Find Value When You VISIT FLORIDA

Westin Diplomat Fort Lauderdale
Westin Diplomat Fort Lauderdale

Sophisticated and spectacular, Florida is well known globally for its luminous array of leisure pursuits. But did you know the Sunshine State ranks first in the country for both large meetings and affordable, convenient airline service?

VISIT FLORIDA wants to ensure you do.

Metropoll is a biannual survey of both corporate and association meeting professionals about how they select and perceive meeting destinations. In 2011, the survey found that more planners intend to hold a meeting in Orlando than any other North American location during the next three years. And Florida is also the highest ranked state for affordable travel spend and easy accessibility.

“Planners said on that study that they want a one-stop website to help them determine the best destination for their Florida meeting,” says Cheryl Hatcher, director of sales for VISIT FLORIDA. “Their delegates are asking to come to Florida. We’re here to assist planners in making that happen.”

First on the agenda, VISIT FLORIDA plans to revamp its marketing initiatives, become more active with social media and seek new strategic partners.

“The meetings industry is one of VISIT FLORIDA’s top four marketing platforms,” says Hatcher. “We already have a strong relationship with MPI and PCMA. The next step is partnering with other major associations to create top-of-mind awareness for planners unfamiliar with all that Florida has to offer.”

Projects under development include revamping the website. Incentive groups will have a section that outlines properties and their amenities. There will be a designated planner-friendly section with templates to make it easier to market their meetings, offering e-marketing materials and tools for promotional support.

A new Special Offer section providing Hot Rates & Dates will be rolled out statewide, which planners can access through the individual CVBs.

VISIT FLORIDA is ramping up its “Cover Your Event Insurance” program, offered in case your meeting or event is displaced by a named hurricane.

Hatcher says, “We cover various aspects of rebooking within 12 months, such as reprinting materials.” “We assure the planner that if they book, we’ll stand behind them bringing their meeting to Florida.”

An already established Florida grant program helps CVBs attract citywide business. As part of the program, the CVB works with the planner to directly market to the delegates to increase attendance.

“The average Florida meeting is 250-300 people according to our research,” explains Hatcher. “Medium-size meetings for corporate and incentive groups show huge growth potential.”

That research also proves that groups will sometimes pay a little more for the hotel because there are so many affordable group experiences and unbelievably beautiful landscapes.

“Our destination overall is such a great value,” says Hatcher. “There will always be a need for face-to-face meetings. We want them in Florida. It’s good business to do business in Florida.”

From seagrass to sawgrass, think of Fort Lauderdale as the place for “meetings with a view,” muses Christine Roberts-Tascione, CMP, vp of convention sales/services for Greater Fort Lauderdale. With 300 miles of navigable coastal waterway, “You can walk out the doors of the 1,000-room Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa and hop onto a yacht with 400 of your closest friends without needing transportation.”

“You want million dollar views?” she continues. “Check out the yachts parked at the marina when your group rides a water taxi accessed from our waterside 600,000-sf Broward County Convention Center.”

Accessibility also factors into the city’s success. Two miles from the convention center, value-oriented carriers like Jet Blue and Spirit provide more than 50% of flights into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The furthest hotel is 20 minutes away.

“The Global Business Travel Association named us the #1 city with lowest travel taxes,” touts Roberts-Tascione. “Coming here saves groups money.”

Fort Lauderdale venues are high stepping to meet anticipated business growth. The 650-room Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa added a 10,000-sf ballroom ocean-side, surrounded by artificial turf. No more sinking in the grass when wearing heels. The Westin Diplomat renovated their lobby with glass, marble and freeze-dried palm trees under 30-ft high ceilings. The positive group experience begins the moment they look past the palm trees and see a waterfall, with the beach and an infinity pool beyond that. Roberts-Tascione says, “This is the light-hearted Fort Lauderdale vibe they’ve come for.”

The newly reflagged Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel—a Doubletree by Hilton, draws groups for the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, the largest of its kind internationally to the hotel’s immense marina. In December, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino finished their redo of 500 guestrooms. The Seminole Paradise arena seats 5,000.

“We have lodging at a 5-diamond property, mid-level beachside boutique hotels, or a destination resort for 3,000,” says Roberts-Tascione.

The Museum of Discovery & Science opened a new wing called Eco Discovery Center. Adult hands-on exhibits spice up networking: 3,000 max. The Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art completed its renovation in September, and it continues to attract traveling exhibits only booked at a few select locations around the country.

The question facing planners heading to the contemporary cultural powerhouse of Miami isn’t what to do, but what to do next? Explore the diversity of Little Havana, Little Haiti or Little Argentina? Or immerse in the sophisticated rhythms of the Art Deco District in South Beach, the eclectic Wynwood arts neighborhood or the emerging Design District?

“We’re the only place in America where you get cosmopolitan flavor set in a tropical atmosphere,” says Barry Moskowitz, vp of sales for Greater Miami & The Beaches.

Creative adrenaline fuels the experience, he says, from a club crawl that Microsoft arranged at South Beach nightclubs, to being “in” on all of the sizzling new venues and restaurants. Nike brought its design group to Miami Beach’s internationally-prestigious Art Basel, the country’s largest art fair held every December.

New rooftop venues compete for offering the best views of Miami Beach’s dazzling nighttime glamour. The 1111 Lincoln Road’s contemporary styling atop a Lincoln Road garage “is one of our hottest group venues,” says Moskowitz. “It fits into who we are as a city.”

Not to be overshadowed, Frank Gehry designed the new New World Symphony concert hall. Rooftop views for 200 overlook the ocean and the Deco District. Larger groups can host their own concert in the surrounding 2.5-acre Soundscape park, bouncing images off the New World Symphony’s 7,000-sf project wall.

The January opening of the 243-room St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort and its world-class J&J Grill by international Michelin-rated chef Georges Vongerichten are bringing the buzz back to the exclusive Bal Harbour community just north of South Beach. Other foodie execs favor Floridian signature haute cuisine at The Villa By Barton G (formerly, Versace Mansion), in the center of South Beach glitz and glam. Try the soy-cured bigeye tuna complemented by The Villa Martina, a blend of liquors served in a Versace martini glass. We also love the upscale and unpretentious food at Michael’s Genuine in the Design District, 10 minutes from “The Beach.” A favorite for locals, the bistro seats 104.

Miami will escalate its reputation as a global arts mecca even more in the fall of 2013 when the Miami Art Museum (MAM) and relocated Miami Science Museum open. They will transform Bicentennial Park adjacent to downtown into the 29-acre ultra-sustainable Miami Museum Park.

Ocean Key Florida Keys
Ocean Key Florida Keys

Think of the Florida Keys as a 126-mile string of lustrous pearls and Key West as the glittering pendant that draws all eyes upon it. Surrounded by water 90 miles from Cuba and 180 from Miami, the island influence is pervasive in the relaxed attitude, lush scenery and Bahamian-style architecture.

“We’re America’s Caribbean,” says Jack Meier, corporate group/incentive sales director for Florida Keys & Key West, “but you don’t need a passport to visit.”

Groups who associate Key West with deep sea fishing and sunset sailing would be correct, but pull together your best James Bond bravado with Jetpack Adventures. Based in Key West and Hawks Cay Resort in the Middle Keys, the company straps attendees into a state-of-the-art jetpack that’s attached to a 30-ft hose. The high-pressure hose attached to the pack blasts water downward, shooting the person high up in the air over the seawater. Makes for super cool videos to send back home.

The Keys attracts incentive groups who want to “live like a local, explore the history in our museums, and enjoy the beauty of our natural backdrop,” says Meier. “Once a group has been here, we know it’s likely they’ll return.”

The 100th year anniversary celebration of Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railroad in Key West promises to draw groups in 2012 to Casa Marina, a Waldorf Astoria Resort. A recent renovation returned the beachfront grand dame to the opulence of its 1920 origins.

Dramatic architecture worthy of walking tours imprint the skyline of Palm Beach, West Palm Beach and neighboring Boca Raton. From the magnificent and stately Breakers Hotel to the tony Worth Avenue shopping street, considered the Rodeo Drive of the Southeast, the region delivers a slew of upscale product among all the elite golf courses, swanky resorts and celebrated chef-owned restaurants. But how many planners realize that the largest county east of Mississippi has established a boutique shopping epicenter in Delray Beach, or that the “Old Florida” look of Jupiter attracts eco-interested groups seeking a guided tour of nesting turtles returning to the ocean?

“We have amazing diversity without the density,” says Douglas McLain, senior vp of global sales for The Palm Beaches & Boca Raton.

McLain says groups coming to Palm Beach County expect high standards of service. For example, the new Palm Club is an exclusive group departure lounge for 150 pax at the Palm Beach International Airport, hosted by the CVB for companies who source amenities through them. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlook the runway. Snacks, coffee, tea and juices are complimentary, with additional catering optional. A wide screen TV with DVD capability affords a parting opportunity to wrap up business.

“The Palm Club is a great value-add for planners and a strong way to finish the journey,” says McLain. “It has been the differentiator in closing some new business.”

When the right company synergizes with the perfect venue, it’s like a lightbulb flashes, signaling the brilliance of the idea. Recently, a lightbulb manufacturing company held a reception at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers in Southeast Florida. How fun is that?

“A lightbulb manufacturing company holding a function on the grounds of the home where the inventor of the lightbulb lived—that’s perfect!” says Pamela Johnson, director of sales for Lee County.

That’s just one example of how the charming beach towns of Fort Myers and Sanibel offer a surprising change of pace from been-there/done-that events. Highly-rated eco-attractions and wildlife viewing also make the area a popular and affordable choice for meeting planners.

History and botanical enthusiasts will enjoy a guided tour of Thomas Edison’s authentically-maintained home, laboratory and experimental gardens created in 1886. They can marry the tour with an elegant or picnic-style meal on the scenic grounds of the Caloosahatchee River.

Next door, the automobile magnate Henry Ford also built a winter home here. The two close friends and geniuses shared a passion for growing their own food and planting uncommon botanical plants like eucalyptus and huge banyan trees. Area DMCs offer a half-day combo event at the two homes.

For nature lovers, the 6,000-acre J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island offers a peek for bird watchers into an unspoiled island sanctuary.

Other unexpected venues include the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, the 12-acre Sun Splash Family Waterpark, Lovers Key State Park and the Shell Factory—a popular entertainment venue with meeting space, shopping, games, park and restaurants.

Here’s the big news.

“What really has baseball enthusiasts excited is the $80 million February debut of the Boston Red Sox’s spring training stadium,” says Johnson.

Lee County is home to two spring training teams: the Minnesota Twins and the Red Sox. JetBlue Park includes a replica of Fenway Park’s Green Monster left field fence.

Johnson says, “If a meeting or convention is in town during spring training, it’s fun to attend a game. Plus, both teams will consider hosting offsite functions for planners.”

Ngala Wildlife Preserve
Ngala Wildlife Preserve

On the southwestern tip of Florida, a conference attendee can do any of the following: Relax at a cost-effective 5-star resort; traipse through cultivated gardens of Florida, Brazil, Asia and the Caribbean; sail past bottlenose dolphins to 10,000 islands; participate in CSR events at one of the greenest nature reserves in the country; or interact with African wildlife in a setting created for corporate functions.

In other words, the western gateway to the Everglades National Park truly offers something for large groups with a wide range of interests. Sound like yours?

“Naples, Marco Island and the Everglades offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences not found elsewhere, from sublime luxury at affordable prices to the serene stop-and-smell-the-roses encounters with nature,” says Debi DeBenedetto, CHA, tourism sales/marketing manager for Naples-Marco Island-Everglades.

Options for eco-activities soar this year. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Naples Nature Center will wrap a big renovation of its sustainable-minded facility in 2012, including event space for 200. Upon completion, this will be one of America’s greenest nature and educational attractions.

For attendees traveling with kids, the environmentally-friendly 30,000-sf Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples debuts in February. It contains an educational learning lab designed in part for corporate cocktail receptions.

Groups seeking a personal wildlife encounter can book Ngala Wildlife Preserve, created specifically for events.

“You can feed giraffes, pet rhinos and do themed meals in a tented area with chandeliers and teakwood tables,” says DeBenedetto. A new stage was just built for concerts, and the reserve can hold up to a 1,000 pax.

Naples also offers world class restaurants clustered in the downtown corridors and upscale resorts, including two Ritz-Carlton hotels just 10 minutes apart.

“A planner can book The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples at a reasonable rate and transport the group by complimentary shuttle to the beachside resort for the spa or beach activities,” says DeBenedetto.

Check out the CVB website for a unique value-added assistance program. It’s called GAP (Group Attendance Push). Planners can order things like maps and passport discount cards for welcome bags. You can also download photos, templates and banners to help build attendance.


Where else can a group personally observe or engage with rescued dolphins or endangered animals, experience the cultures of multiple international countries within hours, and go behind the scenes of the only “medical city” in North America and only one of three in the world?

“Groups coming to Orlando ask for unique experiences they can’t buy as individuals,” says Tammi Runzler, senior vp of convention sales/services for Visit Orlando. “Orlando has world class theme parks offering unique venues, such as The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and SeaWorld’s Antarctica expansion. People are still conservative with their budgets, but they want those especially creative once-in-a-lifetime events that they can talk about later.”

Those experiences range from getting directly involved with conservation efforts at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom to having personal engagement experiences with rescued dolphins and manatees at SeaWorld.

“It’s an emotional connection that’s inspiring and difficult to duplicate anywhere else,” says Runzler, “like having Cartier at the Mall at Millenia shut down for a private catered meal with a celebrity chef.”

Medical meetings are becoming big business for Orlando.The new Lake Nona Medical City is a huge project home to the University of Central Florida’s medical school and some of the nation’s leading medical technology. That’s attracting healthcare groups for private tours.

“The medical city has been a differentiator for booking Orlando,” says Runzler. “It’s cost effective and convenient.”

The appeal for high-tech facilities also draws international incentive groups who want substantial experiences, such as a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sanford Burnham Institute. The facility is a major player in the Simulation & Training industry, which has in the last few years shifted focus from space and defense research to medical training. Instead of being trained on a cadaver, for example, future physicians can learn via simulation.

“There is nowhere else that can be done, so corporate groups who support those industries have available resources here they can tap into,” adds Runzler.

In the downtown core, the new Amway Center has created immense opportunities. Home to Orlando’s professional basketball team, the state-of-the-art facility has become very popular for large conferences and events.

“Visitors formerly unaware of our downtown will now host an event at the Amway and then go to the recently renovated Citrus Club for gorgeous nighttime views of the city and the fireworks from distant theme parks,” says Runzler. “It’s good for the entire city’s coffers and reputation.”

Tampa Art Museum
Tampa Art Museum

Minarets from the University of Tampa cast spire shadows across the Hillsborough River. On the opposite bank, 30,000 LED lights backlight perforated aluminum holes surrounding the façade of the new Tampa Museum of Art, designed to resemble a floating jewel box. If you didn’t already know, Tampa Bay is a hub of creative culture on the Gulf Coast, in addition to its sun, sea and sand attributes.

“We have everything you come to Florida for: Weather, attractions, beaches, history and culture—all in one place and provided at a great value,” says Alex Kaptzan, director of convention sales for Tampa Bay & Company.

The building surge at the 8-acre Curtis Hixon Park is a shining example. The park’s redo includes the Tampa Museum of Art, which can host 400 for receptions or 250 seated. A 40-ft cantilevered overhang can comfortably shield 400 for outdoor events.

Next door, the new and whimsically imaginative, $20 million Glazer Children’s Museum has reserved its top floor for corporate functions with some of the best views of the city. The 5,000-sf space is part of a total 53,000 sf of flexible function and event facilities.

Tampa was one of Florida’s earliest supporters of the fine arts. The David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts is the second largest such venue in the country after Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. Book VIP seating for shows like La Cage aux Folles or organize a group dinner on the stage.

The historic Ybor City showcases its cultural roots by renting out buildings once occupied by ethnic social clubs during the early 20th century. They were popular as meeting places for the many cigar factory workers here.

“Groups can have dinner themed to a social club, continue the party at the area’s famous nightclubs, and then head safely back to the hotel aboard an electric streetcar,” says Kaptzan.

Who would have guessed that the 2008 departure of the Los Angeles Dodgers from their spring training camp, Dodger Town, in Indian River County would inspire the creation of a sports complex designed to host meetings and events? Where revered Dodgers once trained, corporate teams now pit their skills against one another or pose beside meeting room photographs of baseball greats bearing names such as Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax.

Located on the central east coast, the 67-acre Vero Beach Sports Village has over 14,000 sf of meeting space, 89-hotel style villas and onsite dining options. For a year-round outdoor experience, there are 26 miles of unspoiled beaches and the 156-mile Indian River Lagoon for groups to gather either inland or on the water.

“We have big city culture with a small town feel,” says Susan Hunt, director of tourism for the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. Where people once thought Indian River County a sleepy beach area, Hunt says groups are discovering unique experiences, such as teambuilding and guided tours on Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most environmentally diverse estuaries in America.

Naturalists enjoy meeting over the world’s largest table built from a single piece of mahogany, located in the cypress and stained glass Hall of Giants at McKee Botanical Garden. It’s always rewarding spotting giant loggerhead sea turtles and manatees while kayaking along the lagoon.

Culture lovers enjoy behind-the-scenes tours of the Riverside Theatre, the winter home for many celebrity actors. And what happens when they’re tired from all of the business meetings and outdoor recreation?

“They can rest at 4-star hotels, such as the Zen-like Costa D’Este, owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa,” says Hunt. About 45 minutes south from Vero Beach, the all-inclusive Club Med Sandpiper Bay recently completed a thorough $28 million renovation. For more about Sandpiper, visit our “No Wallet, No Worries” all-inclusive feature story on page 63.

Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach

No rumble of engines stirs the dusty track. The pit crews have departed for races elsewhere. Instead, your group is stepping onto Victory Lane at the Daytona Beach International Speedway for a cocktail reception (500 pax).

“It’s an experience that makes them feel like they’re living a part of history,” says Nina Crabtree, sales manager of conventions/meetings for Daytona Beach. “Once they enter the function room inside the Daytona 500 Experience and are surrounded by race cars, photos, artifacts and the chance to win race tickets, they’re thrilled.”

Even non-race fans find the behind-the-scenes private tours of suites and the VIP area exciting, because the energy is contagious when you’re racing a 600-horsepower car in the high-tech, full motion simulators.

Daytona Beach is of course known for its sun, sand and surf—and yes, racing—but corporate groups soon discover the role that arts play in the area’s vibrancy.

At the Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of Arts & Sciences (MOAS), tribute is paid to Florida and Daytona’s history. A Cuban wing houses pre-revolution artifacts gifted by General Batista before Fidel Castro’s takeover.

“It’s well noted throughout the Spanish-speaking world as the best collection of pre-revolution art outside Cuba,” says Crabtree, “so we do get a lot of groups here just to see that exhibit.” MOAS also houses the largest collection of African art in the southeast U.S., and it recently opened the only Open Storage Wing in Florida. It’s a unique concept where visitors can see the vault of artifacts not being displayed in the museum halls.

At the 205,000-sf Ocean Center Daytona Beach, the Art in Public Space program features almost a half million dollar collection of contemporary art. It’s a dazzling display for reception-styled events with translucent, iridescent glass sculptures hanging from the walls and ceiling.

Fishing in South Walton
Fishing in South Walton


When winter’s bite sends executive groups scurrying for the perfect place to host their retreat, many of them discover the Southern hospitality of the 15 neighborhoods coursing through South Walton.

Last year, the destination rebranded its marketing organization as Visit South Walton. With the brand change came many new tools on the website. There is info about CSR and green meetings possibilities. RFP forms are readily available. And one section outlines new travel options available since the 2010 opening of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport in Panama City Beach.

Though there are the larger, more traditional resorts like the Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort and Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa—the largest Gulf hotel in Northwest Florida which just completed a $6.5 million renovation—“We also attract smaller groups of 50-200 who want something out of the ordinary,” says Cricket Johnson, sales coordinator for Visit South Walton. “Those groups tend to lodge in the cottages of the 11 pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods hugging the Scenic Highway 30A which runs alongside the Gulf.”

What groups soon discover is that South Walton’s North Florida location translates to great values from September to March, “when we offer the same great meeting spaces and accommodations as Southern Florida areas, but at better pricing,” says Johnson.

They also discover championship golf courses, miles of hiking and biking trails, ropes courses, and South Walton’s own style of stand-up paddle boarding, called Yolo Boarding, which makes for innovative teambuilding activities on pristine coastal dune lakes.

“WaterColor Inn & Resort does a lot of Yolo activities for groups. It’s hugely popular there for executive boards or smaller incentive groups of about 20,” says Johnson.

Most recently, an interactive education facility opened to the public, committed to teaching people about South Walton’s native ecosystem. Johnson says the “significance for groups is that the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center has interesting spaces and activities that can be used for offsite meeting functions, teambuilding activities and CSR events.”

Twenty-four miles of sugar-white sand beaches, championship golf courses, fleets of leisure and sportfishing yachts and endless miles of nature highlight the Emerald Coast on the northern Gulf of Mexico. The stunning blue/green waters are powerful motivators for groups looking to refresh and refocus.

Groups who schedule their meetings in January or February reap the best incentives,” says Sherry Rushing, travel industry sales director for Emerald Coast, representing the Destin and Fort Walton Beach areas. “Book a meeting during those months at one of our hotels or the convention center, and you get a free continental breakfast and AV package.”

The convention center hosts 2,000. The condo complexes and hotels contribute another 105,000 sf of meeting space.

Rushing says, “Our saltwater aquarium can be used for educational meetings…. We’re a great place to work a little and play a lot. When you drive over the Destin Bridge, the view over the Gulf is gorgeous. It’s like being in the Caribbean at a more affordable price.”

In October when hotel rates are lowest, docks along the Emerald Coast are crowded with men and women participating in deep sea fishing tournaments. AJ’s Seafood & Oyster House hosts a month-long competition that always has a fair size contingent of corporate and association attendees. Whiffs of Cajun-style flavors of red snapper, grouper, amberjack and pompano scent the air at more than 400 dock and beachside restaurants.

There’s a distinct buzz in Florida’s capital with a host of new districts catering to the interests of specific age groups. Tallahassee’s Midtown District attracts young professionals for boutique shopping, hip restaurants and nightlife. North of town, the Market District invites dinearounds among its trendy eateries, while the opening of “G” Street this year entices all age groups with a creative mindset to Railroad Square at the south end of town.

“It’s like Little Soho, with lots of artist studios and galleries,” says Janet Roach, meetings/convention sales director for Tallahassee. “There’s a wonderful park dotted with art structures that planners can set up for a catered event.”

In terms of new meeting product, Roach says, “Tallahassee is known for its beautiful green scenery and budget-friendly hotels. Now we’ll have the first LEED-certified Four Points brand hotel in the country.”

Previously a Holiday Inn, it was gutted and reopens in April as Four Points by Sheraton Tallahassee, with 164 rooms and 7,100 sf of meeting space—the most at any Tallahassee hotel. Blue glass windows will surround the entire round structure, and creative lighting elements will mark its proximity to downtown and cast a warm glow over new outdoor patio function spaces.

In the city center near the government buildings and Florida State University, the boutique 117-room Hotel Duval was recently reflagged as a Marriott Autograph Collection property. It offers 7,500 sf of group space, including the Horizon Ballroom and a fun rooftop space with sky-spanning views.

Roach says, “The presence of Florida State University and Florida A&M provide strong educational, arts and living history museums as backdrops for corporate meetings.”

St. Augustine is a timeless reflection of how America’s oldest city, founded in 1565, reveres its Spanish roots while embracing its future. Trolleys vie with horse-drawn carriages along brick streets lined with preserved iconic hotels, cathedrals and civic structures constructed during revival periods of Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean architectural eras.

“We attract meetings that appreciate St. Augustine’s history and unique venues,” says Kristi Hansman, conference sales manager for St. Augustine & Ponte Vedra.

Located in the magnificent central square, St. Augustine’s historic 4-diamond Casa Monica Hotel, a Marriott Autograph Collection property, recently completed renovation of 138 guestrooms and public areas. The square is lined with early 20th century buildings constructed during the earliest days of tourism development in Florida as a winter refuge for wealthy northeasterners.

Glamorous group venues with historical significance include the Lightner Museum, the former Alcazar Hotel across the street, and the Sala de Montiano with its lovely courtyard in the St. Augustine Government House. Nearby, new reception spaces, The White Room (250) and The Loft (150), showcase waterfront views of Matanzas Bay.

Considered one of Florida’s premier golf regions, the area plays host to numerous PGA golf tournaments every year, both along the waterways and among the protected hammocks and Live Oak trees. The Renaissance World Golf Village Resort & Convention Center added La Terrazza Plaza, a 16,000-sf outdoor patio overlooking the Slammer and Squire courses (1,000 pax). The Renaissance is the largest hotel and conference center between Atlanta and Orlando and is adjacent to the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum. Ponte Vedra’s Sawgrass Marriott Golf & Spa Resort shines with 50,000 sf of function space and nearby private beach club access.

Hansman says, “The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass with its famous 17th Island hole, and the PGA Tour Academy at Ponte Vedra Beach are at the top of any golfer’s bucket list.”