Florida has a variety of destinations suited for convention and incentive programs, small and large. But there’s only one Miami, the city perhaps best known for its magic carpet of sugar-white sand that lines the Atlantic coast as far as the eye can see.
However, William D. Talbert III, CDME, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (GMCVB), wants everyone to know that Miami is more than a beach. “In sales, you want to be able to distinguish yourself from the competition,” says Talbert, before ticking off a list of elements that help define his city beyond the sand. “For one, Miami has gone from being a cultural wasteland to one of the top art and culture destinations in the world. We thought we were pretty cool as is, but Art Basel came here 19 years ago and, today, the show brings in billions of dollars in contemporary art.”
Talbert continues, “People also come here for our international flavor. We are America’s most diverse community, and more than 50% of the people who live here were not born in the U.S. People from all over the world feel comfortable here. Not many places are like that, and the diversity of our community gives us a competitive advantage.”
On Cvent’s tally of the top meeting destinations in the U.S. last year, Miami leapfrogged such established convention cities as New Orleans, Phoenix and San Francisco to land in the list’s No. 9 slot. Perhaps a key reason for that jump is last year’s $620 million renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC), a facility Talbert describes as having been an “old, tired box.”
“It involved an expansion of about 263,000 sf, the bulk of which was a 60,000-sf ballroom, separate from the four exhibit halls,” Talbert says. “We went from a box with no windows to waves, glass and a sense of place. We can now have two meetings going on at the same time. And, before, when you left the convention center, you went into an asphalt parking lot with no trees.” Today, the parking lot is a 6-acre public park with wandering paths, a central lawn, a play and fitness area, and a Veterans Plaza.
But, Talbert says, Miami’s key advantage over many rivals is its airport, which is conveniently located less than 15 minutes from downtown. “It’s the only airport in the U.S. that serves more than 100 airlines,” Talbert adds. “And that’s not just service from Latin America, but from Europe and even from Africa. Miami International Airport is part of the county government, and when they pitch new air routes, the airport has a member of our team at the table. We’re not there in the abstract. We’re physically at the table and able to commit marketing dollars on the spot.”
Shene Norwood, Americas event manager, for Global Travel Meetings & Events, for Ernst & Young, cites Miami’s airport as a recurring asset. Earlier this year, she held sector meetings and training workshops for attendees on diversity and inclusion. “The airport is quite convenient,” explains Norwood, who has planned a number of events in Miami. “We had people flying in from everywhere, international as well as domestic, so we were able to get reasonable fares.”
Norwood says she usually uses the same few hotels, but due to the level of attendees for the February meeting, she wanted something more upscale, and wound up choosing Eden Roc Miami Beach and Nobu Hotel Miami Beach. She continues, “These people work long days and long hours, they work hard, and we wanted to reward them. We didn’t want them to feel like they were working. I had never explored this particular area of Miami Beach, but there are a lot of cool spots there. If you don’t want to do a typical meeting, some of the historical hotels offer meeting space with real flair. The hospitality was amazing from the moment I walked in the door at Eden Roc. It was classy and glamorous, and provided a wonderful backdrop for our meeting.”
One other thing Norwood said she liked about Eden Roc was that, in keeping with the focus of her meeting, “They are very diverse and inclusive. There are some places in Miami that are stuffy. Eden Roc is not one of them.”
Renovated in 2018, Eden Roc includes the hotel-within-a-hotel Nobu at Eden Roc, the brand started by famed Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa and Robert De Niro. The Nobu wing occupies Eden Roc’s original tower, built in 1956 by famed architect Morris Lapidus. Norwood found the rooms at the two hotels to be fairly comparable, and her attendees were split randomly between the two sides. Nobu does have an adults-only pool that was added earlier this year, but otherwise the facilities are mostly shared.
For the event, meeting space was important, and Eden Roc gave Norwood plenty of options, ranging up to the 8,963-sf Pompeii Ballroom and Promenade. “There are a lot of breakout rooms,” Norwood explains. “They could probably use a renovation in the basement part, especially as there are no windows, but we loved being upstairs in the ballroom and the breakout rooms there. We also used rooms in the penthouse.”
Norwood says logistics for the overall meeting were challenging, but that the Eden Roc staff helped make it a team effort. “The hotel was on the hop for everything,” Norwood adds. “The event manager was Melania Currie and, from sales to execution, she made it all work.”
Eden Roc is noted for its food. Its Malibu Farm specializes in farm-to-table, California-style dining, while Nobu features Japanese cuisine. Norwood says the chef adapted the seafood-oriented Nobu menu for the group’s vegans and vegetarians. She said there were also two evenings in which they enjoyed offsite dining.
“We had a group at Pao by Paul Qui and they set up a private section for us,” Norwood says. “At Bâoli Miami, we bought out the restaurant. These were great events and, after each of the dinners, we had drinks at a small hotel, Faena, and on the upstairs patio at Townhouse Hotel.” The group also had an evening event on the lawn at Eden Roc and a daytime event next to the beach.
Norwood had a couple of tips for planners setting their first event in Miami. “Don’t go over holiday weekends because it’s more expensive,” Norwood says. “I did another event over President’s Day weekend, right after the one at Eden Roc, but the price was much higher. And make sure you plan some fun time. There’s a lot of great restaurants that can serve groups of 100 to 200 if you buy them out. Miami nightlife is great.”
New Center Spurs Growth
Last year’s renovation of the convention center may have helped propel a number of hotel projects. Twenty-three new hotels opened around the city, and 19 more are projected to open this year.
At the end of last year, The Biltmore Hotel Miami in Coral Gables completed a $35 million property-wide restoration and redesign of all accommodations, as well as its 18-hole, par-71 golf course. The iconic resort, a national historic landmark dating to 1926, also completed refurbishment to its lobby, spa and fitness center, as well as to 75,000 sf of conference, meeting and banquet space. The main theme transpiring throughout the transformation is South Florida’s natural landscapes, incorporating the sage green of local foliage and the Mediterranean architectural inlays that dominated the property’s original design.
At the same time, the 1,504-room Fontainebleau Miami Beach revealed its refurbished, all-suite Sorrento Tower. Guestroom interiors in the 18-story oceanfront tower were designed by Marzipan Interior Design, inspired by the work of famed hotel designer Gio Ponti. The new look blurs the lines between Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern while incorporating a palette of sea colors. New furniture pays tribute to 1950s Italy, including lounge chair seating, retro lamps and a steamer trunk for each room. The hotel offers 107,000 sf of indoor meeting rooms and event venues, including the 31,358-sf Sparkle Ballroom.
The top three suites at Loews Miami Beach Hotel were redesigned at the beginning of the year, including a pair of two-story units. Ideal for a CEO or top executive, one presidential suite is oceanfront, with a wraparound balcony that can double as an intimate venue for a private cocktail party, dinner or gathering. A second presidential suite is city-facing and offers views of South Beach and Biscayne Bay, and features an in-room gym on the second floor. Each Presidential Suite comes with daily use of two-story private cabanas with full bathrooms, shower, private concierge, rooftop sundeck and more — a perk exclusive to the suites. The new suites follow the $50 million renovation of Loews Miami Beach completed two years ago.
The Trump National Doral Miami recently added the 7,230-sf Crystal Ballroom on the top level of the clubhouse. This new, round function space, suitable for seating up to 400 banquet-style, opens onto an 8,039-sf outdoor terrace with spectacular views of the famed Blue Monster Golf Course and surrounding area. In all, the resort now boasts 100,000 sf of indoor function space.
Plans for an 800-room hotel for Miami Beach’s Convention Center District were also announced recently, projected to open in 2023. The 17-story Grand Hyatt Miami Beach development was approved by Miami Beach voters in 2018 and will be at the intersection of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, within walking distance of the beachfront, Lincoln Road Mall, New World Symphony, The Bass Museum and The Fillmore Miami Beach.
“The Grand Hyatt is going to be the least convention-headquarter-looking hotel in the world,” Talbert says. “You won’t know it when you’re going from the lobby of the Grand Hyatt into the lobby of the convention center. It’ll be so seamless.”
Among the improvements that wrapped up last year at the Hyatt Regency Miami downtown were a new lobby with modern architecture, a renovation of guestroom flooring and development of The Market, offering such options as a salad bar, fresh bakery station and barista station. There were also enhancements to the hotel’s meeting space, including paint, lighting and new banquet equipment. The Hyatt Regency’s meeting facilities encompass more than 100,000 sf and the hotel is directly connected to the James L. Knight Center.
Many Selling Points
For a pharmaceutical meeting handled by Maureen Fletcher, meeting manager for American Express, easy access to Miami International Airport was again a key selling point for the city, and for the Hyatt Regency. The hotel’s location is also close to a lot of restaurants and offers easy access to the Metromover.
“I’ve held multiple programs at this hotel for several different sales forces and I can speak to how awesome the team is,” Fletcher says. The annual sales meeting was held in the spring.
“As a national meeting, the client wanted a location that would be appealing to everyone,” Fletcher explains. “There was a lot of natural sunlight in the meeting space, and meals were held outside, which was great for our attendees, to be able to get them out for some natural Vitamin C.”
Fletcher says the level of service at the Hyatt Regency is fantastic. “The food is delicious and their attention to detail leaves a lasting memory,” she adds. “I haven’t had a bad meal yet. You can tell the chef really cares about the whole experience. They’ll also work with all sorts of dietary restrictions and special meals. All of the meals and breaks have themes and they decorate their tables to match. We had doughnuts on one break, and the napkins and runners had brightly-colored doughnuts to really call it out. They work extremely well with meal caps and compliance.”
Fletcher says the hotel and convention center work well together, but she notes there are separate prices and room rental fees to be negotiated for the convention center. “All of the hotel meeting space is located within three floors, and there’s easy access between the hotel and convention center,” Fletcher says. “The ceilings in the main ballroom are low, and rigging points aren’t readily available but, if you have a great production team, they can make it work. They are quick to respond and readily available if anything comes up.”
Great Experience Overall
Valerie Bihet, director of the Miami-based VIBE Agency, says she has found Miami to be an ideal destination for both her American as well as European clients. For a pair of meetings last spring, Bihet used The Palms Hotel & Spa in Miami Beach. Each meeting drew both American and international guests. “The accessibility with flights was a big selling point,” Bihet says. “We were able to get everyone to Miami from various international cities pretty easily. But the fact that Miami is a great destination, with sunny weather and all its local amenities is really a big benefit, too.”
Bihet continues, “We travel a lot for events to identify the right city for each group, wherever that may be; but, it’s nice when we can work in our home too. Miami isn’t right for everyone, but when we get that group that wants to escape the cold or get the tropical, beachy feel without the price of international travel, Miami is great for that.”
Bihet says she knows the staff well at the Palms. “I have worked with the Palms for many years and they are always very professional and attentive to the client’s needs,” Bihet says. “That makes the entire experience that much smoother for me and my clients. It has the right resort/Caribbean vibe, without having to travel to an island, which can be a logistical challenge or simply too pricey for some groups. The location on the water is near the buzz and attractions of South Beach without being in the thick of it. There’s still a sense of quiet and solitude, which helps to keep guests focused on the event, and not completely distracted by what is happening outside on the beach.”
The Palms Hotel offers boutique-style exclusivity, with more than 8,000 sf of newly renovated meeting and event space, including the 2,652-sf Royal Palm Room with a capacity for 120 attendees, classroom-style.
“A lot of the meeting spaces have natural light, which is great to bring that outdoor feeling inside as much as possible,” Bihet says. “People are happier and more engaged when there is natural light, so I really like that aspect.”
Bihet notes that the ballroom can be challenging. “It has columns, so that’s an important consideration. It can still work with the right setup, but you need to be creative.” Bihet adds that the property has several great outdoor spaces for banquet functions and receptions when the weather cooperates.
She continues, “The staff — from the F&B team to the conference staff — are all very flexible and always looking for solutions. They really make it easy to work there and bring whatever vision you have for your clients to life. This makes for a great experience overall.” C&IT