When Vince Slack, CMP and his team from Do it Best, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, were searching for a destination to hold a large conference for their company, Orlando soared to the top of their list.
“Orlando offers beautiful, warm weather and the family-friendly destination we were looking for, not to mention an unlimited number of dining and entertainment options,” Slack, who is a meeting and market planning manager for his company, said, “Our attendees and our team are used to going to the same convention center in the same city. We wanted a change of pace and Orlando was the perfect destination.”
He said the biggest factor in his selection of hotels was the proximity to Orange County Convention Center (OCCC).
“Next, we considered the convenience to International Drive for dining, shopping, theme parks and entertainment venues,” Slack said. “We also always strive to offer our attendees options ranging from high-end to more affordable. The amenities offered, such as outdoor pools, on-property dining and shopping outlets were also important.”
Do it Best hosted its own team building and networking events nightly at local restaurants and entertainment venues, and Visit Orlando was able to assist.
“The team at Visit Orlando was instrumental in assisting us and making us feel welcome in Orlando,” Slack said. “They were a huge asset in connecting us with all the key contacts in the area, ranging from the convention center to bus companies, security companies, theme parks, dining and entertainment venues. They contributed to our successful event.”
Many of the 6,000 attendees extended their stay to spend extra time exploring and enjoying the many amenities Orlando offers.
SAP, a multinational software company headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, chose to use many of the same venues when it hosted its recent SAP Sapphire & ASUG Annual Conference for more than 10,000 attendees. The company, which has hosted the event in Orlando for more than 20 years, provided marketing services for business management and supply chain management software.
“The partnerships in place within the Orlando I-Drive District, which includes Visit Orlando, Orange County Convention Center, the robust hotel community and so many other in-destination resources and in-service providers, form a stable base for SAP to optimize our brand and achieve event marketing-driven business goals in an exceptionally unique and successful way,” Stefanie S. Goffredo, the firm’s category manager for events and sponsorships in North America, said.
The Hyatt Regency Orlando, one of the hotels that both Do it Best and SAP booked for their attendees, also hosted a gathering offered by Meeting Alliance, an event management company in Robbinsville, New Jersey.
Mary Jo Kouch, the director of sourcing for the company, was impressed by the hotel’s attentiveness and receptivity to her group’s needs.
“We know the hotel executes large programs like ours routinely, but they recognized how important this program was to us, and made us feel like it was important to them,” she said. “They listened attentively to our requests, big and small, and worked to deliver a near-flawless program. We hope to have another opportunity to bring a program back to Orlando and the Hyatt Regency.”
Attendees made special arrangements to participate in wellness classes each morning at the hotel fitness center and enjoyed dinners at Pointe Orlando, a vibrant, outdoor dining and entertainment complex across from the convention center.
Descend 21, a social and entertainment lounge that opened at the Hyatt Regency Orlando earlier this year, highlights an elevated lounge for events, as well as games and a menu with items meant for sharing.
Dave Wagner, partner and president of GoGather, in Escondido, California, hosted a group of 700 attendees recently at another Orlando meetings magnet, Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. Situated on 15 sprawling acres, the AAA Four Diamond resort offers more than 248,111 sf of meeting space, divided among 73 rooms.
“This event hadn’t been hosted in nearly three years, which meant the attendees were eager to connect, so we focused on giving them ample time to bond and network,” Wagner said.
“The layout of the hotel made it especially effective for hosting a conference, with the ballrooms and meeting spaces near each other,” Wagner said. “This meant that there was less confusion about where to go and attendees didn’t have to walk as far to get to their breakout sessions.”
When meetings wrapped up, attendees participated in several enjoyable group activities on-site, including an evening networking event with competitive games.
Wagner mentioned that the biggest highlight of the event was the staff.
“They were helpful across the board,” he said. “They were quick to help with securing overflow villas and rooms when the attendance headcount increased. While we were planning, they helped provide recommendations on layouts and breakout sessions. On-site, they were responsible and flexible, helping us with any last-minute changes or needs.”
Hanna Mantel, vice president of Tangerine Meetings & Events, a corporate and incentive travel company in Northfield, Illinois, planned an event for a client’s 3,000 attendees at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin earlier this year. Just as last year, the client’s attendees stayed at the Swan and Dolphin as well as at Walt Disney World Swan Reserve.
“This was a pretty busy meeting in and of itself, with breakouts, a trade show and evening receptions that were held on the property,” Mantel said.
Located in the heart of Walt Disney World Resort and adjacent to Disney’s BoardWalk, the Swan and Dolphin properties offer a combined 333,000 sf of meeting space, including 87 meeting rooms, two executive boardrooms, four ballroom options, 110,500 sf of contiguous convention and exhibit space, outdoor function areas and two business centers.
“The meeting space exceeded expectations and is always a top choice for a group of this size,” Mantel said. “We’re able to host everyone in one property and they have an overwhelming amount of flexible meeting space that could suit any meeting.”
She said that, at first glance, the large size of the properties can seem a bit daunting, with a combined 2,270 hotel rooms on 87 acres of lakefront property.
“It may seem large and overwhelming at first, but the team there is always prepared to ‘welcome you home’ every time you walked through the door,” Mantel said.
The Swan Reserve resort is in close proximity to its two sister properties.
Disney has several other top meeting properties for large meetings in Orlando with plenty of meeting space, such as Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort (more than 220,000 sf), Disney’s Contemporary Resort (115,000 sf) and Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (73,000 sf).
Another popular property for large meetings, the Orlando World Center Marriott, provides more than 500,000 sf of conference and ballroom space, nearly all on one level, including and 104 breakout rooms.
Magnolia, a 30,000 sf event space with floor-to-ceiling windows, features eight 3,600 sf meeting rooms that can be broken down to create 24 rooms. Magnolia also features expansive foyer space with natural light and an outdoor lawn and patio space. The Event Technology Department at Orlando World Center Marriott provides the latest in presentation equipment and custom-designed services.
At Caribe Royale Orlando, staff members and attendees are eagerly awaiting the fall opening of The Grove, a 19,000 sf event lawn for receptions, banquets and team building. Options to tent the space will be available. It will join the existing 220,000+ sf of meeting space, which includes the 50,000 sf Palms Ballroom, 40,000 sf Grand Sierra Ballroom, 26,000 sf Caribbean Ballroom, 58 breakout rooms, two boardrooms and 20,000 sf of outdoor space.
The property’s Boca meeting rooms, Boca foyer and Boca Pavilion provide nearly 20,000 sf of combined indoor and outdoor event space. Groups can convene in any of the Boca rooms, enjoy breaks in the sun-filled Boca Foyer and then head outside to the pavilion for a cocktail reception under the palms.
Located next to Grand Sierra Ballroom and encompassing 20 spaces that can be combined or separated, Caribe Royale Orlando’s Antigua, Bonaire and Curacao breakout rooms can be combined to offer 4,000 sf and include designed dedicated workspaces.
The 6,400 sf Reception Building, with four breakout rooms, is set between two of the main suite towers, and is ideal for cocktail receptions, dinner parties and networking events.
Loews Hotels and Resorts offers several excellent meeting venues at Universal Orlando Resort. The Caribbean-themed Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, at Universal Orlando Resort, features 115,000 sf of flexible meeting space. The Loews Royal Pacific Resort has more than 130,000 sf of meeting space.
Loews Royal Pacific Resort’s meeting space includes 41,503 sf Pacific Ballroom and 35,991 sf Oceana Ballroom, both divisible into 12 sections. The 25,000 sf of outdoor space at the 1,051 room property includes the 6,356 sf Wantilan Luau Pavilion, surrounded by exotic foliage and bamboo and including a lava-rock fire pit, tiki torches and track lighting.
Italian-accented Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is located bayside at Universal Orlando Resort and is set amid cobblestone streets and towering Italian cypress trees just like those in the seaside town of Portofino, Italy. The more than 42,000 sf of meeting space includes the 15,040 sf Tuscan Ballroom with its soaring 27 foot ceilings and eight meeting rooms. The 47,464 sf of outdoor meeting space includes 16,150 sf Harbor Piazza for a stylish outdoor event on the bay.
Several Orlando meeting resorts have been undergoing significant renovations. JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa, featuring 50,000 sf of meeting space, now offers illume, a rooftop lounge with an open-air terrace. The Waldorf Astoria Orlando has 60,000 sf of meeting space, including the new Central Park Ballroom, with more than 8,000 sf. It is undergoing a comprehensive, multiphase reimagination to be complete at the end of the year, which will encompass the guest rooms, lobby spaces, spa and 18-hole golf course.
Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek is undergoing an expansion that will create an additional 103,000 sf of multifunctional meeting space, including a 35,098 sf ballroom, divisible in 12 sections; an 8,132 sf screened veranda, with views of the golf course, a 2,700 sf outdoor event patio and a 35,185 sf event lawn.
Also, the Conrad Orlando is scheduled to open at the end of the year with 65,000 sf of indoor event space, a spa and several dining options, including a signature rooftop experience. It sits on the 1,100-acre campus of Evermore Resort Orlando, which plans to begin booking attendees early next year. It will include a lagoon, 150,000 sf of meeting and event space and two Jack Nicklaus golf courses.
Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, is encouraged by the ongoing new activity.
Matej is hopeful that Orlando will be able to lure even more meetings now with the recent opening of the South Terminal Complex at Orlando International Airport (MCO). The facility added 15 gates and includes a seamless, low-touch environment with a technologically advanced radio baggage system as well as several shops, restaurants and lounges.
“The partnership provides specifically for event planners customizable health solutions for their conference and attendees through the new Orlando Health Virtual Care Center, now open at the Orange County Convention Center,” Matej said. “Located in the west concourse, on the first floor, near the Visit Orlando Welcome Center, medical providers will be able to evaluate medical conditions of attendees during large conventions.”
Virtual-visit physicians are able to evaluate many medical conditions, including allergies, cold and flu symptoms, diarrhea, pink eye, insect bites, respiratory infections, skin rashes, sore throat and sprains. They are also able to write prescriptions that can be sent to local pharmacies. C&IT