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’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.
Senior Vice President, Sales and Services
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.
President and CEO
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
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
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.
President and CEO
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.
President & CEO
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.
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.
Group Sales Manager
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.
Director of Destination Sales & Services
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.
Director of Sales and Events
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.
Meetings & Conventions Director
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.
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.
Group Sales Manager
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.
Director of Sales
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.
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.
Director of Conference Sales
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.
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.
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.
Tourism Sales Manager
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.