Exploring Florida's Gulf Coast

Essential Toolbox
Tampa Convention Center (200,000 sf exhibition floor); Sarasota Bradenton Convention Center (90,000 sf exhibit floor); Ft. Myers: Harborside Events Center (42,000s sf); Tallahassee–Leon County Civic Center (69,000 sf)

The Beaches of South Walton: 
11.5 percent
Emerald Coast: 11 percent
Panama City Beach: 10.5 percent 
Pensacola: 10 percent
Tallahassee: 12.5 percent
Fort Myers: 11 percent
Naples: 10 percent
Tampa: 12 percent
St. Petersburg/Clearwater: 12 percent
Naples/Marco Island/Everglades: 
10 percent

• Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB
• Tampa Bay & Company
• Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater
• Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, Destin
• Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort, Palm Harbor
• Longboat Key Club & Resort, Longboat Key
• Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort
• Saddlebrook Resort, Wesley Chapel
• Sheraton Sand Key Resort, Clearwater Beach
• Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina
• The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club 

Naples is paradise for sun-worshippers

Florida is a little more casual when you’re facing the Gulf of Mexico. Sure, there are the same spectacular beaches, beautiful resorts, and sun-drenched days as on the Atlantic side, but the changes in attitude that Jimmy Buffet sang about are a bit stronger than in some of the east coast’s trendier areas. 

Flying into the Panhandle has gotten easier and more convenient this year. The area’s biggest airport, Pensacola International Airport, just underwent an $80-million renovation, bringing a new check-in area and baggage system. There’s also a new hotel at the nearby Airport and 12th development — the 127-room Hyatt Place Pensacola International, with 1,100 square feet of meeting space. 

Down the coast about 100 miles, Panama City-Bay County Airport has been expanded and can now handle 737s and MD-80 aircraft, rather than just smaller regional jets, says Dan Rowe, president and CEO of the Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Delta has expanded service tremendously,” he says, and Southwest Airlines also added several direct flights. The city’s $2.6-million, 7,500-seat Amphitheater at Aaron Bessant Park opened in April. And the 316-room Bay Point Marriott is now the Wyndham Bay Point Resort, with 40,000 square feet of meeting space.

On the Emerald Coast, the 598-room Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa spent $5.5 million on renovating its 32,000 square feet of meeting space last year, and plans to work on the spa and 200-room Spa Tower later this year. In Panama City, the 316-room Bay Point Marriott is now the Wyndham Bay Point Resort. It has 40,000 square feet of meeting space. 

In May, Tallahassee saw the opening of a new, 164-room Four Points by Sheraton Downtown, which has more than 17,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Southwest Florida
Fort Myers is in talks with various hotel brands to bring a 200-room convention hotel to the city as part of its $150-million Riverfront Development Plan. It also includes a four-acre expansion of Centennial Park, which will include a riverfront amphitheater. An 80,000-square-foot addition to the Harborside Event Center is also planned. 

Starwood unveiled the completely renovated, 263-room Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village, near Fort Myers. It has an amphitheater, full-service marina, and 25,000 square feet of function space. The Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs has wrapped up a $14.5-million renovation of its 454 guest rooms. Moving south to the Naples/Marco Island area, the 317-room Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club completed a $5-million renovation of its Gulf-side meeting rooms and function space late last year, adding a 5,000-square-foot ballroom with a glass wall and two new Gulf-side meeting rooms measuring approximately 1,100 square feet each. It has 34,000 square feet of meeting space.

The new owners of the 181-room Sundial Beach & Golf Resort on Sanibel Island are also wrapping up a major renovation.