, catering supplies and the reopening,” explains Koenig Olson. One thing we were especially concerned about was consistency of power, as the local grid was still being repaired, but the resort assured us that if the local grid was not stable, they would maintain large generators in order to guarantee power, but luckily the grid was stably restored, and we did not need to utilize back up power sources.”

“Once it was safe,” she said she drove around, taking pictures, etc. so they had a better idea what to expect. “We also immediately checked in with our transportation provider to make sure their fleet and team were able to service our upcoming group,” she says, adding that most of these attendees coming for the meetings were from the Midwest and deal with tornados. “We felt really fortunate that our first programs after the storm were people from the agriculture industry, because out of any of the industries we operate, agriculture is the most impacted by weather patterns. These attendees have a natural curiosity and awareness of weather patterns and episodes, and we knew they would be understanding of minor inconveniences and aesthetics that were not finished.”

Koenig Olson adds: “A lot of the staff at The Westin have been there for many years and that makes going back like visiting family. We transitioned to a new conference services manager this year, but they did their homework, learned our programs and took care of all our needs. They understand our program flow and anticipate possible situations that could disrupt that flow — the housekeeping manager adheres to a strict cleaning schedule and makes sure their team does not interfere with the breakouts in guest rooms.”  The resort also worked hard to get outdoor spaces back in shape for the November event. “It’s a main attraction for the resort. A sunset dinner overlooking the marina sure beats the four walls of a ballroom.”


Melissa DeLeon, president of MTI Events, also needed a specific type of hotel for her client, the Minneapolis-based Tennant Company, manufacturer or industrial and commercial cleaning equipment. For its annual sales meeting DeLeon says the company requires a fairly large footprint for its equipment as well as meeting space and breakout rooms.

“We do a cost analysis for the client, comparing various locations based on a combination of availability, budget and the functionality of the hotel,” explains DeLeon, who says she’s been working with Tennant for 25 years. “At the end of the day, the thing that seems to make the difference is the loading dock, so I’ve learned to tell the sales person during the site visit that we need to start there.  We’re unique.  Every hotel can say, ‘We can get your cars in,’ but I’m not bringing cars in — we’re bringing in street cleaners, and we have to work with fire marshals for approval. If I can’t get the equipment into the hotel, there’s no reason to even continue the site inspection.”  After comparing various locations, the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront wound up securing the event, which drew 325 attendees to Florida in February this year.

“It met all of Tennant’s requirements,” says DeLeon.  “They tend to alternate the geographic location east and west, and it was time for the east coast.  Coming out of Covid and with everything going on, Florida was very appealing. They wanted to be able to go outside in February, and it’s almost guaranteed you’re not going to have a weather issue in Florida then.” Attendees were coming in from across the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, so air access was also a factor, and DeLeon notes that airfares were a little higher than normal. “But that’s in line with every destination right now.  The fact that Southwest flies to Jacksonville helps hugely in terms of keeping down cost.  The airport is great, it’s easy to meet your people and get them to the hotel.”

DeLeon worked with closely with Visit Jacksonville.  “We don’t always use the CVBs,” explains DeLeon. “Some are a help, some aren’t; Jacksonville was a huge help. They did some banners outside the hotel along the riverfront.” The CVB also helped identify a nonprofit partner to work with. “My client’s motto is to leave a city better than the way they found it, and we worked with Hunger Fight, a local nonprofit that donates meals and books to underprivileged children.  Some cities cannot handle 300 people doing something like this. But it was one of the best activities of this type we’ve ever done.  Hunger Fight was quick, they were organized, it was motivating, and there was very little hands-on setup by the hotel, my staff or the client. They came to the hotel, set everything up, showed a great video and organized a competition with our sales team. It was fun, fast and furious.”

DeLeon is also effusive about the crew working at the 951-room Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. The hotel features 116,000 sf of meeting space including the 27,984 sf Grand Ballroom and 20,000-sf of outdoor deck space overlooking the St. John’s River.  “We chose it because of the function space, and the load-in,” notes DeLeon. “They also said we could own the hotel, and most hotels will not allow you to brand it — not without a buyout or a massive financial commitment.  The Hyatt was very willing to work with us.  Also, I strive to match my group size to the hotel — I don’t want to fight over ballroom space, and even though there was another group in house, they were completely set away from us.”

“So many hotels are understaffed, struggling,” adds DeLeon. “But from the front desk to housekeeping to banquets everyone at the Hyatt Regency pitched in.  No one said, ‘that’s not my department.’ It didn’t matter if you were a steward — the GM was down to see us every day, the Kinko’s guy helped with banquets.  There was such an incredible synergy there, so it was a feel-good all around.”

The main ballroom at Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor. Courtesy Photo

The main ballroom at Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor. Courtesy Photo

Choosing a Growing Destination

Florida is even growing new destinations for the MICE sector.  Punta Gorda, located just north of Fort Myers, will see the opening this fall of Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor. In addition to 785 guest rooms, a 25,000-sf food hall, including seven restaurants, and an 18-hole golf course exclusive to hotel guests, the property will offer 60,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space overlooking the harbor. The project lured Violand Management Associates to sign a three-year contract to hold 300-attendee business planning retreats at the resort starting late this year.

“Being on the Gulf Coast is our preferred locale, but we had never considered Punta Gorda,” says Karen Tuersley, Violand’s director of administration. “Our attendees look forward to a warm location. They also want to have lots of activities to choose from during their downtime. There’s no better place than Florida when looking for nice weather in November, and it also offers the most options for outdoor activities, especially when staying somewhere near water.”  Tuersley adds that one of the biggest advantages of Punta Gorda is its proximity to multiple airports.  Punta Gorda Airport, served by Allegiant from airports in the northeast, is about 6 miles from the resort; Southwest Florida International and Sarasota Bradenton International are each less than 60 miles away.

Tuersley continues: “Sunseeker Resort is a huge change, literally and figuratively, from the resorts we have contracted with in the past. At first, I thought it would be too big of a change and that our group would feel like a little fish in a very large pond. But the sales staff went out of their way to assure us this wouldn’t be the case, and to suggest ways they could help our group to not become lost in the vastness of the resort — things like offering a drink special for our group at a designated location each day, with signage posted in our meeting room. From a variety of room types to the vast array of dining options to fitness and leisure activities, it was very easy to see our attendees finding something they would enjoy doing, either on property or in close proximity.”

Tuersley says Violand’s events are hands-on business planning retreats (workshops) where each company attending is working on a business plan for the coming year. “Because a business plan requires conversations about sensitive topics like budgeting and staffing, it’s important for each company to sit at their own individual table,” explains Tuersley.  “This requirement means that our groups take up more space than a traditional meeting. Not all venues will accommodate our needs, as more square footage normally means higher F&B minimums, but Sunseeker was willing to work with us to reach an agreement that was beneficial for us both.”

“From the outset, the staff at Sunseeker made me feel like they truly wanted to develop a partnership with our company,” adds Tuersley. “During my onsite hard-hat tour, there were directors, an executive director and even a VP who participated. They were welcoming, warm, and friendly and went out of their way to earn our business and convince me of their desire to establish an ongoing relationship. The core values of their company — integrity, excellence and teamwork — closely match our own, attributes they truly seem to emulate.”

Caribe Royale Orlando is adding a 20,000 sf outdoor green space for meetings called The Grove. Courtesy of Caribe Royale Orlando Resort

Caribe Royale Orlando is adding a 20,000 sf outdoor green space for meetings called The Grove. Courtesy of Caribe Royale Orlando Resort


Still, tried and true destinations continue to keep Florida front-of-mind for meeting planners — none more so than Orlando, which hosted 74 million visitors in 2022 and remains America’s No. 1 meeting and convention city.

“Florida, and central Florida in particular, is an ideal location due to its ease of access from a wide range of locations, both domestic and international,” says Marc Farrugia, chief administrative officer for Sun Communities, a developer of manufactured home communities and RV resorts. “Florida is a safe destination that has a booming housing market, offers rich cultural diversity and provides rich culinary experiences. Orlando has incredible options for shopping, whether it be great deals at any of Orlando’s several outlet malls, high-end shopping at traditional malls, or locating unique souvenirs from theme parks and resorts.” Farrugia notes that Orlando is a hospitality-focused city, an important consideration for meeting planners. “They live and breathe hospitality, they have the infrastructure to support transportation logistics for large groups, and they are incredibly well-equipped to host events of all types. There is no shortage of entertainment venues, unique dining experiences, themed resorts, high-end resorts, etc.  Orlando literally has something for everyone.”

For a 750-attendee leadership conference held recently, Sun Communities chose the Universal Orlando Resort as host.  “We have established a great relationship with the teams at Universal Orlando Resort and really enjoy the partnership. We work well together and having repeat events at this venue has made execution of our event more efficient. We’ve saved some expense, and the overall quality of our event increases each year because of the manner in which we can improve on prior years’ experiences,” says Farrugia, who adds that Loews Sapphire Falls is one of the best conference hotels/venues Sun Communities has ever used. Their Elevate Leadership Conference was just held there. “At the top of the list is the quality of service offered by the staff and the cleanliness of the property.  Whether it be a smooth check-in experience with the front desk team, friendly catering staff supporting our meeting, or pleasant housekeeping staff, Loews Sapphire Falls shines above their competition from a service perspective.”

Farrugia notes that the meeting facilities at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort are well situated, easy to navigate, support the latest meeting technology, and offer reliable, high-speed internet. “Their event management staff is second to none,” adds Farrugia. “With more rigging points than most venues, we’re able to execute an event that leverages large-scale LED walls to create visually stunning general sessions. Through their partnership with on-site partner Encore, they can assist clients with bringing their vision to reality with amazing lighting effects, immersive sound, HD graphics, etc.  The department heads consistently check-in with meeting planners to ensure client events are executed without hiccups.

Farrugia continues: “Loews Sapphire Falls Resort also offers wonderful dining options that are sure to appeal to all. Banquet menus feature locally-sourced ingredients and are designed by chefs with extensive culinary experience. They do a fabulous job of accommodating dietary restrictions and are laser-focused on ensuring guest expectations for quality food are met and exceeded.” Following their event, Farrugia says the company surveyed attendees and found the highest satisfaction levels with a conference across all venues used in prior years.

The A.W. Chesterton Company, a multi-industry manufacturer of sealing solutions, industrial lubricants and more, holds a North American sales meeting every two years, alternating between east and west coast destinations. For its 380-attendee event at the beginning of the year, A.W. Chesterton chose Orlando, using the 1,012-room Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace located just inside Walt Disney World and across the street from Disney Springs.

“We chose the hotel for a few reasons,” says Ellen Cormier, the company’s sales and marketing support manager.  “The rate was right and the location was perfect for all those coming from around the U.S. and Canada. And, as a major airport, Orlando made travel easy for all attendees — it’s very easy to fly in to at low fares.”

“The meeting space at the Hilton was recently renovated, and perfect for our group,” adds Cormier. “Feedback on the hotel was overwhelmingly positive. There were plenty of sleeping rooms also renovated within the last few years, and the food was excellent with lots of variety to choose from.”  With the hotel’s two ballrooms, both measuring more than 21,000 sf, new, dedicated registration counters are available in the foyer. “We were able to secure our meeting supplies with no worries of having to move them at the end of each day. Our meeting planner and his staff were very attentive; we could not have asked for a better team. They were always a step ahead of me, knowing I would inquire about a meeting need. During the months leading up to the meeting, we would meet by phone, online and in person, which helped lessen the worry that I was missing something about our big event. They’ve got it all covered.”

One area of concern Cormier raises is pricing. “We were caught off with the price of meeting WiFi and related needs — lighting, rigging, etc.,” says Cormier. “The meeting was a success, but we were not aware of the high cost of these necessary items. Ask questions; make sure all details and pricing, no matter how small, are laid out in the contract.” Otherwise, Cormier says the director of sales and meeting planners were both responsive. “We can only speak positively about this team. It’s a great location for our attendees to go out on their own on evenings that we did not have a planned event, and a great location near the Disney World theme parks. Many attendees brought their families and stayed additional days to enjoy the parks.”

Elevate 2023 recently took place at Universal Orlando’s Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Courtesy Photo

Elevate 2023 recently took place at Universal Orlando’s Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Courtesy Photo

As the longest standing corporate group to hold its largest and most important event, German-based SAP has a unique bond with Orlando, with 20 years of year-over-year success. “Over time, we’ve been able to secure unique conditions to support critically important programmatic components that allow us to bring SAP to life for full attendee brand immersion,” explains Stefanie S. Goffredo, category manager, Events & Sponsorships. “Events are an exceptionally powerful tool for any entity to invest in for desired results, and we recognize, value and appreciate all the ways that our Orlando partnership is evident.” How big is the global entity’s annual SAP Sapphire? The 2023 event took place recently and drew 10,000 attendees. For the last two years, the company did a buy-out of Universal Studios for its celebration evening, this year bringing in Grammy-winning R&B superstar Usher. Goffredo says SAP is already eagerly talking about next year’s event.

As Goffredo explains: “Our Orange County Convention Center-plus-anchor hotel approach with Hilton Orlando, Hyatt Regency Orlando, Rosen Centre Hotel and Rosen Plaza Hotel is an optimal strategy to serve the various attendee types that make up our total attendee base. As event registrations increase close-in we’re able to add additional sleeping room inventory with existing and new properties. We are exceptionally appreciative of the Orlando hotel community as a dynamic partner that is willing and able to quickly adjust as event conditions change.”

“We enjoy committed, long-standing partnerships with the people and places that make things happen there,” says Goffredo. “This is bolstered by ease-of-use and cost-effective infrastructure components, such as an easily accessible international airport in close proximity to hotel products that meet a variety of attendee-driven needs, as well as leisure-oriented attractions that give us the chance to wow our attendees.”

Goffredo says the convention center is the core of SAP Sapphire, and says this year they were delighted with Centerplate’s innovative approach to deliver unique food experiences. “The Sapphire Lunch Bowls were excellent and super popular,” she says, adding, “Having produced this program over 20 times, we are in lock-step with building management and the various departments and staff that come together in careful and complex coordination, enabling SAP to aspire to the height of brand optimization and customer care.”

The continually expanding city has new developments and improvements on the horizon. Opening later this year, the Conrad Orlando will debut with 433 rooms, 40,000 sf of indoor meeting space, a full-service spa, multiple dining options and a signature rooftop experience. The hotel will be part of the massive, 10,000-bedroom resort complex, Evermore Orlando Resort, offering an array of stay experiences from single homes to villas, flats and hotel guest rooms, and located immediately north of Walt Disney World.

The 247-room Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando, Autograph Collection, located in downtown Orlando, completed a comprehensive renovation with new additions, such as the upscale Altira Rooftop Pool Lounge offering seasonally influenced dishes and specialty cocktails — and reimagined spaces like the property’s signature restaurant, The Boheme. The hotel features 10,107 sf of meeting space.

And the Caribe Royale Orlando, which just completed a $125 million renovation, including a new 50,000 sf ballroom, will be adding an additional purpose-built space for meetings this fall, The Grove. The new 20,000-sf outdoor green space offers meeting planners added flexibility for groups up to 2,000 people, allowing them to customize both indoor and outdoor experiences for events there. The property currently features 220,000 sf of total meeting space, and the 1,215 one-bedroom suites and 120 two-bedroom villas feature spacious interiors.

Grand Hyatt Miami Beach, pictured in this rendering, will create an anchor hotel for the Miami Beach Convention Center when completed. Courtesy Photo

Grand Hyatt Miami Beach, pictured in this rendering, will create an anchor hotel for the Miami Beach Convention Center when completed. Courtesy Photo


New hotels in Miami include Arlo Wynwood, which debuted last year. This is one of the first opened in the cultural district and features 8,662 sf of meeting space. There’s also Loews Coral Gables Hotel, which opened last year, with 30,000 sf of meeting space and offering 242 modern guest rooms as well as a spa, a fitness center and a rooftop pool featuring city views.

Meanwhile, the 800-room Grand Hyatt Miami Beach is under construction and slated to open in 2025, creating an anchor hotel for the Miami Beach Convention Center. The 17-floor hotel will have a signature restaurant, lobby lounge and bar, gym, a resort-style pool deck with panoramic views, and four floors of meeting space and ballrooms. An elevated skybridge will enable event attendees to move freely between the hotel and the state-of-the-art Miami Beach Convention Center, which features four main exhibition halls tallying close to 500,000 sf of modifiable space in addition to dozens of other smaller spaces for breakouts.

Also happening in Miami will be renovations to nearby Lincoln Road, eight blocks of walkable outdoor dining and shopping. A $60 million renovation will add new fountains, and park and event space, and other improvements. And, after leaving a mark on the New York City area and Los Angeles, Smorgasburg, the nation’s largest open-air market, is now integrated into Miami’s burgeoning culinary scene, and open every Saturday and Sunday.

A Winning Casino Resort

Moving up the coast, and inland, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood recently played host to a North America Sales Meeting for Primo Water, an American-Canadian company providing water dispensers, filtration appliances and self-service refill machines. The company worked with Visit Lauderdale to identify available hotels nearby with meeting space that met its priorities, and worked with a very tight turn-around —barely two months to plan and host the event.

“We usually have four to six months to plan a meeting,” says Ann Martin, vice president of agency services with Lighthouse Marketing, which oversaw planning. “Our meeting was planned, start to finish, in about eight weeks — a tough turnaround time.  It was important that we partner with a team that could help us meet that timeline, and we selected the Hard Rock Hotel after visiting the property in late December because we felt confident that the staff would be able to work with us to quickly plan and execute a flawless event.”

Located less than 10 miles inland from the coast, the 1,271-room Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, originally built in 2004, received a $1.5 billion renovation in 2019 and expansion to add a 450-ft. high guitar-shaped building that has become an icon for the surrounding Hollywood community. The “guitar hotel,” as it known to many, features 120,000 sf of meeting space, including a 37,611-sf ballroom.

“Our sales manager worked closely with us to ensure all of our needs were met and the contract was solid,” adds Martin.  “High on our list of priorities was a comfortable general session space plus breakout session rooms on the same floor and in close proximity.  Once we were turned over to Convention Services, our new contact continued with the same level of service helping us to plan a welcome reception, breakfast, lunch and break menus that were praised by the meeting attendees. They were also able to accommodate dietary restrictions. The light show at the guitar tower was a fun surprise for guests during our poolside welcome reception. The casino also offered the meeting attendees additional evening entertainment opportunities to enjoy on their own.”

Martin continues: “It’s always important to us that we have the same AV staff support throughout our meeting, and both the onsite AV service, Seminole Media Productions, and the Convention Services teams were outstanding.  The tech, equipment and sound quality were top notch, and both teams assigned a direct point of contact that was available at a moment’s notice throughout the meeting to help us fulfill any detail or request.”  Although Primo Water elected to host two offsite events, Martin says it would be easy to plan a meeting and provide unique evening entertainment options without ever leaving the property.  “The property is easy to navigate. Aside from the casino, there are multiple restaurants, bars and a theater on site, while the meeting space is set apart from the casino and entertainment areas.

Palm Beach

For an investors retreat that included a fundraising dinner and gala, Rebecca Gallagher, founder and president of Wanderlust Meetings, used the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach for a 300-person event at the end of last year. The event included two nights at the resort — 100 rooms on peak — while additional support staff, sponsors and influencers were accommodated in 75 rooms at the Hilton West Palm Beach, eight miles away.

Gallagher says many people have preconceived or outdated notions of what this destination is like. “Some people find Palm Beach to be older, stuffy, or dated, perhaps,” suggests Gallagher. “But it is evolving so quickly, while still keeping some classic Florida charm intact. The Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach embraces that culture, from the ambiance of the guest room décor to the classy and retro vibe of the lobby bar, pool deck, gelato stand and chairs on the beach. It’s all in the simple details — demure, yet effective style and service. Yes, it comes at a cost, but in a time when clients are paying exorbitant rates for inconsistent product at other properties, I can confidently say the Four Seasons delivers close to perfection, and that is valuable in this industry. If you haven’t had a chance to get to know the area, now is the time to get acquainted, as it’s well worth the visit.”

In addition to the level of luxury promised, the Four Seasons was selected due to its proximity to the beach and the meeting space capacity. The resort features 21,128 sf of total meeting space. “The client has hosted this program at the resort for the past several years and the turnout is always very strong,” explains Gallagher, who adds that the group has a large, affluent, often notable attendee base, who sometimes decide to attend at the last minute. “The hotel has always been very helpful in assisting with rooming list changes and guest room requests, even just hours before the event kicks off. To have that additional support and flexibility is very important. They convey to their guests the confidence that anything they need can be accomplished.  The Four Seasons quality, the high service levels and above-and-beyond experiences attendees have continues to support the overall success of the program. When your attendees are happy, it makes a planner’s job that much easier.”

Gallagher continues: “In the years of experience working with Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach team, they have always provided myself and my client an excellent experience. Sometimes, once a contract is signed, a hand-off occurs and the salesperson is never involved again — that’s not the case here, and to have that additional support throughout planning and execution of a program is vital.”

JW Tampa Water Street. Courtesy Photo

JW Tampa Water Street. Courtesy Photo

Tampa Bay

On occasion, a meeting planner finds a destination to adopt as their own — literally. “I fell in love with the Tampa Bay area seven years ago on my first site visit to the Tampa Marriott Water Street,” explains Kristin Tol, event director for Mainline Information Systems. “I moved to St. Petersburg three years ago to enjoy everything this great part of the country has to offer.”

Tol continues: “Our company has always had a remote workforce, so getting together once a year for our annual sales meeting not only meets the broader business purpose of reviewing the past year and setting goals for the next, it also gives employees the chance to socialize, network and re-connect. Doing this in a sunny climate gives many a reprieve from the cold, while also providing a setting which is relaxing and encourages networking. Since our employees live all over the country, a convenient airport with a lot of lift is crucial — for both our budget as well as ease for our traveler.  Many arrive into Tampa on direct flights, the cost is relatively low and the 20-minute airport to hotel transfer is an added bonus.  Upon arrival, attendees can relax on the Tampa Riverwalk, go for a run or explore the booming city rather than be stuck on a bland hotel campus in the middle of nowhere.”

With many of Mainline’s business partners attending to showcase their capabilities, a large ballroom is needed in order to set up a trade show floor. The 727-room Tampa Marriott Water Street features 42,608 sf of meeting space, including the Grand Ballroom, measuring 17,169 sf.  Mainline has secured Tampa as the host for its Annual Sales Kickoff Meeting for four out of the past six years.

“It’s not only because Tampa ticks all of the boxes but also because employees have come to love the area,” says Tol.  “Tampa has so much to offer, and every year we’ve offered our employees a different experience, such as a Tampa Bay dinner cruise on the [Yacht] StarShip for all 400 attendees, organized an opening dinner in the Aquarium, participated in a brewery pub crawl in the downtown area, set up a food truck and music event, and last year, we bought out a local sports bar to host our Awards Dinner. All were successful and loved by the employees.

Tol continues: “The Tampa Marriott Water Street, and now the 519-room JW Marriott Tampa Water Street across the street, provide updated sleeping rooms, convenient and walkable meeting spaces, outside event spaces, a great lobby bar and meeting spaces with large windows and lots of light.  The event team is amazing, the F&B is top notch, and the hotel’s location can’t be beat. The new JW is stunning, and although more expensive, being able to put some of our executive team here was a fun perk.”

“Come enjoy the Tampa Bay area,” Tol adds. “There are also many great hotels in the downtown St. Pete area and I’ve started to use hotels here for executive and team meetings.  The Tampa airport is easy, the weather is great, and downtown St. Pete has so many restaurants and activities to offer to attendees post their work day.” C&IT

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