Almost all the CVBs and destinations in Florida were affected by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

While some hotels going through renovations at the time had some delays, other hotels that may have needed some sprucing up were strongly persuaded by Mother Nature to make much needed renovations.  

All in all, most came through the hurricane looking to the future, and 2018 looks bright. We asked CVB heads and their sales directors how they fared after Irma and what this year will bring to the meetings industry in their neck of the woods.

William D. Talbert III

President & CEO

Greater Miami CVB

Greater Miami’s visitor industry remained strong in 2017 despite the challenges of hurricanes, world economies, a strong dollar and closure of the Miami Beach Convention Center for a $620 million expansion and renovation. 

In 2017, Greater Miami welcomed a record 15.9 million overnight visitors and marked seven consecutive years of leisure and hospitality industry employment growth. Major sporting events produced a record July, welcoming Major League Baseball’s All-Star Week and world soccer’s El Clasico as Greater Miami counts down to hosting the NFL’s Super Bowl LIV in 2020. 

As the only destination in the U.S. served by more than 100 airlines, Miami International Airport’s (MIA) ongoing addition of new airlines and routes continues to increase ease of accessibility for business and leisure travelers from around the world. PortMiami, the cruise capital of the world, will see the addition of Royal Caribbean International’s new $250 million Terminal A in October 2018 and welcome the cruise company’s Symphony of the Seas in November 2018.  

New hotels, restaurants and attractions such as the recently opened Phillip & Patricia Frost Museum of Science are adding to the growing appeal of the destination for meetings and conventions as the countdown to the highly anticipated opening of the reimagined Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) shifts into high gear.

The new convention center will welcome its first citywide convention in September 2018—the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) with more than 4,000 delegates.

Fred Shea

Senior Vice President, Sales and Services
Visit Orlando

We were back in business days after Hurricane Irma and, in fact, we saw an uptick in hotel occupancy because so many first responders made Orlando their base camp, so to speak.

We also had a lot of transient guests due to the hurricane. We actually put together a video for meeting professionals to allay their fears about the hurricane. The theme parks that have landscaping departments had the parks cleaned up extremely fast and we really didn’t have any damage to any of the hotels or the airport. 

Business has been very good so far this year and we see this continuing through the end of the year. While in 2017 we saw corporations holding back a bit when it came to meetings, we don’t see that this year. However, we don’t see companies increasing their budgets; they still want value.

On that note, Orlando is always in the top five cities for affordable airfare. 

One of the trends we are seeing this year is experience being a dominant factor for groups. We’re continuing to see more fun restaurants opening and that’s why Disney Springs and other off-premise venues are becoming very popular. People don’t want events in a ballroom. They want to experience the destination.

Safety and security have become a hot topic because of Las Vegas and thankfully meeting planners view Orlando as being very safe. 

Because attendance is such a strong factor for meeting groups from a bureau perspective, we’re providing more services to groups. We’ve upped our game and have been concentrating more and more on giving planners what they need as far as content and videos to get attendees excited to come to Orlando. Our goal is to offer better services for exhibitors and attendees. We want them to be well informed when they get here. 

Santiago Corrada

President and CEO

Visit Tampa Bay

Tampa experienced another record-setting year for meetings and conventions in 2017, with strong growth in revenues. Our team booked a record 537,000 meeting-related room nights last year, in some cases locking in business as far out as 2025. 

Looking ahead to 2018, we’re excited to see the opening of several new boutique properties, renovations wrapping up at two of our marquee hotels and construction starting on a new JW Marriott, our first five-star property, with 519 rooms and 126,000 square feet of meeting space slated to open in 2020—just before we host Super Bowl LV (2021). 

On top of that, our culinary and craft beer scenes now rank among the best in the country, and we’re expanding attractions and making additions to the Tampa Riverwalk.

Monica R. Smith

Vice President, Sales & Services

Visit Jacksonville

Jacksonville is on track to have a very successful 2018. We are seeing some changes in trends and adapting quickly to better serve our customers. The use of virtual reality to showcase venues and destinations is on the rise, as well as more customized fams for specific markets.

We are working to include both trends in our promotion of Jacksonville this year. 

Visit Jacksonville is also working closely with our local city venues management organization (SMG) in both sales and marketing efforts to capitalize on our joint strengths and attract more meetings and events to our city. We have exciting new hotel inventory on the horizon, big renovations, as well as many new attractions including distilleries, breweries, off-site venues and conference facilities opening in 2018.

So much to promote; we can’t wait to share our message with planners across the nation!

Suzanne Scully Hackman

Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

St. Petersburg and Clearwater were fortunate in that they incurred no structural damage to any of our hotels from Irma. While we did have widespread power outages, most were restored within a few days and many hotels never lost power. 

Once the storm passed, Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater staff immediately started calling our hotel partners to find out what hotels were open, had power and were accepting new reservations. We also worked with other destinations that did have damage, helping them relocate meetings they had on the books that they were not going to be able to host in the future. We also utilized drone footage showing that the destination incurred no damage, hotels were open and our beaches were as beautiful as ever.

We continue to see value and unique experiences as the top things meeting planners are looking for when placing a meeting. With numerous new upscale hotels in the destination, amazing lift in and out of two international airports and 35 miles of award-winning beaches we are emerging as a “must meet in” destination. 

Whether it is our unique event venues like the Salvador Dali Museum and the newly opened Imagine Museum or our trendy craft beer trail, we have many options to take a meeting outside the box.

Stacy Ritter

President and CEO 

Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB

Fortunately, Greater Fort Lauderdale fared well following Hurricane Irma. With the southwesterly turn Hurricane Irma took, the impact to the east coast of Florida and our area was less severe than expected. Hotels along the destination’s coastline have reported no structural damage— mostly loss of power, and cleanup was needed for water damage, downed shrubbery and sand and tree debris.

Many of the area’s hotels remained open during the storm and provided shelter for residents and visitors. 

Following Hurricane Irma’s presence in South Florida, the hotels, attractions and restaurants were up and running and open for business, and things quickly returned back to normal. There were only a few meeting cancellations due to the week of the storm but they were rescheduled for later in the year. 

We are a cosmopolitan and vibrant destination offering the excitement of a big city, along with value, convenience and an easily accessible airport located minutes from the beach, downtown shopping and dining areas, as well as a growing convention center district.

We are excited for the future growth of the destination, including additional convention facilities, especially an on-site hotel that will allow us to meet the needs of the meeting, event and association planner and attendee of the future.

Jorge Pesquera

President & CEO

Discover The Palm Beaches

In the competitive conventions and meetings market, The Palm Beaches’ recent surge in hotel inventory in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton is driving a well-deserved reputation as “the best way to meet in Florida.”

For meeting planners, it’s really about the variety of venue options in a destination the size of Delaware, as well as ease of access through three South Florida airports and sophisticated train services, a terrific hotel, convention center and urban package and the knowledge that our destination services team can activate professional partners to deliver flawless programs. 

For convention attendees, it’s the anticipation of visiting a legendary destination that offers best-in-class authentic Florida experiences—from 47 miles of beaches to unexpectedly vibrant shopping, arts, culinary and entertainment districts in a dozen cities; from the best in Atlantic fishing, sailing and diving, to the 160 golf courses that make us Florida’s golf capital; and from the ecological wonderland of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee to the undisputed equestrian and polo capital of North America, just to name a few.