FloridaMarch 1, 2017

A Made-for-Meetings Paradise By
March 1, 2017


A Made-for-Meetings Paradise
The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando.

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando.

Punctuated by swaying palms, blooming bougainvillea, forests of foliage, the warmth of the sun, the salt of the sea, sugar white beaches, azure blue seas and more, Florida is a made-for-meetings paradise.

Like real estate, meeting success is linked to location, location, location. Kim Prouse, New York City-based Citi assistant vice president and senior event manager, agrees. When planning the international bank’s March 2017 annual Global Property CEO Conference for 1,000 institutional investors and CEOs of 150 around-the-world property companies, prime considerations were finding a venue with large meeting space and proximity to the ocean. Answer: The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood Beach, Florida.

Held at this Florida property since 2013, the conference objectives are twofold: offer networking and arrange one-on-one meetings between institutional investors and property company management teams. Prouse elaborates on the success of these matchups: “In 2016 we arranged 4,500 meetings — exceeding our expectations.”

“We measure the success of our trip through surveys, our leadership and personal feedback. It was one of the most positive incentive trips for this group of advisors.
— Karen Yergey Duncan

Labeled “one of the most memorable, highly anticipated components of the conference,” Sunday evening’s welcome event The Taste of Miami gives attendees the opportunity to sample signature dishes from the city’s best restaurants. Prouse’s description: “It’s a night when Asian, American, Cuban and Latin American cuisines join to celebrate all that is right about Miami’s food scene.”

After a $100 million transformation, such accolades as being named one of Florida’s top resorts seems the norm for The Diplomat. Perks of particular appeal to planners include more than 200,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space for 10 to 5,000 attendees, two outdoor pools with poolside dining and cabana rental, six restaurants (including the AAA Four Diamond Diplomat Prime Steakhouse) and 10 all-new culinary concepts led by such celebrity chefs as Geoffrey Zakarian and Michael Schulson.

While Prouse deems The Diplomat’s entire event management team “top notch,” she describes group rooms coordinator Danielle Williams “exceptional” and adds that because of attendees’ positive year-after-year feedback, the CEOs and investors have determined they cannot afford to miss this conference. Consequently, Citi plans to return to The Diplomat and Hollywood Beach for at least the next three years.

Beaches Lure Groups

Also attracted by Florida’s Hollywood Beach setting, Karen Yergey Duncan, marketing manager for Fort Washington, Pennsylvania-based Lincoln Investment, explains her company’s choice for its President’s Club 2016 incentive trip: “We were initially drawn to the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort because it is a beautiful new property (opened September 2015) and in a great location.” Additional advantages include two airports (Miami and Fort Lauderdale) and an abundance of activities for attendees.

Though this AAA Four Diamond resort is luxuriously appointed, the 17-story, 349-room hotel and entertainment complex simultaneously reflects the relaxed, paradisiacal vibe captured in songwriter Jimmy Buffett’s eponymous tune “Margaritaville.” Perks for the planner include 30,000 sf of flexible function space, an onsite water recreation area with multiple pools and three live entertainment venues.

Destination selection is not a decision taken lightly for this majority family-owned company. Duncan explains: “Successful advisors and their guests look forward to and thoroughly enjoy the annual club events because of the carefully chosen locations, exciting and inspiring activities and presentation, as well as the opportunity to spend quality time with special colleagues and friends.” Described as “a family reunion from across the country,” one of the trip’s most important events is the welcome reception — License to Chill — which once again served as a gathering place for friends to meet and catch up after possibly not seeing each other in a year.

Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort scored an A+ in the activities column. “Our group is very fond of a good pool and beach, and they make good use of the sun,” says Duncan. She elaborates that added attractions include the FlowRider double surfing simulator and the broadwalk’s shops and bars along the beach. “Having so many options for outdoor activities just at the hotel made sure everyone had something fun to do.”

Explaining that the key objective for this incentive trip is to celebrate the success of Lincoln Investments’ advisors and motivate them for the coming year, Duncan mentions how this goal is evaluated. “We measure the success of our trip through surveys, our leadership and personal feedback.” Verdict: “It was one of the most positive incentive trips for this group of advisors.”

In conclusion, Duncan gives much credit to resort director of sales David Margolis. “The trip was very cost effective for us. It is a balancing act wanting to make sure we have a memorable special event, but within a reasonable budget. We had such a great experience we have actually signed a contract to take our group back in 2019.”

Sugar-White Sands Attract

It is a trio of reasons that will bring the May 2017 annual meeting of approximately 100 to The Henderson, a Salamander Beach & Spa Resort in Destin, Florida, states Kristin Harville, CRCM, CBAP, senior vice president, compliance, BSA officer, for the Anniston, Alabama-based Southern States Bank and meeting planner for the Jack Henry Southern User Group. The objectives: 1. a central location (with respect to attendees’ expenditures and travel time), 2. the property’s beachfront location and 3. the resort’s age (opened November, 2016).

Harville explains the purpose of the Jack Henry Southern User Group Annual Meeting. “It serves as a yearly resource for financial institutions in seven Southern states that utilize Jack Henry Silverlake as their core processor.” Though prime emphasis is placed upon networking, education and training, downtime promises to be complemented by the resort’s on-the-water location — a beach setup for one day of the stay, enhanced by two hours of a choice of amenities, such as bicycling or kayaking.

Though Destin began as a small fishing village, today’s bustling beach town attracts such celebrity residents as Blake Shelton and Emeril Lagasse. Coastal-inspired, The Henderson is reminiscent of a grand, back-in-the-day seaside manor — complete with steep gable rooflines, striking wooden shingles and a nod to a nautical past. The resort sits along Destin’s renowned Gulf Coast upon a white sand beach. Additionally adjacent to a 208-acre environmentally protected state park, this Northwest Florida property offers 170 guest rooms, Gulf-to-table cuisine, an octagonal bar with panoramic water views, an adults-only heated pool, private beach access and 30,000 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor event space (including several ballrooms, plush lawns, expansive pool decks and a rooftop terrace).

Describing The Henderson as easy to work with and more than accommodating, the Southern States representative feels that they really wanted their business and worked hard to get it by providing numerous value-added features, such as free valet parking. “The hotel has a boutique feel to it — not that of a large conference hotel — which additionally appeals to our group,” says Harville.

Orlando Is the Place for Perks

The premise of exclusivity persists throughout Florida. Known for its vast collection of theme parks and attractions, the Orlando-area’s Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort offers a bounty of services for meeting planners seeking to reward attendees with over-the-top privileges. Among these amenities: more than 329,000 sf of indoor meeting space and close to 100,000 sf of outdoor space (courtyards and terraces); 2,267 guest rooms; 17 world-class restaurants and lounges; five swimming pools (including a grotto pool, water slide and waterfalls); and proximity to Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom Park (plus the “extended park hours benefit” to Disney’s four theme parks).

Five-Star Prestige

In a league of its own, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa is one of only six new hotels in the nation to be recognized as one of Forbes Travel Guide’s 2016 Five Star Hotels. Sitting on seven Atlantic-fronted acres, the resort’s commitment to “new-fashioned luxury” translates to such prime amenities as 309 guest rooms “re-envisioned” by designer Jonathan Adler, Eau Club level (private concierge, separate check-in and checkout with champagne, daily pressing service, VIP pool service and access to the club lounge), more than 30,000 sf of meeting and event space (from traditional meeting and ballrooms to poolside cabanas and Eau Spa’s “Self-Centered” garden with water features and private courtyard), Forbes Five Star Eau Spa (42,000 sf with 19 treatment rooms), two outdoor oceanfront swimming pools with luxury cabanas, four restaurants and three Har-tru clay tennis courts (enhanced by an onsite pro) .

Teambuilding and More

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, a Northwest Florida resort located in Miramar Beach (near Destin) serves up a bit of everything on its 2,400 lush acres. Among its enticements are 40,000 sf of indoor meeting space, 20,000 sf of outdoor event space, four championship golf courses, beach bonfires (complete with s’mores and a flame thrower) and such teambuilding activities as beach Olympics, standup paddleboard relays on Choctawhatchee Bay, charter boat fishing from Baytowne Marina, night golf played on the newly renovated Dunes Putting Course and everything from a ropes course to ziplining at Baytowne Adventure Zone. Off-property is the exclusive, made-in-Florida opportunity to swim with dolphins at Gulf World Marine Park, which is located in Panama City Beach.

A trend observed in recent years by the Sandestin team best summates today’s meetings scene. More and more groups seek ‘destination location’ venues — sites that showcase life in the Florida Panhandle, or on the Atlantic coast or elsewhere in the Sunshine State. So, whether it’s booking Sandestin’s newest outdoor venue, The Overlook, to take advantage of the area’s open-air ambience and panoramic view of the Choctawhatchee Bay, taking an Everglades airboat tour or appreciating the state’s overall welcoming Southern charm — look no further than Florida.

New and Noteworthy

Recent accolades for Florida’s Paradise Coast: No. 1 Best Destination for Luxury Travel, No.1 Small Art Town, America’s Best All-Around Beach, one of America’s Best Food Cities and consistently named one of the Nation’s Best Golf Destinations.

Hotel news on the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades radar is manifold. A new property, Hyatt House, opened in March, 2016, Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort reopened in December 2016, and ringing in the New Year is the rebranding of the Marco Island Marriott as a JW Marriott, which at its January 1, 2017, opening became the first JW Marriott beach resort in the continental U.S.

The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club has completed a full redesign of the resort’s 18-hole golf course. The $9 million project was the collaboration of noted course architect John Sanford and course designer/golfer Jack Nicklaus who has a historical connection to the course. It was on these links that in 1951 at age 11 he broke 40 over nine holes for the first time.

The Naples Grande Beach Resort debuted new enhancements to the Vista Ballroom and Lobby Lounge. The Vista Ballroom received a décor refresh, modern fixtures, updated drapery, plush carpet and modern furniture. The Lobby Lounge and Spressi Seating Area features new seating, lighting and a complete bar upgrade. The renovated areas further enhance the property’s 83,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space.

Naples Grande Beach Resort also has developed creative meeting packages for corporate groups such as:

Summer Camp Meetings. Groups can embark on a kayaking adventure through the mangroves, decompress during nature walks and sunset yoga, and indulge at the s’mores station.

Birdie Breaks. Includes breakout golf session for groups of all sizes; full 18 holes or just a “Back Nine” Break.

Orange Sunset Session. Outdoor “orange” breakout session, which includes Florida oranges and orange juice, along with a plethora of other orange-inspired items to satisfy any palate.

The curtains opened summer 2016 for the Southwest Florida Performing Arts Center (Bonita Springs) — a 27,000 sf dining and entertainment venue with access to comedy shows, vaudeville, tribute bands and just about any form of entertainment a group desires. Another unusual area venue is NGALA, a wildlife preserve in Naples that can provide fine dining under luxurious canvas tents, complete with wild animals and exotic entertainment.

Everglades Adventure Tours now offers Safari Glamping (customized wilderness camping experiences on deserted island beachfronts), as well as a one-of-a-kind overnight adventure in native Chickee cabins located within Big Cypress National Preserve.

A clay shooting aficionado from the U.K., Colin Burrows, opened Gulf Coast Clays, offering trap and skeet shooting along with a 15-station sporting clay course surrounded by Everglades wilderness. Situated on the site of the former Port of the Islands Gun Club, it is located between Naples and Everglades City.

Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront installed digital reading boards throughout the hotel, with plans to incorporate these boards in all meeting rooms — an environmentally friendly move designed to reduce the hotel’s paper usage.

Unveiled in spring 2016 is Breeze Ocean Kitchen, Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa’s latest eatery. Its cuisine “reflects the sun-splashed Palm Beach lifestyle and celebrates the Atlantic’s bounteous fruites de Mer” — all with a focus on Floridian flavors brought to life by spices, styles and preparations that infuse hints of the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia.

Offering more than 294,000 sf of meeting space and connected to the Palm Beach County Convention Center via a private entrance, Hilton West Palm Beach (opened January 2016) solicited advice from a panel of meeting and event experts to best appeal to this market. Outcomes: a Peppermint Bar (peppermint is known for its properties that help strengthen concentration), with such specialties as peppermint-infused tea, dark chocolate, mints, hot chocolate and aroma spray ensuring attendees remain focused. An additional perk is a menu of glow-in-the-dark lawn games, designed for teambuilding and networking activities that take advantage of Florida’s into-the-night amenities and around-the-year warm weather.

Additional Hilton West Palm Beach teambuilding activities best showcase the hotel’s creativity. Build-a-Break’s ice sculpture challenge gives attendees the opportunity to divide into teams to create their own creations (note: no chainsaws allowed). Beat Building Exercises utilize the talent of music coordinator Adam Lipson and industry standard DJ gear and remix software — allowing attendees to create their own mashups, record their songs live and take home souvenir CDs. Breaking Barriers uses a one-inch-thick wooden board as “a metaphor for the obstacles and barriers that are in the way of achieving goals” that attendees break with their hand or foot under the guidance of a kickboxing instructor, thus breaking through their barriers.

Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort’s recently debuted “Sprouting Project” consists of a state-of-the-art aquaponic greenhouse, an expansive organic garden, a collection of beehives and a barrel room — giving attendees a once-a-month opportunity to participate in an authentic farm-to-table experience.

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin recently completed a $5 million meeting space rejuvenation of its 329,000 sf of function space — only one part of the resort’s multiphase, multiyear $140 million redesign project.

Orlando’s Rosen Plaza offers 3NINE entertainment — a fully loaded venue with AV capabilities, staging, video walls, the industry’s most up-to-date lighting and full bars for special events up to 1,500 (when also incorporating the outside pool area). –

Opening April 2017, Universal Orlando Resort’s newest ride “Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon” offers a unique after-hours New York area themed event, giving attendees a “Tonight Show” experience best described as “a wild and action-packed race through New York City against Jimmy Fallon himself.” I&FMM

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