Florida's East Coast: Beauty, Beaches, and Buzz Await Groups

City of St Augustine

Winter in the frozen north has always been the best marketing campaign for sunny Florida. When offered a choice between shoveling snow or building sandcastles, which do you think your attendees will pick?

Speaking of marketing campaigns, the cities and counties of East Florida make sure the message gets underscored for meeting groups and others; for example, the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB has new, multilingual, meetings print and digital collateral to serve international groups, and is hosting the Seatrade Cruise Global in March. And leisure campaigns, such as Brevard County's multifaceted "Nostalgia" marketing, can offer planners such activity ideas as viewing rocket launches at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, as well as sea turtle nesting, stand-up paddleboarding, offshore fishing, and surf lessons.

Indeed, planners should remember to keep it beachy: Beach Olympics and sunrise exercise for the ambitious, beach yoga and devotionals for the mellow.

Trending here -- as elsewhere -- are sustainability education and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Each county has one or more marine centers for the rehabilitation of flora and fauna, and "swamp tours" now feature an eco angle. Meeting groups are encouraged to participate in beach cleanups and other activities that will keep Florida's East Coast a destination of great natural beauty for years to come.

For the shoulder seasons, when bad weather can affect meeting plans, it's great to know that Visit Florida has continued its Cover Your Event (CYE) hurricane insurance for the months of August, September, and October. The supplemental insurance is intended to cover any cost directly related to re-booking a meeting should it be displaced due to a named hurricane.

Finally, a game changer for South Florida will be the Brightline, a new high-speed passenger train. Coming next year, the Brightline will connect Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami.


Jacksonville/St. Augustine
A round of renovation is coming to Jacksonville in 2016: The 961-room Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront has a redesigned its Regency Club Lounge and has completed an overhaul of all guest rooms with new carpet, furniture, fixtures, wall coverings, and window treatments. The 354-room Omni Jacksonville completed a $9 million overhaul of its guest rooms and also features a new club lounge and a complete renovation of the hotel's meetings space. The 277-room Embassy Suites Jacksonville-Baymeadows underwent a full $13 million renovation of guest suites and meeting space. The 159-room Sheraton Jacksonville is expected to complete a $7 million renovation of the entire property late this year. It should be completed in late 2016. The 323-room Lexington Hotel & Conference Center (formerly the Wyndham) is expected to remain open during an up to $20 million overhaul to be complete by late this year.

In St. Augustine, the 301-room Renaissance Resort at World Golf Village (which is home to 85,000-square-foot St. Johns County Convention Center) completed a $10 million renovation, including the remodeling of all guest rooms, dramatic changes to the resort's atrium, and new lighting in public areas. 

Last month, ClubCorp acquired Marsh Creek Country Club, a premier private country club in St. Augustine. ClubCorp plans a capital project that will bring new amenities, improvements, and upgrades to the club. Current amenities include a clubhouse offering upscale and casual dining, a tennis center, and private event space.


Daytona Beach
Known as the "Festival Capital of Florida," for having 50 year-round events, Daytona has a built-in program of attractions from which planners can select, including events at the historic Daytona Beach Bandshell, where, according to Daytona Beach CVB sales director Linda McMahon, groups can experience free concerts and fireworks displays throughout the year. Every fall, she adds, "The CVB's Dine-Around Daytona Beach program showcases tasty independent up-and-coming eateries. Also, the new Daytona Beach Ale Trail is a great itinerary addition, with more than a dozen stops at local microbreweries and taphouses."

But when it comes to special events venues, Daytona's ace in the hole is the Daytona International Speedway. For incentive groups, "Daytona International Speedway and its Speedway Tours -- and Richard Petty Driving Experience -- are a must-see," says McMahon.  

Consolidating its strength, the Speedway has undergone a $400 million renovation that has debuted in time for the annual Daytona 500, a Formula-1 race that draws more than 100,000 fans from around the world. Of interest to planners are the 60-plus luxury suites that have trackside views and a fresh hospitality experience for corporate groups. Across the street, Phase I of the $800 million One Daytona project, which is expected to include 300,000 square feet of retail, dining, and entertainment, two hotels, and more, has received the green light for a spring ground breaking. It is expected to open in 2017. 

Elsewhere, Daytona's new venues receptions include the Museum of Arts & Sciences' new Cici & Hyatt Brown Museum of Art, which offers the largest private collection of Florida art. There's also a new hotel lineup, says McMahon: "MC Residence, Hilton Garden Inn, Westin Resort & Spa -- as well as hotel renovations that include the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort." The bones of the 200-room Westin -- to debut in Daytona Beach sometime in 2017 -- will be the 1970s-era Desert Inn, which is receiving a $25 million renovation that will add 25,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and function space, two restaurants and bars, and a 5,000-square-foot spa. Meanwhile, the 774-room the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort is renovating its 60,000 square feet of meeting spaces, among other amenities. 


Palm Beaches
This will be a banner year for Discover The Palm Beaches (DTPB), where new hotel inventory includes the 400-room Hilton West Palm Beach convention center hotel, the 130-room Hotel Indigo West Palm Beach, and the Jupiter Pointe Marina. "We're excited that our landscape has seen an increased hotel inventory," says Kelly Cavers, DTPB senior vice president of group sales. 

Called the "game-changer" by DTPB president and CEO Jorge Pesquera, the Hilton West Palm Beach convention center hotel is "South Florida's only hotel that is structurally connected to a convention center, which gives us a competitive advantage as a desirable destination in the meetings and convention market."

"It's given us an increase in short-term corporate opportunities, with extensions of pre-event and post-event stays," adds Cavers. "We're seeing attendees bring their entire families to enjoy being here in The Palm Beaches. They want to experience the attractions, and this area is so family-friendly, which makes it an even more desirable destination."

New attractions include the new Manatee Lagoon -- an FPL Eco-Discovery Center and Loggerhead Marinelife Center -- where groups can see manatees and sea turtles. Coming in 2017 will be the Ballpark of The Palm Beaches, which, "along with the already-popular Roger Dean Stadium, will satisfy baseball fans during spring training."

Cavers also points to the trending phenomenon of culinary food tours, of which planners can also take advantage. "In The Palm Beaches, we have the Savor Our City historical walking food tours, the Taste History Culinary Tours, and the West Palm Beach Food Tour. These offer an excellent way for visitors to learn about the area through a dining experience, as culinary tourism grows more popular."Fort Lauderdale
Things are heating up in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Jimmy Buffett's 349-room Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort opened last November with 30,000 square feet of meeting space. 

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is planning a $1.8 billion expansion plan that will call for an 800-room guitar-shaped hotel, bringing the total number of hotel rooms to 1,273.

The 290-room Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort is expected to open this summer with 20,000 square feet of meeting space, including eight flexible meeting rooms with sea views and outdoor, oceanfront breakout areas). The 150-room Tryp Maritime by Wyndham Fort Lauderdale expects to open its doors this year featuring a modern nautical feel, a European-style tapas bar, and 11 aquariums.

Elsewhere, the 198-room Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, unveiled an $8 million renovation to guestrooms, spa, restaurant, and public spaces, including the main lobby, and the156-room Pelican Grand Beach Resort completed a $6 million expansion which added two ballrooms as well as a penthouse featuring panoramic views from a 75-foot balcony. The 264-room Sheraton Suites Plantation completed an $8 million renovation that included suites, corridors, and the new club lounge. The Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six has unveiled its newly renovated 5,900-square-foot Panorama Ballroom. BalQony, the new fourth-floor reception space and terrace lounge at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, debuted as a unique new 4,500-square-foot indoor/outdoor venue option with its own elevator.

Referring to the flurry of building activity, Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, says "What we are seeing is the next wave of transformation happening everywhere across Broward County attract with an increase of affluent visitors stimulating significant luxury investment here. Month after month and year after year, we are experiencing tremendous growth in our visitor numbers. In the next two years we will have a new landscape and horizon with exciting new high-rise towers, beautifully designed condos, and landmark hotels attracting the high-end market."


Miami
The latest "statement" property to arrive in Miami is the ME by Melia, which is expected to open in downtown this month. The 116-room property features 14,000 square feet of event space and outdoor areas. 

Slated to open this spring, the 350-room Nobu Hotel at Eden Roc Miami Beach is part of the multimillion-dollar vision to revitalize and relaunch the Eden Roc name and property. A hotel-within-a-hotel, the Nobu will feature a signature Nobu restaurant and bar; an additional new beachfront restaurant concept; new banquet and catering menus; unique in-room dining offerings; 20,000 square feet of spa; fitness facilities; over 70,000 square feet of reenergized and stylish meeting and event space; and two luxurious pools. 

Other recent openings include the 163-room The Hall, a Joie de Vivre property with 2,000 square feet of meeting space and the 5,000-square-foot Campton Yard outdoor space. And in time for Miami Spa Month, the 643-room Trump National Doral will be debuting its all-new spa suites as well as refreshed spa facilities by early 2016. (The spa suites are part of the resort's $250 million transformation, which included new Har-Tru tennis courts.) 

New venues in Miami include the alternative space in downtown, Miami's Perez Art Museum (PAMM). Says Jennifer Haz of Greater Miami's Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), "Located in the beautiful new Museum Park, the PAMM features sweeping views of Biscayne Bay, sprawling outdoor plazas with lush vegetation cascading from the canopy's overhang and a variety of modern indoor spaces for business meetings, cocktail receptions, elegant brunches, dinner parties and more." 


Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.

ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
Miami Beach Convention Center (1 million sf)
Greater Ft. Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center
(610,000 sf)
Palm Beach County Convention Center (350,000 sf)
Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (265,000 sf)
Ocean Center Convention Center, Daytona Beach
(205,000 sf)

ROOM TAX
Daytona Beach: 12.5 percent
Ft. Lauderdale: 11 percent
Jacksonville: 12.5 percent
Miami: 8 percent
Palm Beach: 11 percent


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Fort Lauderdale
Things are heating up in Greater Fort Lauderdale. Jimmy Buffett's 349-room Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort opened last November with 30,000 square feet of meeting space. 

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is planning a $1.8 billion expansion plan that will call for an 800-room guitar-shaped hotel, bringing the total number of hotel rooms to 1,273.

The 290-room Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort is expected to open this summer with 20,000 square feet of meeting space, including eight flexible meeting rooms with sea views and outdoor, oceanfront breakout areas). The 150-room Tryp Maritime by Wyndham Fort Lauderdale expects to open its doors this year featuring a modern nautical feel, a European-style tapas bar, and 11 aquariums.

Elsewhere, the 198-room Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale, unveiled an $8 million renovation to guestrooms, spa, restaurant, and public spaces, including the main lobby, and the156-room Pelican Grand Beach Resort completed a $6 million expansion which added two ballrooms as well as a penthouse featuring panoramic views from a 75-foot balcony. The 264-room Sheraton Suites Plantation completed an $8 million renovation that included suites, corridors, and the new club lounge. The Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six has unveiled its newly renovated 5,900-square-foot Panorama Ballroom. BalQony, the new fourth-floor reception space and terrace lounge at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, debuted as a unique new 4,500-square-foot indoor/outdoor venue option with its own elevator.

Referring to the flurry of building activity, Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, says "What we are seeing is the next wave of transformation happening everywhere across Broward County attract with an increase of affluent visitors stimulating significant luxury investment here. Month after month and year after year, we are experiencing tremendous growth in our visitor numbers. In the next two years we will have a new landscape and horizon with exciting new high-rise towers, beautifully designed condos, and landmark hotels attracting the high-end market."


Miami
The latest "statement" property to arrive in Miami is the ME by Melia, which is expected to open in downtown this month. The 116-room property features 14,000 square feet of event space and outdoor areas. 

Slated to open this spring, the 350-room Nobu Hotel at Eden Roc Miami Beach is part of the multimillion-dollar vision to revitalize and relaunch the Eden Roc name and property. A hotel-within-a-hotel, the Nobu will feature a signature Nobu restaurant and bar; an additional new beachfront restaurant concept; new banquet and catering menus; unique in-room dining offerings; 20,000 square feet of spa; fitness facilities; over 70,000 square feet of reenergized and stylish meeting and event space; and two luxurious pools. 

Other recent openings include the 163-room The Hall, a Joie de Vivre property with 2,000 square feet of meeting space and the 5,000-square-foot Campton Yard outdoor space. And in time for Miami Spa Month, the 643-room Trump National Doral will be debuting its all-new spa suites as well as refreshed spa facilities by early 2016. (The spa suites are part of the resort's $250 million transformation, which included new Har-Tru tennis courts.) 

New venues in Miami include the alternative space in downtown, Miami's Perez Art Museum (PAMM). Says Jennifer Haz of Greater Miami's Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), "Located in the beautiful new Museum Park, the PAMM features sweeping views of Biscayne Bay, sprawling outdoor plazas with lush vegetation cascading from the canopy's overhang and a variety of modern indoor spaces for business meetings, cocktail receptions, elegant brunches, dinner parties and more." 


Questions or comments? Email [email protected]

This article appears in the March 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.