FloridaDecember 16, 2021

Offering Some of the Best Outdoor Spaces to Host Events By
December 16, 2021


Offering Some of the Best Outdoor Spaces to Host Events
South Walton encompasses a 26-mile stretch located along the Gulf of Mexico in Northwest Florida.

South Walton encompasses a 26-mile stretch located along the Gulf of Mexico in Northwest Florida.

While the COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for the cancellation of many meetings, when corporations were ready to hold events again, many chose venues that could accommodate attendees outdoors. After all, an outdoor venue provides plenty of fresh air, offers spectacular views and gives attendees more sense of being safe from their COVID concerns, as it’s been shown that transmission is greatly reduced in open-air venues.

The outdoors allows groups to gather once again, whether to connect, celebrate or simply enjoy an incentive trip without the worry. Additionally, hosting meetings outdoors provides for a more immersive destination experience and a more relaxing, and ultimately, productive atmosphere, as opposed to the more traditional, and sometimes uninspiring, indoor meetings. From the planners’ side, hosting a meeting outdoors gives attendees a true taste of the destination. Plus, they can get creative during the planning process because outdoor space tends to be much more flexible. And planners have found that there’s nowhere quite like Florida for finding unique and accommodating outdoor spaces.

Nadene Grossman Orr, CEO & director of events for We’ve Got the Keys, recently hosted a dinner reception on the lawn at the historic Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West for 80 attendees for a corporate client commemorating its 15th anniversary in business. A themed menu was complemented by a live cigar roller, local rum tasting and live-action dessert station. “[Attendees] also enjoyed a photo-op welcome and tours of this historic museum during their cocktail hour,” she says. “Top local musicians were also brought in to entertain guests as they enjoyed our beautiful tropical décor and dancing under the stately old trees — all aglow with festival lighting.”

Orr notes it’s been imperative for her company to offer clients outdoor options in this post-COVID environment. “We love to get creative with our programs and find new ways to accomplish the clients’ goals for networking, team building and meetings,” she says. “We have seen our clients choosing to move their events out of the traditional meeting rooms and ballrooms to take advantage of more unique and inspiring open-air options, particularly those we have available to offer here in Key West.”

Orr says the Kimpton Key West collection of five boutique hotels are ideal for incentive clients because they offer bespoke accommodations and gorgeous gardens. “The various accommodations options also allow for buyouts where guests can stay together at one of the smaller, more intimate, properties and gather on-site for socials, serving as a convenient home base to venture off-site for team building, watersports and private functions,” she says. “And then there’s the natural beauty that surrounds us, including our renown Key West sunsets, which provide the perfect backdrop for any evening reception. You can’t paint a more memorable experience than that.”

Sylvie Boulanger, event manager for Event Travel Management, lists her top picks with “awesome” outdoor space for corporate and incentives in Florida’s Palm Beach County are on a yacht, and at the National Croquet Center, which is great for dinner and/or team building. Just recently, she held an event where the top earners of a company were treated to an elaborate evening on a deluxe yacht that sailed down the Intracoastal Waterway. “We had 120 attendees, and they all enjoyed the cruise with food, drinks, music, dancing under the stars and cigar rollers,” she says. “They were able to view the beautiful homes that flank the Intracoastal. This is a very unique experience for anyone that does not live in Florida, and it was a huge success.”

Caribe Royale Orlando offers outdoor spaces such as its 6,900-sf Boca Pier/Pavilion.

Caribe Royale Orlando offers outdoor spaces such as its 6,900-sf Boca Pier/Pavilion.

What’s Available

Caribe Royale Orlando’s Grand Caribe Convention Center offers 220,000 sf of meeting space indoors, but event organizers can also think beyond the boardroom and instead opt for one of several non-traditional outdoor event spaces, including its 6,900-sf Boca Pier/Pavilion, cabana-studded pool decks surrounded by lush tropical landscaping, and a AAA Four Diamond Venetian Chop House, featuring a fireside terrace for intimate al fresco business gatherings. “Outdoor events both accommodate a larger group of people while also easily providing a comfortable and safe distance between attendees,” says Gladi Colón, complex director of events & catering for Caribe Royale Orlando. “Outdoor events also lend themselves to more casual interactions and, depending on local and state guidelines, can have a longer timeline than indoor events.”

In addition, a lush outdoor environment sets a natural stage for corporate events and outdoor meetings, where less is more when it comes to draping and décor. And if not tented, the sky is literally the limit when it comes to entertainment. “It’s tremendously beneficial to have a variety of outdoor spaces that complement our vision for our resort,” Colón says. “After a $125 million transformation, Caribe Royale Orlando is set to unveil an entirely revamped look and experience early [this] year.”

Meeting professionals and groups mindfully select Ponte Vedra Resorts for its open, campus-style, layout, versatility and exceptional activities, all just steps away from a 1.5-mile stretch of the breathtaking Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville. Craig Schoninger, director of sales and marketing at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, notes the resort creates a memorable experience in a beautiful setting for companies taking their first step back to in-person meetings. “The location also offers an inherent sense of ease because we are equipped and experienced to meet multiple levels of health and safety measures that a company may require,” he says. “Of the many meeting facilities that the storied Ponte Vedra Inn & Club offers, the Lagoon Room, the Ponte Vedra Ballroom and the Stockton all have majestic floor-to-ceiling French doors that open to an outdoor space ideal for a welcome reception, cocktail hours or networking events.”

TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach boasts an expansive 11,000-sf lawn with stunning views of the 18th hole of THE PLAYERS Stadium Course and of its Mediterranean revival-style clubhouse. “This beautiful green space offers the ‘wow’ factor for planners looking to amaze their attendees,” says Kym Jones, director of group sales. “Our largest indoor ballroom features a 1,300-sf outdoor terrace, which offers a bird’s-eye view of the TPC lawn. Our expansive lower veranda, adjoining our event lawn, is also used for private events. We’re fortunate that we can host outdoor events with intimate groups as few as 10 people to over 1,000 people.”

Loews Miami Beach Hotel features 20,000 sf of outdoor space on its two beautiful lawns — the Americana Lawn and St. Moritz Lawn. “Our Americana Lawn also has the Americana Terrace, which provides an elevated space for a more VIP cocktail reception area that overlooks the entire lawn,” says Brad Cirino, director of sales at Loews Miami Beach Hotel. “This lawn also has been upgraded with built in trusses so we can easily pop-up a tent.”

There are also several expansive terraces that offer ocean views and are ideal for breakouts and receptions. The Rum Line, which is the outdoor terrace space located at the hotel’s historic St. Moritz Tower, offers planners a Key West-styled location for a creative meeting, break or a more themed evening event. “Additionally, our VIP SOAK Cabana Deck is a differentiator in terms of outdoor space,” Cirino says. “With eight dual story, fully enclosed cabanas with A/C, bathrooms, TVs, lounge areas and rooftop sun decks, these can serve as creative options for one-on-one meetings. The entire deck can also be used for a private outdoor reception featuring different stations for a dine-around, or a plated, sit-down meal.”

Barb Bowden serves as area managing director of Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando Resort, which includes Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, all of which are part of the Universal Orlando Resort destination. “Our meeting clients love to be outside for social events, and ideally in an area close to the meeting space,” she says. “We offer plenty of options, all with a distinct and unique sense of place that attendees enjoy. We remain focused on making our meeting attendees feel safe and comfortable, and planners tell us outdoor venues certainly help to accomplish this.”

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando.

Universal Orlando Resort’s Loews Meeting Complex at Universal Orlando can accommodate groups large and small with a total of 2,000 rooms and 247,000 sf of meeting space. The facility connects the meeting space of Loews Sapphire Falls Resort and Loews Royal Pacific Resort, meaning attendees can utilize both hotels’ large ballrooms, outdoor spaces and array of meeting and breakout rooms, while they can also enjoy the comfort and convenience of staying in one or both of the attached hotels.

Taken separately, Loews Royal Pacific offers 132,000 total flexible sf of meetings and events space, including 25,000 sf of total outdoor space, the 42,000-sf Pacifica Ballroom and the 36,000-sf Oceana Grand Ballroom. Loews Sapphire Falls offers 115,000 sf of flexible indoor space, including 16,000 sf of total outdoor space, the 41,000-sf Grand Caribbean Ballroom and the 30,000-sf Kingston Hall. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel offers 42,000 total sf of indoor space and 47,000 sf total outdoor meeting space.

Other amenities, such as dining and pools, are also top-notch. For dining, Loews Royal Pacific offers Jake’s American Bar, a bar/lounge with private dining options available; Orchid Court Lounge & Sushi Bar, another bar/lounge; and Bula Bar & Grille, a pool bar and grill. Its Lagoon-style pool with sandy beach offers a sun-drenched respite.

Loews Sapphire Falls offers for dining the New Dutch Trading Co., with grab-and-go meals; Amatista Cookhouse, offering full-service dining with private dining options available; Drhum Club Kantine, a pool bar and grill; and Strong Water Tavern, a lobby lounge. It offers a resort-style pool with waterfalls and white sandy beaches.

Oasis Wynwood in Miami boasts 35,000 sf of outdoor space for a one-of-a-kind experience for large corporate gatherings of up to 2,500 guests. “Event attendees can enjoy dishes from the venue’s six premier dining destinations — each serving food from a colorful, repurposed, shipping container: Alidoro, Buya Dumplings + Buns, CHIKIN, Los Buenos, Mr. Mandolin and Prince Street Pizza,” says Ashley Zuppas, director of special events for Oasis Wynwood. “The venue also features a large outdoor stage for event speakers, and has the capabilities to accommodate DJ sets and live music performances for event entertainment.”

Whether it’s an executive meeting, corporate retreat with team building or an incentive trip for top performers, planners can rely on the independently owned and operated Trump International Beach Resort Miami to offer a memorable and seamless experience. There are five outdoor locations perfect for breezy waterfront dining and team-building events. The resort offers easy accessibility due to the proximity to both Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports, as well as the cruise ship ports, and there are endless opportunities for entertainment with nearby casinos, golf courses, boating, fishing and restaurants for dine-arounds.

Todd Gehrke, director of sales and marketing at The Don CeSar, notes outdoor space is the foundation of the experience as a world-class beach resort. “Despite being almost 100 years old, we are extremely lucky to have beautiful spaces with floor-to-ceiling, water-view meeting spaces, as well as wonderful outdoor rooftop and garden level venues,” he says. “This includes two rooftop terraces overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, a lush tropical courtyard and veranda in the center of our hotel, the Beacon Lookout rooftop pool bar, two covered Beach Pavilions, boardwalk and Sunset Deck, and full event access to our private, white-sand beaches.”

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood’s Bora Bora cabanas. The resort also offers a 7,000-sf poolside function area.

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood’s Bora Bora cabanas. The resort also offers a 7,000-sf poolside function area.

Demand Intensifies

According to a recently released report by the Incentive Research Foundation examining the pandemic’s impact on wellness in meetings and incentives, planners reported a strong desire for outdoor space for meetings and receptions.

The report also notes that while wellness in meetings has always been driven by the goal of making attendees feel comfortable and cared for, the emphasis on emotional well-being has increased because of the pandemic. Additionally, providing flexibility and options regarding the agenda, breaks and spacing are critical elements in achieving attendees’ peace of mind.

Post pandemic, everyone is very focused on fresh air and sunshine, which has made gathering outside more of a priority, Gehrke says. This includes daytime meetings, meals and evening events. “As a result, we have tried to utilize our spaces in a way that also allows for privacy, security and connectivity, which can be a challenge many times with outdoor spaces,” he says. “After being quarantined for long periods of time, all guests are eager to spend as much time outside as possible.”

At the Don CeSar, groups have been very eager to host all their meals and evening events in outdoor spaces, as guests certainly feel more comfortable with gathering outside. Enjoying the Florida sunshine for a corporate meeting or event has always been in vogue, but it has become much more common since March of 2020. For instance, the demand for outdoor events at Caribe Royale has grown significantly since the pandemic. “Our legacy corporate customers really wanted to keep their meetings, and we offered them a safe alternative,” Colón says. “We’re seeing bookings increasing for 2022-23 both for indoor and outdoor events; and hybrid events, offering both virtual events combined with traditional indoor/outdoor meetings, are bridging the gap until 2022.”

While TPC Sawgrass’ lawn has always been a popular venue, Jones has found that, now, most planners are asking about outdoor space at the beginning of the conversation. “Some groups just feel safer outdoors now,” she says. “While an outdoor venue was a consideration in the past, it’s become a necessity for some planners.”

According to Bowden, outdoor event spaces have been in high demand for years, and they expect the trend to continue through 2022 and beyond. “It is a huge benefit to be able to offer so many different outdoor options to our clients,” she says. “We have designed and built these spaces specifically for group events, and they continue to be among our most popular venues across our entire destination.”

Oasis Wynwood has seen a large influx of requests for hybrid event space — indoor and outdoor. The venue has also seen an increase in requests for a less traditional meeting space. “Corporations are shying away from the traditional hotel meeting rooms and thinking outside of the box — many have been asking for space for team-building activities, etc.,” Zuppas says. “This year and next year especially, those hosting meetings and events are eager to gather as safely as possible, while rebuilding the teams and interacting with employees in person once again.”

Trump National Doral Miami offers more than 100,000 sf of meetings and events spaces, including plenty of outdoor function spaces suitable for groups large and small.

Trump National Doral Miami offers more than 100,000 sf of meetings and events spaces, including plenty of outdoor function spaces suitable for groups large and small.

 Making the Most of the Outdoors

It’s more important than ever to have exterior space for planners, because if you don’t, it could end the conversation immediately. “Many people still feel the most comfortable attending events in open-air settings,” Zuppas says. “Additionally, being outside offers a welcome change to your typical convention center or ballroom, which usually have minimal windows, for a meeting with fresh air and sunlight.”

Those in Florida are fortunate to be located in a destination with year-round tropical weather and ample outdoor space for planners. “Additionally, when considering South Florida, and Miami Beach in particular, as a destination for a meeting, it’s important to secure a location that has the outdoor space needed to bring the client’s meetings and events to life,” Cirino says. “People come to Miami for the sun, beach and the warm weather. The best way to showcase that is via an outdoor event.”

The time of year is also an important factor, since there is a rainy season in Florida, as well as the time of day to ensure that it’s not too hot. “This is particularly important when considering the type of meeting/function and A/V needs,” Cirino says. “Heavy A/V can be a challenge over the hotter months of the year. Décor is also a consideration. You want to ensure that whatever flowers, linens and so forth are being used can maintain their integrity outdoors.”

When done well, outdoor events can be the most memorable and special for attendees, and it all starts with making the outdoor space comfortable for guests. “Details are crucial, from having the right amount of space for the expected attendance, to planning for the expected temperature and adding heating or cooling if necessary,” Bowden says. “Lighting is also critical, and adds ambiance to evening events. Comfortable furniture that is appropriate for the style of the event is important, whether it be casual, soft seating or more formal seating.”

Trump International Beach Resort Miami offers a lower pool deck and lawn on the Atlantic Ocean.

Trump International Beach Resort Miami offers a lower pool deck and lawn on the Atlantic Ocean.

Exemplary service and working with experienced professionals at the venue is always job one when creating a successful outdoor meeting, but other tips to consider include making sure your venue is appropriately sized for your group; paying attention to the weather and having a backup plan; and staying flexible to keep the comfort of guests top of mind. For example, during humid summer months, a cooling mister could be added. When planning, Jones notes it’s important to know what the planner is looking for and understand the expectations of the outdoor event. “Every group has varying comfort levels, and you need to determine what resonates with your attendees,” she says. “Are there social distance requirements from your corporate clients that require table spacing, buffets with barriers, hand sanitizer, etc.?”

Planners should also budget accordingly, as most venues charge fees for the additional labor and setup involved with an outdoor event, which may or may not include tent and furniture rentals.

Staying Flexible

An important part of doing an outdoor meeting well is being flexible. While many groups feel safer outdoors, planners still need be prepared for inclement weather. “We are fortunate to have a large footprint at the clubhouse where guests can move indoors if necessary, but still have the room to be distanced from one another,” Jones says.

Schoninger notes the combination of outdoor and indoor spaces at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club allow for changes in plans in case of weather issues. “Doors can remain open, creating more ventilation and reducing the risk of the transmission of germs and illness,” he says. “When planning an outdoor meeting, it’s also important to embrace the natural environment and immerse professionals in the tropical, relaxing atmosphere.”

Consider other weather conditions as well. Some locations may be in direct sunlight during your meeting and need extra umbrellas for shade. Since the start of the pandemic, it has been incredibly advantageous to have outdoor options for planners. When you add an iconic venue, stunning views, amazing food and impeccable service, it’s the recipe for an unbelievably successful event. C&IT


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