As winter approaches and 2019 nears its close, Meetings Today took its last live event of the year to a warmer, sunnier locale: Clearwater Beach, Florida.

From November 17-20, 90 meeting planners and suppliers met at Meetings Today LIVE! South for one-on-one meetings, site visits of the area’s best meetings hotels and some relaxing fun in the sun.

You may know Clearwater Beach for its biggest claim to fame. It’s the best beach in America, according to TripAdvisor. But it’s been gaining some recognition in the meetings industry, too. When the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach Resort opened its doors almost three years ago, the laid-back beach destination started turning more meeting planners’ heads.

In partnership with hosts the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, Meetings Today met in the island-like destination on the Florida mainland’s Gulf Coast to see what all the buzz is about.

Check out our video of the event:

Video: Clearwater Beach is home to the best beach in America, but its blissful sandy shores aren’t all it offers to meeting planners. At our Meetings Today LIVE! South 2019 event, we found this rising Florida locale’s resorts and off-property activities are just as compelling.

The Host Hotel: Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach

Meetings Today LIVE! South 2019 kicked off with an opening reception at our host hotel, the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, which has changed the meetings landscape in the area.

It’s home to the largest special event venue in Clearwater Beach, the Dunes Ballroom, which is 10,632 square feet and has a capacity for up to 720.

One-on-one ballroom

Our one-on-one meetings, meals and closing reception all took place in this room. We were impressed with the flexibility of the space, and evidently we aren’t the only ones, according to Miguel Diaz, the property’s director of sales and marketing.

“Having a bit of a larger property with more meeting space and a large ballroom really just created a new meetings option here on the beach,” he said. “So it has been really well received. We’ve grown our meetings business year-over-year from year one to year three by 150%.”

DJ at the dinner
Photo: DJ at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach dinner

More meetings at the Wyndham have lifted the whole destination, too, prompting the area’s older hotels to raise the bar.

“We are seeing a lot of renos because properties like this [Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach] come on board and they’re like, ‘Oh boy, I better step up the game.’ We all benefit from that,” said Suzanne Scully Hackman, vice president of business development at Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

Meetings Today LIVE! South attendees had a chance to tour some of these other properties, including these three:

1. Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa, where the group dined on the gorgeous 4,000-square-foot 16th-floor Sky Terrace patio overlooking Clearwater Beach. The property recently wrapped a renovation of its additional meeting spaces.

Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa
Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa

2. Sheraton Sand Key Resort, the host of our sunset dinner on the property’s private beach, which has 30,000 square feet of tented event space available to planners. Additionally, there’s 24,000 square feet of indoor meeting space with two ballrooms and seven additional breakout rooms on property. We traveled to and from the resort on the Jolley Trolley, which is complimentary to hotel guests.

3. Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa, where attendees had an opportunity to enjoy a delicious fajita buffet on the beach followed by a spa and beach afternoon to recharge. The Hilton, which sits next door to the Wyndham, was renovated in 2017 and has 40,000 square feet of event space. Its expansive event deck is getting a facelift as well.

[Check out our Meetings Today LIVE! West 2019 Event Video Highlights]

CSR Activity: Making Pillows with Clearwater Marine Aquarium

The featured CSR activity of the program was in partnership with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. During the activity on the beach, we learned about the aquarium’s mission to rescue, rehab and release marine life in the Clearwater Beach area, and the impact it has on the community.

The aquarium is home to Winter the dolphin, the star of the movie Dolphin Tale. After getting caught in a crab trap that cut off circulation to her tail, which couldn’t be saved, she was fashioned a prosthetic tail and adapted to her new physical form.

Pillowcase for Cancer Center

Winter’s story inspired a movie, but it also inspires many going through adversity. For our CSR activity, we decorated pillows with Winter on them to deliver to the Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa for children receiving therapy after cancer treatments.

Water-Borne Offsites Energize Events

While mornings at Meetings Today LIVE! South got off to smart starts with productive one-on-one appointments and an excellent educational session from MPI’s Kristi Sanders—who broke down what’s next for meetings and providing tools on how to re-engage attendees with creative breakout strategies and brain busters—there was time in the agenda to explore some of Clearwater Beach’s best offsite activities.

Group tour on the Sea Screamer

The Sea Screamer experience, sponsored by Experience Columbia SC, took us for an afternoon cruise on the Gulf of Mexico. The Sea Screamer promises dolphin sightings during the tour, and our group enjoyed multiple sightings—some were racing the boat, jumping in and out of the wake alongside, providing some shareable, Instagrammable moments.

We built in some lazy time on the beach, too—after all, Clearwater Beach is the No. 1 beach in the U.S.!

Meetings Today LIVE! Events Continue to Impress

In Clearwater Beach and our other live event locales in 2019—Victoria, British Columbia and Palm Springs, California—we found that an intimate gathering of qualified meeting planners and suppliers paired with education, networking and relationship building, and an in-depth tour of trending meetings destinations is the recipe for success.

Suppliers walk away with RFPs, meeting planners walk away with leads on properties and new meeting location ideas, and everyone walks away with new friends and a good time.

“You know, I was just talking to our regional director of sales who was here the other day and he said to me, ‘Wow, this is great, it’s awesome to be in this room and to hear from folks who didn’t really know much about Clearwater,’” Diaz said. “So just the opportunity to have them in market, really experience the destination, and have planners walk away with an experience to share with their colleagues and customers, I think is huge.”

If you are interested in attending Meetings Today LIVE! in 2020, we are off to the Island of Hawaii; Milwaukee; Park City, Utah; and Orlando. Inquire now!

Learn more about these properties and experiences: