Ideal Florida LocalesOctober 17, 2018

Your Meetings Will Shine in the Sunshine State By
October 17, 2018

Ideal Florida Locales

Your Meetings Will Shine in the Sunshine State
The renovations taking place at the Biltmore Hotel Miami, a signature resort in Coral Gables, will meet the needs of corporate meeting planners. The project will be complete in December. Credit: Biltmore Hotel Miami

The renovations taking place at the Biltmore Hotel Miami, a signature resort in Coral Gables, will meet the needs of corporate meeting planners. The project will be complete in December. Credit: Biltmore Hotel Miami

When Jill Birkett, event director at Questex, recently worked with the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, Florida, she recognized that Palm Beach offered the luxury and amenities she was seeking for the Ultra Summit and Ultra Wellness events concurrently held this past June. Questex is a business information and events company, producing digital media, events, business information and content marketing solutions to corporate and government clients and other industries in the United States and internationally.

With 150 people in attendance, the events’ theme focuses on luxury travel trends.
“Palm Beach is a crown jewel in the realm of luxury travel,” Birkett says. “It offers the ease of access with a well-serviced airport that is a short ride to the beaches and downtown.”
Birkett says the reputation of Palm Beach means your attendees are eager to experience it themselves if they have not yet visited.

Palm Beach offers both a charming downtown area with shops and restaurants, great outdoor activities like boating and golf, as well as the draw of the magnificent resorts along the Atlantic beaches, so there is something for everyone.

In addition, downtown West Palm Beach is experiencing an increase in travel due a new 72-acre cultural district that’s transforming the area into a Tier 1 meetings destination. The city is in the midst of an economic boom with more than $2.5 billion in construction projects proposed or currently under construction. At the epicenter of this boom is a $40 million investment into infrastructure improvements over the next two years to reimagine the destination.

“An area of growing importance in travel is the aspect of wellness, which was a focus area of content during a portion of the Ultra events,” Birkett says. “Palm Beach offers many opportunities for meeting attendees to add or include wellness practices because the community has already embraced the importance of this, including both residents and hotels.”

Questex hosted their Ultra events at both the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa and The Breakers.

“Both properties have superb facilities and service. Staff members are warm and friendly,” Birkett says. “They know there are high expectations in Palm Beach, and they strive to meet and exceed those expectations. So, you will have a team that is as focused on meeting success as you are.”

Additionally, Discover The Palm Beaches (CVB) was extremely welcoming and helpful in connecting Questex to resources. They also introduced Birkett and her team to the Cultural Concierge services in Palm Beach so they could include authentic local things to the event, such as a charming young ladies’ dance troupe, a classical guitarist and other cultural aspects of Palm Beach.

“As a mecca for top events, (Miami) also features some of the best vendors on the planet. The sky is the limit when it comes to events in South Florida.”
 Anna  Noriega

Of course, a vast array of outstanding cultural options awaits visitors at the many five-star oceanfront resorts of The Palm Beaches. In addition, destinations in Palm Beach — like Society of the Four Arts, Flagler Museum, Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, Lakeside Trail, Worth Avenue and others — world-class performing arts and outstanding local and touring companies are located just across the bridge — literally minutes away. Planners will find a valuable resource in the Cultural Concierge program, a complimentary service of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County that supports and partners with Discover The Palm Beaches.

Lilo Matinas, president and meeting planner at Journeys Unlimited in Richboro, Pennsylvania, works with a national sales meeting for a pharmaceutical company based in New Jersey. At a recent meeting, 110 people attended the event held for three nights in January.

“We worked with the Wyndham Grand Jupiter,” Matinas says. “With high season for warm weather, I relied on Susan with Discover The Palm Beaches to help me with sourcing. I received quick replies, and the Wyndham Grand was a great fit for them in terms of availability, pricing, location, etc. Also, it is located right on the Intracoastal. It offers an amphitheater right next door, adjacent to a shopping area with several restaurants. It is so convenient for our attendees to enjoy on their free time — with no additional costs to my client.” For Matinas, Palm Beach has a wealth of hotel options, as well as nonstop flights.

“We can keep their transportation costs down and work with a shorter meeting if needed,” she says. “They have hotels to fit a variety of budgets, activities and restaurants in the area that easily accommodate, as well. Whether you want beachfront, downtown, Palm Beach Gardens, Delray Beach — there are so many options to consider.

Matinas actually arrived in Palm Beach a couple of days prior to the meeting to spend time downtown, which she had not experienced before.

“We stayed right there at the well-known Colony, so were able to easily walk to the beach, shops and nearby restaurants,” she says. “We also took advantage of the hotel bikes passing by the beautiful estates in the area, explored downtown with a festival that was going on, visited other hotels nearby and just took in the Florida life. When you look at the overall area of Palm Beach, it’s like hitting a gold mine of opportunities for your clients. I would highly recommend and will continue to make Palm Beach a choice for my meeting clients.”


While Palm Beach offers various levels of luxury to visitors, Miami is a truly international city with just about every amenity available. Whether a meeting or event planner is looking for a more formal or traditional environment or a venue that’s off-brand and trendy, the city has something that will work for everyone’s needs.

“It is also a great place to host events because people want to be there — the weather and entertainment that’s already here in the city is part of the draw for your event,” says Danielle Berman, an events and philanthropy consultant at DB Consulting – Tackle What’s Next, who has hosted several corporate conferences in South Florida.

In April, Berman orchestrated the Florida Alternative Investment Association’s ABC (Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Cryptocurrency) Forum with about 200 people
in attendance.

“We chose the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood as the venue,” Berman says. “The Seminole Hard Rock was a unique venue for us. We have traditionally used office spaces in the downtown Miami area, but we had some local South Florida attendees giving feedback that the traffic and distance for the West Palm Beach and Boca Raton folks was too much. The hotel offered great amenities, including free Wi-Fi and parking, in addition to some well-received casino free play cards for our attendees.”

Outside of South Beach, Downtown Miami boasts a lot of great museums, such as the Perez Art Museum and the new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science.

The Wynwood Arts District features the Wynwood Walls of graffiti and loads of trendy shops and galleries. Bayfront Park and Brickell Avenue have lots of great restaurants and nightlife. And, only a short 30-minute drive is the Everglades, where meeting attendees can revel in the great outdoors.

“South Florida has so much to offer — from amazing award-winning beaches to some of the best shopping in the nation,” says Anna Noriega of Alore Events, a third-party meeting planner in Miami. “Not only do we have the perfect weather all year round, but hotels have spacious rooms with beautiful resort-style pools for lounging. As a mecca for top events, the city also features some of the best vendors on the planet. The sky is the limit when it comes to events in South Florida.

Noriega has held numerous events at the Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort in Miami, ranging from 10 people to large corporate holiday parties and retreats of more than 300.

“We find that clients really love the dynamic amenities offered here,” she says. “During down time, they are able to take advantage of the beach, watch sunsets on the pier, as well as enjoy the pool, full spa and restaurant outlets.”

When Sean Bradley, president and founder of Dealer Synergy, plans meetings and events for his company, he does a tremendous amount of research on the various venues. For the past 11 years, Bradley has orchestrated the Internet Sales 20 Group Conference, a three-day training event for the automotive sales industry. All attendees are either managers or owners of a car dealership or a dealer group.

“We had approximately 200 attendees from all over the country at the event,” Bradley says.

“With this being our 11th year hosting the event, we are very experienced in event planning. We have a combination of requirements we look for, such as location, access to a centralized airport, cost, menu, amenities and support.” As such, he chose to host the event at the Trump International Beach Resort in Miami.

As Bradley explains, Miami was a clear choice for this event because of the city’s reputation of being a fun, beautiful and modern city.

“The weather is awesome, the vibe and culture are amazing,” he says. “What’s not to love about doing an event on the beach of Miami. Since our clients come from all over the country, it is easy to sell tickets to an event on the beach in Miami. We stayed on property for the entire event except when we chartered a 550-foot private yacht for the VIP party.”
To meet the needs of corporate meeting planners —elegant, refined locations for their events — the Biltmore Hotel Miami is undergoing a complete rooms and suite renovation and golf course restoration to be completed by the end of this year.

Considered a signature, famed resort in the exclusive area of Coral Gables, the renovation restoration project will re-instill the hotel’s old-world glamour and regal elegance.

Corporate meeting and event attendees will revel in the golf course restoration, which is one of only nine Donald Ross-designed golf courses in the Top 100 golf courses in the U.S.

“We are proud to celebrate the Biltmore’s relaunch via its rooms and corridors renovation and golf course restoration projects” says Gene Prescott, president and CEO of the Biltmore Hotel. “This historic landmark is a treasure of the city of Coral Gables, and the newly redesigned elements allow us to highlight the hotel’s old-world feel while exceeding today’s modern-day standards of hospitality and golf offerings. We remain committed to the property’s success while maintaining its status as a first-rate, world-class destination.”


Russ Ryan, principal and meeting planner at Rusk O’Brien Gido + Partners, LLC, in Maynard, Massachusetts, was looking to host a three-day Growth and Ownership Strategies Conference for senior-level architects and engineers. He set his sites on The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples (The Ritz-Carlton, Naples and The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples). For the past seven years, more than 150 attendees have enjoyed the amenities offered at this exquisite venue.

“We looked for a hotel that our C-level attendees would feel comfortable staying at, and we thought The Ritz matched our business philosophy of excellence,” Ryan says. “We also have a golf outing on the check-in day that is very popular, and we have been playing at Tiburon Golf Club right next door. It eliminates shuttles, and our attendees can check in, and their clubs are sent right over to Tiburon.”

Featuring two resort experiences, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, resides along the Gulf of Mexico, while The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort sits atop championship greens a few miles down the road. Meeting and event groups staying at one resort have access to the other via a shuttle, so those staying at the golf resort can spend a day at the beach or the luxury spa, or those staying at the beach can test their luck on the two championship courses that the golf resort provides.

One of the first things Ryan did on the company’s site visit was to make sure that the venue was easily accessible from the airport. And, they sought a place that featured amenities aplenty. The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort offers tennis, a pool, spa and a great workout area, as well as the adjoining golf course. It is also a 15-minute shuttle away from The Ritz-Carlton, Naples beach resort.

“Naples is a perfect place for our attendees, as our post-conference evaluations attest. When surveyed, 99 percent of attendees have urged us to stay in this location, and they enjoy the beaches, restaurants, golf and our fishing outings,” Ryan says. “Many stay for the weekend, and we have a very high percentage of repeat attendees.”


“As the overall top-rated destination for meetings and conventions in the country, Orlando can accommodate a memorable event for literally any group size or budget,” says George Aguel, president and CEO, Visit Orlando. “Because we are a robust destination with so many options, our Visit Orlando team can help planners identify the best choice for their needs. Our team of destination experts can help them to coordinate site inspections, assist with attendance building or CSR opportunities, provide Visit Orlando registration staffing and create unique offsite events for receptions, private dinners and behind-the-scenes experiences. Our team understands the complexities and challenges that face planners every day, as well as all that our region can offer, and they go out of their way to not only accommodate their needs but anticipate them.”

Orlando offers hundreds of venues — hotels, convention center and theme parks to name a few — to accommodate groups. Universal Orlando Resort has everything a planner needs to create an incredible event. The hotel collection, including Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, offers a total of 295,000 square feet of meeting space and 9,000 guest rooms.

Each onsite hotel is nearby the resort’s three theme parks and the Universal CityWalk dining and entertainment complex. There are a variety of memorable event options — group dining, private use of CityWalk clubs/restaurants, after-hours theme park events and teambuilding activities, like scavenger hunts — for any size group. The upcoming events this month at the Orange County Convention Center alone will generate a combined economic impact of more than $106 million.

“Orlando has made its mark as the No. 1 overall meetings destination in the country,” says Aguel. “What I love best about Orlando is that there is always something new to experience. Every day, I learn about a new venue, event, restaurant or attraction that is opening in our destination. If you haven’t been here in 10 years, five years or even one year, the Orlando you saw then will be different from what you see today.”

From world-renowned theme parks to tropical trails teeming with splendor, Orlando presents a variety of meeting venues for professionals who are looking for unique locales. Cozy, awe-inspiring, and monumental, these Orlando gems offer accommodations and amenities aplenty — all while providing ideal opportunities for your group to work some and play some.

Heather Mangum, CMP, senior meeting planner at Darden, recently hosted a series of meetings for restaurant managers for LongHorn Steakhouse. The meetings were part of a leadership series for Darden’s executive team. The purpose was to educate, motivate and celebrate achievements from the previous year.

“We had different groups each day of 160 attendees,” Mangum says. “Orlando is a great city for meetings with access to great airlift. The airport is very close to major attractions and doesn’t require long trips to get to your location once you arrive. Depending upon the time of year, the weather plays a key role with the sun and warmth available to attendees for most of the year.”

DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at Seaworld, which hosted Darden’s executive meeting, was chosen for its close proximity to the airport and highways for ease of transportation.

“It is also close to our corporate office, as we invite many locals to join for the day,” Mangum says. “I recommend DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at Seaworld for not only its location and the flexibility of meeting space, but the fantastic team that provides incredible service with a smile. Any of its team members are happy to assist with whatever needs may arise.”

Having lived in this city for many years, Mangum suggests hosting a private event in one of the theme parks.

“The opportunities are endless,” she says. “You can’t find events like they do anywhere else in the world. I’d also recommend catching a game and hosting a group event to see Orlando City, one of the newer soccer teams to hit the MLS. Games are great fun, and the city really rallies around their team. The new stadium is beautiful and offers great food and beverage options.”

Amy Tynan, meeting planner at AlliedPRA Orlando planned an annual incentive meeting for 650 attendees in February. The event was held at the Four Seasons Resort, as the meeting required a five-star high-end resort.

“Orlando has easy flight connections from all destinations, the cost of doing business in Orlando is very affordable, and there is a variety of entertainment options,” Tynan says.

“Orlando has something for everyone, and the Four Seasons Resort is a wonderful property located in the heart of the theme parks. They also offer fantastic private group event options within the theme parks. These events create lasting memories long after the meeting.”


When Karen Latta, senior director of organizational events at the American Quarter Horse Association in Amarillo, Texas, was looking for the ideal location for its annual convention, Jacksonville’s coast region with warm spring temperatures was extremely appealing.
With more than 450,000 square feet of meeting space available, Jacksonville provides a wealth of unique experiences with white-sand beaches, award-winning restaurants and an array of outdoor activities to attract those with a wide range of interests.

“This past March, we had 900 people attend our annual convention,” Latta says. “We chose to host our event at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. We received proposals from several properties but wanted to utilize a Hyatt property because of their incentive program. The hotel staff — from the GM to the banquet staff were fabulous to work with and very inventive on assisting with location and food and beverage for our events.”

For events that offer a family component, Jacksonville is the pre-eminent place for family-friendly meetings and events. From Shipwreck Island Waterpark to Adventure Landing to the award-winning Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, kids of all ages will have a wonderful time. Of course, Jacksonville’s plethora of family-friendly beaches include kayaking, fishing and paddleboarding.

Daytona Beach

With 23 miles of world-famous beaches, Daytona Beach offers plenty of options for meeting and event planners that are looking for unique venues and attractions for attendees.

With area investments of more than $2 billion in progress and a vast array of hotel, attraction, dining and shopping options available, Daytona Beach is proving to be a great option for meeting locations — especially in light of the wealth of construction and renovation happening in the area.

For example, One Daytona, a multimillion-dollar entertainment destination opened across from Daytona International Speedway with dining, retail and entertainment, along with new hotels. And the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach, opened in March with 200 rooms on the oceanfront.

One area of interest for meeting and event planners is the Daytona Beach Convention Hotel and Condominium, a $192 million, 501-room oceanfront complex, which is under construction just north of the Ocean Center convention center complex.

Paul Steen, director of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe, recently planned an attorney retreat for a large law firm based in Orlando.

With 85 attendees, Steen had originally signed a contract with the new Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach, but the hotel was undergoing a whole property renovation that missed their opening date by a month. While Steen had to rebook the event at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, he had originally chosen the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach because of its fresh, interesting concept for the area.

“The excitement of the beach at an oceanfront property with the Daytona International Speedway nearby is a big draw of Daytona Beach for corporate meeting planners,” Steen says. “Daytona Beach is being renewed and reinvigorated as evidence by the Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach.” C&IT


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