A Hot Florida Can Charge Big Rates

Originally published January 30, 2006

Florida should continue to be a sought-after place in the sun for incentive groups during 2006, especially during winter and spring, but planners may want to count on spending more for accommodations.

"If you find a bargain on upscale accommodations this year in Florida, you can pretty much pat yourself on the back for pulling off a coup," said Karen Peterson, owner of Orlando-based Event Management Services Inc. "Demand is certainly going to outstrip supply, even with all the new hotel product that seems to come on line in Florida on an almost constant basis, year-in and year-out."

That perpective is in concert with those of about half a dozen experienced incentive planners interviewed in late December. The prognosis, in a nutshell, is that the upward momentum in the national economy is going to continue to push an increase in the demand for incentives, and if your group doesn't have the desire or perhaps the budget to venture offshore, the salient question becomes: "Where else are you going to go for incentives but Florida?"

"Florida is really a natural choice for incentives," said Ed Beaman, vice president of operations for USA Hosts/Gardner & Associates, based in Fort Lauderdale, with an office in Orlando. "The weather difference between here and up North is striking come January, February and March, and it is not really difficult to motivate employees and give them a sense of being rewarded by offering a trip to Florida. Nothing is going to change about that. True, you'll probably pay more for accommodations, but because the economy is getting better, clients are probably going to be willing to pay a little more than in previous years."

Beaman said that with the median age of incentive trip winners getting younger, the biggest single draw among incentive groups his company has worked with is Miami Beach's South Beach area.

Virtually everyone in America seems to have heard of South Beach and its chic nightclubs and exclusive restaurants, he said. For younger, upwardly mobile professionals, "South Beach is not a hard sell at all these days," he added.

An area that aspires to be "South Beach North," Fort Lauderdale's trendy Las Olas Boulevard, has also started to become a hit with planners of upscale events.

Las Olas, a tree-lined esplanade that runs between downtown Fort Lauderdale and the Atlantic Ocean beach a couple of miles to the east, is filled with designer boutiques, antique shops, and one of the largest and most eclectic selections of posh restaurants in Florida.

"It's hard to imagine any choice of cuisine that you could not find on Las Olas Boulevard," said planner Michael Pierson, president of his own event planning firm based in Irvine, Calif.

Pierson recently used Las Olas for an upscale dining event for 1,200 participants at a cruise-industry conference he put together in Fort Lauderdale.

"The beauty was that you could have done it for an intimate incentive group or a huge executive conference, because Las Olas has a lot of capacity with the huge number of restaurants it has," he said. "At the same time, it's really a personalized experience for every participant, because there are a lot of small restaurants instead of a few really huge ones."

With the help of the Fort Lauderdale CVB, Pierson organized a dinner party at which guests could choose from any of scores of Las Olas eateries, making their choices by going online and signing up before the event. A fleet of buses took the diners to their restaurants, where red carpets were rolled out and models in evening gowns met them at the door.

"For a smaller incentive group, you could use limos instead of buses," Pierson said. "That evening was pretty representative of what you can put together in Florida these days."