Miami's Boutique Allure Attracts Small Groups

An aggressive small meetings program recently rolled out by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, coupled with a growing number of Miami-area hotels that cater to small groups, have created new options for planners.

William Talbert, president & CEO of the CVB, said the recently created Meetings Express program, which focuses on groups that consume 50 or fewer room nights for their events, has brought about a new level of interaction between small group planners and the CVB.

"Small groups make up the overwhelming majority of meeting and incentive business in any market," Talbert said. "So it just made sense to us to create a specific department to deal with planners whose groups are small, and who often need to book on short notice. We are making sure they get more attention from us than ever before."

Sara Cant, CEO of Chicago-based Talking Point, who has taken several small groups to Miami recently and plans to bring several more in the coming year, said a combination of facility openings and what she calls "the fun factor" has driven an increase in demand for Miami events by her clients lately.

"Miami is certainly a city that has what I call 'fun appeal' for groups, and that may have actually been a negative in the short-term after Sept. 11, when corporate groups were a little reluctant to be perceived as going to fun destinations for their meetings," she said. "But now that atmosphere has loosened up a little, and groups increasingly are seeking destinations and venues that offer a fun experience."

Cant said the nature of hotel development in Miami in the past couple of years has created a good situation for planners, as new properties like Hilton's Conrad and the JW Marriott in the Miami financial district have begun to compete with existing and extensively upgraded 1930s to 1950s-era, South Beach hotels like The National, The Clinton, Hotel Victor and Catalina.

"There's a real desire among our clients these days to stay in something that is more than just four walls and a bed — something that has its own unique character, and the classic Art Deco hotels in South Beach deliver that," she said.

At the same time, Cant said, the bar is getting raised for existing hotels by the arrival of the larger upscale hotels to Miami, which are the products of considerable research into meeting planner needs by the national hotel flags who operate them.

"I think one of the strongest points is that our conference facilities were design-built for planners' needs, and convenience for group activities is literally built into the structure of the hotel," said Mari Garcia, director of sales and marketing at the Conrad.

"We were able to build in features like conference rooms with views of Biscayne Bay, and a back-of-house area that makes meal functions extremely convenient to our conference areas."

Garcia said about 40 percent of the occupancy at the Conrad, which opened a year ago, is corporate group business, predominately small groups that want to be close to the financial district and Miami's nearby downtown area, across the Miami River.

Talbert said, "One of the reasons we love small groups is that we develop an ongoing relationship with them that leads large groups — which have some connection with the original groups — to come to Miami."

The CVB has lowered the threshold of potential room nights a planner would have to book in order to qualify for a fam trip to Miami.

"That's because the competition among destinations is getting stronger and stronger," Talbert said. "And consequently, we are getting more willing to fly small group planners in here to have a look."

Contact Rowland Stiteler at [email protected]