It’s hard to imagine another place in North America that hits every planner’s sweet spot quite like Florida. But is the scenario really all that positive? Yes, it is.

After a steadying increase in supply, and several straight years of growth, the market is doing what markets do: leveling off.

For planner’s listening, that sweet song you hear is the advent of a buyer’s market. And what isn’t new in the supply chain has generally been improved. Florida’s hotels, convention centers and airports continue to upgrade existing infrastructure, including areas involving tech, because the Sunshine State understands attendees expect to check e-mail and social media 24/7.

Today’s planners are forever juggling their attendees’ wants with needs, and expectations are very high. Fred Shea, senior vice president of sales and services for Visit Orlando, speaks for many of his CVB colleagues when saying planners are looking for increasingly unique experiences that are also local.

Florida has heard the call, with neighborhood tours, countless outdoor activities and more golf courses—1,250 and counting—than any other state. Spas are now so commonplace that when not part of an existing hotel, they are often linked, all to help ensure the health and wellness of attendees.

Alongside contemporary meeting facilities, food and art compete to enrich attendees’ palates as much as their minds. While nouveau cuisine is no longer new, chefs consult with spa directors to ensure healthy F&B where presentation is just as important as nutritional value.

With respect to cultural pursuits, galleries and museums provide stunning venues where planners dazzle groups with historic and contemporary art, served alongside cuisine guaranteed to impress the attendees who think they have seen it all.

And maybe they have. But what they haven’t seen is today’s Florida.

The Numbers

A study by VISIT FLORIDA in December 2016, titled “The Economic Impact of Out-of-State Visitor Spending in Florida,” showed a rise in spending, revenue and jobs in the state. Conducted by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics Company, over a six-month period in 2016, key findings concluded that visitor spending increased 3.9 percent over the previous year; on average, out-of-state visitors spent $300 million a day in Florida, and out-of-state visitor spending supported 1.4 million Florida jobs.

Ken Lawson, president & CEO of VISIT FLORIDA, said, “This study tells us that the tourism industry is driving the growth of the Florida economy. In 2015, our visitors spent $30 billion more in Florida than they did just five years ago.”

As far as meetings, domestic overnight visitation to Florida is estimated at 91.3 million, with 6.2 percent of Florida’s domestic overnight visitors in 2015 having traveled to the state for a meeting, convention and/or seminar. Therefore, the calculated number of domestic meetings visitors is 5.6 million, an increase of 15.2 percent from the previous year.
Meetings visitors in 2015 spent on average $277 per person per day in Florida while leisure visitors spent $147 per person per day, $30 less. The meetings figure is up $12 from 2014 (that amount was $265 per day).

In 2015, Florida received an estimated 15.2 million international visitors. The international data, from the National Travel and Tourism Office and Statistics Canada, indicated that 5.1 percent of travelers to the U.S. who visited Florida traveled primarily for meetings, conventions, conferences or tradeshows. Therefore, the calculated number of international meetings visitors for 2015 is 780,000.

As far as inbound meetings to Florida, many of the convention and visitors bureaus have seen unprecedented growth in the past, but industry insiders see things leveling off a bit this year.

“We’ve had three straight years of growth but our concern is that we may not see such growth continued, but rather stabilizing; we’re a victim of our own success,” said Santiago Corrado, president and CEO of Visit Tampa.

“We’re optimistic for this year,” said Pamela Johnson, deputy director, The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, “but we’re not expecting any significant growth. All of us in Florida have had double-digit growth in the past five years and we’ll still see growth, but not double-digit.”

Putting a positive spin on this year’s outlook, Barry Moskowitz, vice president of sales for the Miami CVB, said, “It’s a buyer’s market for meeting professionals and that’s a good thing for groups. Because Miami keeps adding inventory, supply is up. Hotels are getting more aggressive in their pricing structures, so for meeting planners who weren’t able to find the right opportunity in the past, now is the time to revisit Miami.”

Optimism in the leisure travel and meetings industries is evident in investment in new and improved infrastructure, new hotels and renovations all over the state.

According to VISIT FLORIDA:

  • There were 51 hotels that opened from January 2016 through December 2016 in the state, amounting to 7,865 additional rooms.
  • There are currently 104 hotels under construction, amounting to 14,145 rooms and 212,636 square feet of additional meeting space.
  • An additional 133 hotels are in the final planning stages, which means they will begin construction within the next 12 months. These hotels will bring an additional 18,923 rooms to Florida’s inventory and nearly 165,000 square feet of meeting space.
  • Finally, there are 131 hotels, accounting for nearly 22,000 rooms, that are in various stages of planning.

Other major projects include a $1 billion investment in Tampa International Airport, which added 23 new shops and restaurants in 2016, with another 40-plus opening this year. In addition, the Miami Beach Convention Center is getting a major facelift to the tune of $600 million.

So in the final tally, all indications are that the entire travel industry will continue to be strong and steady.