The Palm Beaches’ amazing array of experiences, the conveniently situated Palm Beach County Convention Arts and Entertainment district in West Palm Beach and a wide collection of meetings-ready properties in Boca Raton have suddenly propelled The Palm Beaches to one of the great emerging convention destinations in North America. 

Debi DeBenedetto

Group Sales Manager

Naples, Marco Island,

Everglades CVB

As of Oct. 1, 2017, the Paradise Coast was clear. Most of the hotels that were impacted by Irma have reopened. Three that were under renovation were a bit delayed, like the Hilton on Marco Island, which will open in June; consequently, it will be a brand-new hotel once reopened. 

The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort has been renovating for the past two years and will have 100,000 square feet of new meeting space. They’ll open in phases beginning in the spring.

As far as group business, it’s down but we are making up for it on the leisure side. We expect the meetings business to come back up once hotel renovations are complete and we’ll be ready. 

We have a lot of new restaurants, new off-site venues and a new Southwest Florida performing arts center in Naples. We also have new branding for the destination, which is exciting: Love Paradise. As far as trends, we’re seeing a greater interest in health and wellness components at meetings.

Jennifer Jackson-Keating

Director of Destination Sales & Services
Visit Pensacola

Collaborative experiences and a focus on start-to-finish foundations of excellence will shine in 2018.

As guest experiences continue to drive interest in the meetings business for 2018, we’re taking it a step further by building collaborative experiences with tourism partners. Diversifying offerings by utilizing partnerships that benefit from tourism lead to new creative opportunities and break the traditional molds of meeting expectations. 

One of the factors that sets destinations and hotels apart is their ability to create that one-of-a-kind unique or exceptional experience for their guests. But it’s not only about the coolest new trend. 

The foundation of a great experience starts with service, and the lens of 2018 has a wider focus. From the first impressions at an airport, to transportation services, to the greetings made by hotel staff, all interactions experienced by our guests lend to their overall experience. This year destinations will begin, or continue, offering educational opportunities to engage individuals beyond traditional front-line staff training.

Destinations offering customer service training? Absolutely.

From Uber drivers to store clerks and anyone who benefits from tourism, classroom-style tourism training and tourism certifications will gain more visibility, and meeting planners should take notice of the companies and destinations going the extra mile to ensure their group’s experience exceeds expectations.  

Meetings business in 2018 looks bright for destinations that can spark imagination and deliver exceptional service from start to finish.

Dawn Truemper 

Director of Sales and Events

Visit South Walton

South Walton was fortunate to be far enough west in the state that we were spared any noticeable impact from Hurricane Irma. In fact, our occupancy had a slight uptick during that time as many Floridians evacuated to our area from other parts of the state.  

As we look to 2018, one of the trends we are seeing is smaller group gatherings, and corporate meetings that use locations with a more laid-back atmosphere are growing in popularity because they can offer more unique and comfortable experiences for attendees. 

Beach homes, boutique hotels or a rooftop cabana featuring stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico offer the perfect place to spark greater productivity and creativity than a standard boardroom.  

We are also excited about the continuous reinvestment in our area from several of our resorts. Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort just completed renovating its Linkside Conference Center and the Hilton Sandestin is updating guest rooms, outdoor dining and amenity areas. The WaterColor Inn is renovating its award-winning Fish Out of Water restaurant, capitalizing more on its location, offering enhanced options for views of the Gulf. 

Janet Roach 

Meetings & Conventions Director 

Visit Tallahassee, Leon County Division of Tourism 

In regards to Hurricane Irma, fortunately due to the storm’s path Tallahassee escaped without any damage to the destination. During the storm, as in many cases during hurricane season, Tallahassee’s hotel occupancy increased with transient guests evacuating other parts of the state.

Our hoteliers were able to provide these guests with exceptional customer service and hospitality during this challenging situation, as they do year-round.

Tallahassee provides unique and unexpected meeting spaces as meeting trends continue to favor nontraditional venues. More and more meeting planners are turning toward unusual spaces that offer an experience or engagement with the destination. 

Tallahassee provides a number of uncommon venues ranging from some of the state’s most important historic sites to open-air venues, rooftops and pool decks overlooking the city. Conveniently, most of these unique venues are located either in or close to the major hotel properties downtown.

DT Minich, CEO
Experience Kissimmee

As the meetings industry sees an increase in attendees mixing business trips with leisure vacations, Kissimmee continues to stand out as an ideal location for this type of “bleisure” travel in 2018.

With a combination of unique meeting venues and over 50,000 accommodation options, plus easy access to world-famous theme parks, outdoor excursions and family-friendly attractions, Kissimmee offers a well-rounded portfolio of options for meeting planners and attendees alike.

We expect the continued growth in this travel market to continue in the new year.

Jack Meier

Group Sales Manager

Monroe County Tourist Development Council (Florida Keys & Key West)

Nearly 75 percent of all Florida Keys lodging units are back on-line, many with meeting facilities. Iconic meetings properties such as Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada and Hawks Cay Resort in the Marathon area, which are completing scheduled renovations, are slated to reopen later this year. All major visitor attractions are open. 

While recovery continues, particularly in the Big Pine Key region, groups traveling to the Keys can choose from a wide variety of indoor and outdoor venues as well as teambuilding offerings.

Jill Vance

Director of Sales

The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel Visitor and Convention Bureau

Our outlook for group meetings is positive and we are anticipating continued growth in 2018. Even after hurricane Irma, our hotel community hit the ground running. We had a strong finish for 2017.

An exciting new update is the new 30,000-square-foot meetings and event center that just opened at the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village in January. The resort’s $15 million Tarpon Point Ballroom, with 12,250 square feet of space, accommodates 1,400 guests and is a fantastic addition to our larger meeting options.  

We are also looking forward to welcoming a new property to downtown Fort Myers in 2019. The Luminary Hotel & Co., part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, is a new 243-room hotel with 7,000 square feet of meeting space and will be connected to the neighboring Harborside Event Center.

A trend we continue to see grow with our groups is the “bleisure” boom. Many people travel to the destination for a business conference, bring their spouse or family, and extend their stay to enjoy our warmth and sunshine and everything else The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel has to offer.   

Ellen Thomas

Meetings Manager

Visit Sarasota

A few meeting planner predictions for this year are in response to last year’s trends in Sarasota. Shortened lead times and advances in technology will continue to shape how DMOs such as ourselves interact with meeting planners and secure meetings. Technology allows for greater personalization of services for meeting attendees and we will see this play out in how hotels attract and cater to the meetings market. 

Sarasota County will have additional room inventory and meeting space come online in 2018. This additional inventory will provide more choices to meeting planners for their meeting and incentive programs. This expansion in inventory coupled with a tailored incentive program is expected to drive new demand while attracting repeat business to the destination in 2018.  

William McBroom

Director of Conference Sales

St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau

We were fortunate our area experienced minimal impact from Hurricane Irma with virtually all properties up and running within days of the storm.

What sets us apart is our wide range of resort options, outstanding natural beauty with 42 miles of unspoiled beaches with no high-rises, and some of the best golf anywhere, all set against the colonial backdrop and history of old St. Augustine. 

We continue to see an upward trend in group bookings as more planners become aware of Florida’s Historic Coast, with the pace of short-term business increasing as well. There is a push to our area as Miami, Orlando and other more traditional Florida destinations become compressed in today’s growth market. 

We provide excellent value over those cities when comparing similar properties, with the best rates available for weekday groups and those able to shift to open holes or patterns. 

Renee Wuerdeman

Director of Conference and Group Sales
Visit Panama City Beach

In 2018 meeting demand will be healthy and the length of meetings will be shorter, and we see attendees looking to experience the neighborhoods near their meetings to do what the locals do and not just after the conference closes down for the day.

They want to break away from the meeting midday and come back to the meetings refreshed. 

The trends we are seeing for meetings are unique culinary experiences and teambuilding and participatory group activities. Groups will be venturing into the kitchen with teams competing to create an unforgettable dessert, bar wars where they create an unusual cocktail or Iron Chef-type competitions.  

Meeting planners will ask for customized dining experiences: healthy food options beyond the norm, locally sourced food, food trucks and really different coffee breaks.

Jennifer Adams

Tourism Director

Emerald Coast CVB

Florida’s Emerald Coast is predicting a prosperous 2018, with the year having already kicked off to a great start for the meetings industry.

New Emerald Coast developments will continue to add to the already impressive and diverse mix of area offerings for meeting and convention-goers in 2018, including two new hotels, several innovative restaurant concepts and expanding attractions throughout Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island. Not to mention the lure of our stunning sugar-white sand beaches, vibrant emerald green waters and an abundance of dining options focused on the Gulf-to-Table philosophy beckon travelers year-round. 

We’re seeing integration with local communities an evolving trend not only in the leisure travel sector, but in meetings, also, with more immersive experiences in the destination key to meetings and events planned in 2018.

Kelly Aleman

Tourism Sales Manager

Visit Gainesville 

Meetings will continue to increase due to a new Alachua County Event and Expo Center, which will be built in the coming years. This is stirring up lots of interest with groups or events we currently can’t accommodate based on size. This will increase the types of event, groups and conferences we can bring to Alachua County. 

The nature, art and culture community is a strength for our area, and many groups are looking for unique options that are away from the big cities. These planners are now looking to Gainesville/Alachua County to be that unique and different option for their group. New rural options in our area are becoming desirable for groups looking for regional retreats, such as C Bar Ranch.

Click here to view more of the 2018 Meetings Today Florida supplement.