Florida is constantly upping its game for meetings, and the recent wave of developments in some of its most popular areas are making a big splash. Meeting professionals should take note of the happenings in Sarasota; Punta Gorda; Fort Meyers and Sanibel; and Naples, Marco Island and The Everglades.
Here’s a rundown of the latest openings and renovations in Southwest Florida planners need to know about.
These are interesting times for Sarasota, the upscale coastal destination with a small-town feel. It’s a place that lends itself to small to mid-size meetings, delivering everything a meeting professional looks for in a top destination: high-end meeting hotels, interesting attractions and a vibrant dining scene and world-class cultural venues that include the Sarasota Opera and John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
In fact, it was the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which first came to Sarasota in 1927, that helped put this city on the map.
Interesting venues abound, too, from the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to the Sarasota Classic Car Museum. But beyond its meeting facilities and attractions, the whole city continues to thrive.
“Multiple new meeting properties have arrived in Sarasota County recently, bringing stunning new choices and significantly increased airlift to conveniently located Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport [SRQ],” said Ellen Thomas, senior meetings sales manager for Visit Sarasota. “Sarasota’s hotel and resorts are defined by stunning architecture, powerful ambience and outstanding service. From properties infused with works from local artists to modern works of art, Sarasota’s meeting and incentive options are plentiful.
[Related: What’s New in 2019: Property Updates and New Attractions in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast]
We also have new rooftop venues and meeting spaces overlooking sparkling waters that complete the uniquely Sarasota experience for a successful event.”
Some of the newer hotels in the area include:
- The Westin Sarasota, opened in 2018, is in downtown Sarasota. It has a 19th floor rooftop pool and bar with panoramic city and bay views. The hotel has 255 rooms and 23,737 square feet of event space.
- The Sarasota Modern, also downtown, is a luxury boutique property featuring minimalist design. It has 89 rooms and three function venues with nearly 6,000 square feet of event space.
- Renovations will soon be complete at The Resort at Longboat Key Club and Lido Beach Resort. Both well-known and popular meeting hotels are located on the beautiful shores of Sarasota County.
Photo: Elements Sunset Bar, LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort, Naples. Credit: LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort
New group attractions abound in Sarasota, too. Following the latest craze of axe throwing, the recently opened Axe and Bull, Sarasota’s only indoor axe throwing facility, encourages groups to de-stress and build bonds by engaging in a unique teambuilding activity.
Cruisin’ Tikis Sarasota takes groups around Sarasota Bay, and Discover Sarasota Tours has debuted themed tours in air-conditioned trolleys, including Love Stories of Sarasota and Veterans & Vigilantes.
Circus Arts Conservatory recently completed a multimillion-dollar renovation. The organization combines circus performances with community outreach and offers group packages for attendees to experience the thrill of the flying trapeze and other teambuilding activities.
South of Sarasota, the development continues in Punta Gorda, in both resorts and attractions.
The Sunseeker Resort is scheduled to open in early 2021 and will feature 510 rooms and 180 one- two- and three-bedroom suites. The hotel will also have more than 55,000 square feet of meeting space and 15 food and beverage outlets.
The Military Heritage Museum recently moved to a larger space to accommodate its more than 30,000 authentic artifacts. The 240-seat theater shows military programming and is open for group rental.
King Fisher Fleet, located in Fishermen’s Village, provides a variety of harbor and river cruises as well as fishing charters. The Helen M was christened on October 1 and accommodates up to 144 passengers.
Fort Myers and Sanibel
Popular for its white sand beaches and beauty, the Fort Myers and Sanibel area, just south of Punta Gorda, is an easy-to-access location that provides breathtaking natural scenery for meetings. As the demand for meeting spaces continues to grow, the region is investing in new and upgraded properties. Some major recent highlights include:
Pointe Estero Beach Resort, Fort Myers Beach, updated its rooms as part of a $1.3 million renovation.
The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village is planning guest room renovations in summer 2020.
The 243-room Luminary Hotel & Co. is set to open in 2020 in downtown Fort Myers along the waterfront with 8,000 square feet of function space and will be connected to the Harborside Event Center.
Margaritaville Resort, Fort Myers Beach is a 254-room resort that will be built near the Times Square dining, shopping and entertainment district. Scheduled to open in early 2022, the resort will have the LandShark Beach Club with a 5 o’clock Somewhere Bar & Grill.
Naples, Marco Island and The Everglades
Florida’s Paradise Coast—Naples, Marco Island and the western portion of the Everglades—has long been a meeting destination with seemingly endless group activities. With more than 30 miles of white beaches, distinctive dining and plenty of outdoor and cultural activities, meeting professionals are spoiled with choices.
This year, new and renovated hotels and resorts—from the only beachfront JW Marriott resort in the United States to budget-friendly boutique hotels—can set the stage for an unforgettable meeting.
Photo: Naples Princess yacht, Naples. Credit: Port O Call Marina
“With all of our hotels and resorts having recently finished renovations, including meeting space, ballrooms, guest rooms, lobbies and more, we are ready to host meetings and conferences in luxury, with the added benefit of great weather,” said Debi DeBenedetto, group sales and marketing manager, Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The Paradise Coast promises luxury, uniqueness and wellness offerings that take wow to the next level.”
Recent property updates in the Paradise Coast include:
Hilton Marco Island Resort & Spa reopened its 310 renovated guest rooms following a $40 million transformation. The makeover includes a redesigned lobby, expansive pool deck space, The Deck at 560 Restaurant & Bar and 12,000 square feet of upgraded meeting space.
Having just completed a $5 million renovation, The Inn on Fifth in downtown reopened to guests in early October. The refurb includes the rooftop pool deck, along with upgrades to all 119 guest rooms. With several meeting venues, the Inn can accommodate up to 20 in Suite 328 to 250 guests in the courtyard.
The 810-room JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort’s $320 million renovation included opening the luxurious, adults-only Lanai Tower with 94 new rooms. The tower also features Tesaro, a rooftop lounge and new pool deck. The hotel has 62 event spaces totaling 140,347 square feet of meeting space.
The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, with 295 rooms, emerged in September 2018 after a three-month summer restoration project, which updated the hotel’s façade, spa and more than 42,000 square feet of meeting space. The popular Gumbo Limbo beachfront restaurant reopened with a new layout providing daily sunset views.
Naples Grande Beach Resort completed a $3 million renovation of its meeting and events space, including technology upgrades. The revamp included the Royal Palm and Orchid Ballrooms, as well as the adjacent foyers and breakout rooms.
The 189-room LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort underwent a $7.5 million renovation on its Bay Tower, revamping its meeting and event space along with guest room accommodations. Elements is its newly reimagined BALEEN bar featuring specialty cocktails.
As one of the top luxury hotels in Naples, the 100-room Inn at Pelican Bay is currently upgrading its guest rooms and common spaces. Since October 2018, additions include a new boutique-style front desk, a boardroom and a courtyard for functions for up to 125.
New attractions are making their way to Paradise Coast, too. A historical exhibition of Calusa Indian ancient artifacts—including the Key Marco Cat—is on display at the Marco Island Historical Museum and continues through April 3, 2021. The Rose History Auditorium and grounds, available for special events, includes 2,600 square feet of open space; the auditorium can seat up to 250 theater-style and 144 seated at tables.
Photo: Key Marco Cat, Marco Island Historical Museum. Credit: Marco Island Historical Museum.
Port O Call Marina, home to the newly renovated Naples Princess yacht, announced the arrival of Miss Naples a 48-foot custom-built catamaran that holds up to 49 passengers and offers daily cruises, such as beach shelling, afternoon sightseeing and sunset trips. It is also available for private charters for special events.
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VISIT Sarasota | 941.955.0991
Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel | 239.338.3500
Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach | 941.743.1900
Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB | 239.252.2379