Miami in MotionMay 1, 2018

The City Is Growing, Developing and Ramping Up Its Experiential Quotient By
May 1, 2018

Miami in Motion

The City Is Growing, Developing and Ramping Up Its Experiential Quotient
The Betsy South Beach on Ocean Drive was recently expanded. Credit: The Betsy South Beach

The Betsy South Beach on Ocean Drive was recently expanded. Credit: The Betsy South Beach

Miami artfully combines its sunny beach vibe with sultry Latin culture and cosmopolitan flare. Add a vibrant dining, nightlife and arts scene, and you have an urban environment that no other U.S. city duplicates, one that planners and attendees alike are drawn to.

From celebrated beachfront resorts to edgy contemporary brands, traditional venues to utterly out-of-the-box backdrops for memorable functions, there’s something for every type of group in Miami — and then some. Here are just a few possibilities to consider.

In Good Hands

For Alyssa Kelliher Kent, the inimitable Fontainebleau Miami Beach checked off all the right boxes. The director of marketing and communications for Medical Specialties Distributors (MSD), which produces a range of medical devices and supplies medical technology solutions, says a combination of factors led the group to the hotel in January 2018 for its Innovation & Technology Conference for 600 attendees.

“Miami seemed like the right choice for us due to a combination of factors — easy to get to, warm weather in January, competitive pricing and increased attendance due to the upscale location. Many of our industry conferences,” she adds, “are in Orlando, Phoenix and Atlanta every year. Miami is a great mix up for our industry and people are excited to attend.”

Add to that, she says, “a great location, beautiful hotel, top-notch staff, delicious food and ideal meeting space.” All of the group’s functions were held at the Fontainebleau. “Next year,” Kent says, “we are utilizing LIV nightclub, located at the hotel, for a couple of our events.”

The Fontainebleau had several standouts. “Banquet services really stood out to me during the event. From the taste of the food to the prep of the event they were always on point,” Kent says. “Pre and post the event, Felix Llibre, our sales point person at the hotel, was always a very reliable source.”

In terms of décor, MSD used an offsite DMC, and Kent says the hotel staff worked well with the DMC to meet the group’s needs. Challenges were few. “We had a few changes onsite prior to the show so our start with AV wasn’t as smooth as I’d hoped. Given our challenges, the staff pulled through and was able to accomplish what needed to be done. Wi-Fi was also a little spotty from time to time unless you were in the lobby. Other than that, what we faced was the same as at any hotel or destination,” Kent adds.

“You don’t have a great idea of the space until you are actually in it. However, Fontainebleau did a fabulous job of working with us when we needed to change something last minute and did it in a timely fashion.” Her advice to planners considering the Fontainebleau is to “Definitely go on a site visit first. Study your space and your ceiling heights. And always account for changes!” In the end, though, she says planners should know this: “You are in good hands.”

In February 2017, Fontainebleau updated and redesigned its Versailles Tower suites as well as the 33 luxury poolside cabana “retreats.”

Flawless Planning

Trump International Beach Resort comes to the attention of planners in part because of its location in between the area’s two major airports. But that’s just a small part of its story.

“We could not beat the cost and quality at Trump International,” says Jennifer DeHaven, Director of Operations and Training for Green Home Solutions.  As a company who was introducing the new, ‘We Make Air Better!’ tagline, the cool Miami air couldn’t have been better. Additionally, as Green Home Solutions is creating better indoor air quality and using plant based products, it made sense to team up with a resort that takes pride in using eco-friendly products and has their own “Green Team” initiatives. The group set its annual convention at the resort in November 2017, drawing over 120 attendees.

“The customer service was outstanding 100 percent of the time with all guests. Planning the event with the Trump staff was flawless,” DeHaven says. “The location is beautiful and in between both Fort Lauderdale and Miami airports. Our convention was such a hit with our company, including franchisees, corporate staff, spouses and business partners. The outside beach bar was a big hit, as was the food and drink, especially the lava stone dinner.”

A variety of local entertainers hit the right note with those in attendance. “We had Cigar Studs host a cigar roller at a mixer at the beach bar, which was a huge hit,” DeHaven says. “That same night we had magicians and a DJ courtesy of Amazing Adam. They were incredible! Another night we hosted a luau with Aloha Islanders. It was super fun and entertaining. Our guests all had wonderful things to say and we had an absolute blast the whole time! The luau was down by the pool lawn and featured a delicious pan-Pacific buffet. The AV team also did an amazing job with lighting.”

DeHaven calls the customer service at the hotel “top-notch,” adding that the resort itself is beautiful. The group held all of its functions on property. In thinking about those she worked with at Trump International Beach Resort, DeHaven notes that she and Melissa Burce, sales manager, “really connected the first time we spoke. Melissa, Joffrey Brown, Eddy Calero and Michael Erber were my top people before and during our event. They were awesome! I had about 40 boxes waiting for me when I arrived and they gave me a whole room to sort, package and store things during the convention. They were there in a heartbeat if I needed them. They did everything possible to make this event go smoothly.”

The group used two side-by-side rooms for meetings and meals. “We used the main ballroom for large assembly gatherings and eating. We had breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks catered. The food was great, plus we had kosher meals brought in and food allergy issues addressed. All of our AV needs were taken care of and simplified with the staff’s help. Eddy was wonderful. He was available the entire time. He was great with lighting, especially at the luau. He added extra lights and made a gorgeous scene. The meeting rooms were spacious, comfortable and attractive.”

DeHaven notes that a number of attendees did ask if the resort provides a shuttle to and from the airports, which it does not so planners should be aware of that. “However,” she says, “we utilized Uber and Lyft.” To any planner considering Trump International, DeHaven says, “I highly recommend it. It’s gorgeous, right on the beach and the customer service is incredible. Give your company plenty of extra time and maybe before or after options as well. I work with hotels across the country and the Trump is hard to beat. I wish I could come here for every meeting and training we do!”

Sister property Trump National Doral Miami is another choice for planners in the area, and recently announced a partnership with Rick Smith Performance Golf Center, which began operating at the resort in January. Small-group clinics may be a nice option for incentive programs or for golf-loving executives and VIPs.

Exotic Appeal

Few people know Miami as well as Adolfo Solórzano Z, national sales manager with AlliedPRA South Florida, one of the region’s premier DMCs. He has a whole host of reasons the city makes an excellent destination for corporate and incentive groups, including the fact that it provides tangible international influences that can make a group feel like it’s visiting an exotic foreign destination even if company travel is limited to domestic destinations only.

In addition to its idyllic climate as an attribute, Solórzano Z. says, “Miami as a destination is exciting because it’s the perfect mix of culture, beaches and luxury. It’s a world unto itself.” And access is easy. “When it comes to flights and access, Miami International Airport is aggressive in increasing services. In 2017, it added about 20 new services, including the first direct flight from Tel-Aviv, and is projecting its first direct flight from Asia in 2019, if not sooner.”

That makes Miami a good choice for groups with attendees from different parts of the globe. And there’s a construction boom going on, which may not sound like an attribute but Solórzano Z. sees it differently. “Probably the highest benefit for groups is the hotel inventory,” he says. “More than 2,000 rooms were delivered in 2017, nearly 3,500 rooms are projected this year in 2018 and over 6,400 rooms are scheduled for 2019. That’s almost 12,000 new rooms! In other words, competition for your incoming group business is going to be fierce and planners are going to have the opportunity to get some competitive deals on room rates.”

And that’s especially true, he notes, “when some of this inventory is being produced by independent hoteliers, as is the case with the newly expanded iconic Betsy Hotel on famed Ocean Drive in South Beach, as well as other newcomers including the Faena Hotel Miami Beach and East, Miami, which bring to Miami a new type of luxury and modern lifestyle.”

Growth and change are impacting all areas, starting with infrastructure and core facilities. He points to the “tunnel connecting downtown to the Port of Miami in 2014, the extensive Miami Beach Convention Center renovation due to be unveiled this year and all the new developments and hotels.”

Miami’s distinctive neighborhoods contribute to its ability to meet any group’s needs. “Miami is a beautiful city with many different neighborhoods, each offering something completely different,” Solórzano Z. says. “Downtown has that metropolitan city-life ambience with cutting-edge culinary. Little Havana is the place for culture and an authentic feeling of traveling abroad, while the Everglades provides an engaging natural environment for that nature-bound group. For a true sense of urban arts and food there’s Wynwood, and South Beach offers the quintessentially Miami Beach experience.”

Themed Events and Local Experiences

The team at AlliedPRA South Florida has worked on a variety of creative programs for its clients with great success. The group was recently tasked with creating an ‘80s-themed event at the Trump National Doral, but nothing as ordinary as a Miami Vice theme, which might come immediately to mind but would have missed the mark for this group. The client wanted something more out-of-the-box and more personal.

“Experience Designer Danielle Rothenberg and her team went to work on their Etch A Sketches and put together one truly unique event,” Solórzano Z. says. “The décor was pulled straight from her ‘80s toy chest — Rubik’s Cube Tables, a ceiling made of Slinky’s, black lights, neon, tie-dye, cassettes and leopard print. Every pop-culture reference they could find and purpose was reincarnated. Guests were encouraged to dress up and we managed to get our hands on some floppy disks and old yearbooks from the attendees and put the images on our Kodak Carousel for all to see!”

Any group can arrange to explore the Everglades by airboat. But for those that want a truly immersive and cultural experience, AlliedPRA offers something different. “Every year we probably take thousands of attendees to experience the Everglades and almost always it’s on an airboat,” Solórzano Z. says. “But every so often, a planner requests a really immersive experience. That’s when we invite them to explore the Everglades with the Miccosukee Indian Tribe and wade through the running waters of the Everglades alongside the original locals and inhabitants of the region. …We have a 99 percent survival rate!”

Island Oasis

While DMCs work with many hotels in a destination, some stand out because they offer something just a little different. Solórzano Z. notes that The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami is “Miami’s only island oasis made for groups.” The 490-room hotel recently underwent a reimagination, further “customizing the resort to the unique island in Miami on which it resides. The way it’s built creates a level of privacy for those groups that want to hold meetings that are not open to the public. Its decorative ballrooms and meeting space are just as adaptable to fit your purpose from a theming point of view as they are appealing to look at when your keynote speaker is on stage,” Solórzano Z. says. “When it comes to F&B, they are everything but basic. Just today while I walked the property, they were setting liquid nitrogen for the onsite instant ice cream station next to the full-size smoker for an authentic ‘que’ & ‘cubes’ dinner.”

And then there’s the service. ”I’ve been lucky enough to experience their level of service and their dedication to their staff and guests through their team we know as ladies and gentlemen. This is the cherry on top from an attendee experience point-of-view on property. They take care of everything.” One note about AV, rigging and lighting: Solórzano Z. says Key Biscayne has some issue that are island-specific, and this is one place where planners should build into their budgets contracting with the local PSAV team. “Beyond the insurance aspect, you’ll need them if you’re doing any rigging. There are some issues unique to Key Biscayne, such as using the proper lighting during turtle-hatching season that occurs traditionally between May and October, or when they spot the first nest.”

Miami in Growth Mode

As Solórzano Z. notes, Miami is in growth mode. The convention center is expected to fully open in 2018 and is on track to receive LEED Silver certification.

As for hotels, Loews Miami Beach Hotel, in the heart of South Beach, recently completed a $50 million upgrade and refurbishment of the lobby, guest rooms and meeting space, and opened a new “poolscape” with private cabanas. The Gates Hotel South Beach, a DoubleTree by Hilton, also unveiled an extensive renovation of public spaces that features a new entry as well as private cabanas. The Confidante Miami Beach completed renovations to its meeting and event space in September, including technology enhancements across its 10,000 sf of indoor space.

In January, La Centrale, Miami’s first Italian food hall, opened in Brickell City Center, offering 14 different Italian-inspired dining experiences — and a nice dine-around option for groups. Finally, in Q3 2018, ground will be broken on Miami Worldcenter, which will be home to the Marriott Marquis Miami Worldcenter Hotel & Expo Center, with approximately 1,700 hotel rooms and 500,000 sf of meeting and exhibition space. Completion is slated for 2022. That’s just a quick overview. “It’s safe to say,” Solórzano Z. notes, “if you came to Miami in 2015, you wouldn’t recognize it in 2018, and you’ll be surprised at what it will be in 2019.” C&IT

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