VISIT FLORIDA 2013 Part #1: The South


SLS South Beach
SLS South Beach

In our Jan/Feb 2013 issue, we spoke with 15 Florida DMOs about what’s new for meetings and incentives in the Sunshine State. The following covers South Florida. See the other sections:  Part #2 The North & Part #3 Central Florida.

“Booking Florida is an attendance booster,” says Cheryl Hatcher, director of sales for VISIT FLORIDA. “Attendees ask to come here for our diverse collection of tried and true iconic experiences, whether it’s dolphin watching, outdoor sports like golf, or visiting theme parks.”

In other states, the destination marketing organizations are overseen by a governmental tourism office. Hatcher says the public-private structure of VISIT FLORIDA gives it leverage to market more effectively to groups, when coupled with the individual destination DMOs.

“Incentive travel is on the upswing, but planners are still looking for more ROI and ROE,” she says. “Florida’s accessibility and affordability fulfills that sweet spot for the corporate or incentive planner.”

Another major factor in attracting groups, Florida’s entire hospitality engine offers a unified delivery of one-of-a-kind experiences. Hatcher says, “That cohesive message and VISIT FLORIDA’s website at Florida Meetings gives us a high-level presence worldwide.”


There’s a spiciness to Miami that flavors its cuisine, heats up its South Beach nightlife and enhances its hip image.

“We’re the only American city that provides a cosmopolitan atmosphere in a tropical setting, where culture intertwines with couture and beach life mixes with big business,” says Barry Moskowitz, vice president of sales for Greater Miami CVB. “The goal of planners is to increase the bottom line by increasing attendance. Miami’s appeal makes that happen. The added value of booking Miami is that when the conference is over, attendees get to experience the pulse of the city,” Moskowitz says.

Take the state-of-the-art, 37,500-seat Marlins Park in the heart of downtown, whose floor-to-ceiling glass walled concourse overlooks Miami. One group created a baseball-themed evening by renting out part of the stands, while the Jumbotron gave all 1,000 guests a clear view of the speakers. Traditional baseball snacks like hot dogs and Cracker Jacks were served at the concourse reception. The facility includes a retractable roof, perfect for a starlit dinner for 4,000 served on-field, which can also be closed quickly when required.

Opening this winter, the 290-acre Museum Park on Biscayne Bay will include public gardens and sculpture installations, the Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Patricia & Phillip Frost Museum of Science.

In South Beach, two new beachfront hotels opened. The 142-room SLS Hotel South Beach, with some suites designed by rocker Lenny Kravitz, blends contemporary and Art Deco influences with Latin/Asian accents. The restaurants are garnering huge buzz. The Bazaar , by James Beard chef José Andrés, offers modern twists on Spanish dishes. Master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi’s Dragon Lounge menu features innovative sushi and robata.

Following a $42 million renovation, the 400-room James Royal Palm reopened in October. The Art Deco jewel houses 10,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space. The signature restaurant is Florida Cookery.

In late 2013, look for the opening of the Marriott Edition South Beach Hotel. The 12-story hotel-condo complex will have 300 rooms, an ice skating rink, bowling alley and, of course, a happening nightclub.


When the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB launched its new “Meet Sunny” meetings campaign in January, they highlighted the sun and fun activities and sunny service offered by hospitality partners educated by the CVB’s SunSational Service Training Program. Now in its 10th year, the free program offers cabbies, porters, bellmen and other CVB vendors training on how to provide superior service.

Another draw for groups, the region has some of the lowest average airfares in the country due to the volume of value-based carriers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Furthermore, the Global Business Travel Association ranked Fort Lauderdale as being the lowest business tax-burdened area in the U.S. for the third year in a row, with 5% hotel occupancy taxes.

“If you’re paying lower airfares and fewer taxes, there’s more money to visit the Everglades to see the alligators,” says Christine Roberts-Tascione, CMP, vice president of convention sales/services. “Or fish along 300 miles of waterways, walk along 23 miles of beaches and play on over 40 golf courses.”

Over $800 million is being invested in airport upgrades. A new 8,000-foot runway will allow jumbo jets to land for the first time near a new international terminal with 14 gates and expanded customs area. Existing terminals are getting new F&B outlets, floors and other features.

Roberts-Tascione says, “The expansion will create a seamless experience for travelers from the airport to the cruise port, which is also reopening four refurbished terminals. We hope it will be an incentive for groups to do pre/post stays when adding a cruise to the mix.”

For offsite dining, the upscale Royal Pig Pub and Grille 401 Las Olas opened in October. Grille 401 offers New American cuisine and a wine cellar. In November, the Bonaventure Golf Club reopened after a $2 million redesign. And Benchmark Hospitality acquired the 500-room Bonaventure Resort & Conference Center, presently undergoing an $8 million renovation.


Florida Keys Paddleboarding
Florida Keys Paddleboarding


On most nights of the year, warm breezes blow across the 126 miles of the 1,700 islands that form the Florida Keys. Groups visiting the Florida Keys love that few of the gorgeous islands are inhabited, as well as the let-and-let-live attitude among the 30 that are populated.

“We offer an exotic tropical experience without having to leave the country,” says Jack Meier, corporate group/ incentive sales director of Florida Keys & Key West.

The coral archipelago offers a wealth of water activities unparalleled in the nation. Key Largo is known as the Diving Capital of the World. Islamorada claims bragging rights as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. And then there’s Key West, the largest of the inhabited islands with the most meeting space.

Meier says, “The value for meeting planners is that their group can receive a richer experience without being perceived as being over the top.”

In Key West, book dinner at the Hemingway House & Museum with a steel band, followed by more music and margaritas on busy Duval Street. Midway down the Keys near Marathon, the Dolphin Research Center offers private tours, and interaction with the dolphins. Organize an elegant 4-course meal for 20, which includes a commemorative CD of photographs taken during their dolphin experiences.


Located on Florida’s idyllic Gulf Coast, Naples is a tropical Eden of swaying palms, lush gardens and dazzling sunsets. Groups can take advantage of value season rates by booking the region from May through mid-December.

“And if a planner really wants the best discounts, I’m here to assist,” says Debi DeBenedetto, CHA, tourism sales/marketing manager of Naples-Marco Island-Everglades.

The CVB’s website has a great free tool called GAP (Group Attendance Push) that aids planners to create marketing materials like banners and templates, or an RFP, which DeBenedetto will distribute. She says, “I can also offer incentives to host a lunch or reception for a group serious about booking Naples.”

The value of DeBenedetto’s dedicated help increases attendance and saves money, which can then be used to introduce groups to the natural beauty of The Paradise Coast and its ever-changing offsite venues. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Naples Nature Center has opened an event space for 200. Ngala, a private wildlife preserve built exclusively to host corporate events, has a new addition for their African Safari theme. “Walter” is a 3-year-old rhino that guests are permitted to touch. Ngala is one of a few facilities in the country where this is authorized. The Naples Botanical Garden is building a 25,000 sf event space and an amphitheater.

Hotels are ramping due to increased corporate business. The former Naples Grande Beach Resort has rebranded as the Waldorf Astoria Naples. The 87-room Inn on Fifth just completed a $1.7 million renovation that dramatically altered and upgraded its interior. The Inn spent $16 million to build a new 3-story building, featuring 32 Club Level suites, directly across from its current landmark location. Amenities such as a private rooftop hot tub and a 1,000-sf boardroom, increases the Inn’s meeting space to 9,000 sf.


Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa
Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa


Fisherman compete with dive-bombing anhinga water birds in the “Tarpon Capital of the World,” while manatees glide past kayakers. Intimate brushes with nature attract groups to convene in Fort Myers, Sanibel and the surrounding beaches. The easy accessibility from the Southwest Florida International Airport is also helping increase bookings.

“Our airport services more than 40 major cities in the U.S. and internationally,” says Pamela Johnson, director of sales at the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, Lee County VCB. “It’s key to our success.”

Baggage claim to the beach is about 30 minutes in Lee County. Dramatic waterfront views are captured from wide wraparound verandahs and picture windows of coastal lodging. Johnson says, “Companies concerned with value and their bottom line recognize the beauty of our unspoiled island sanctuary and diverse accommodations. Even our non-coastal properties give an immediate sense of destination.” She adds that the riverside winter estates of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are popular for educational tours and evening events.

Several area Lee County resorts have renovated their properties with upgraded technology and modernized furnishings and spaces. In October, the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs completed a makeover of their 454 guestrooms. The Hyatt’s 26 acres overlooks Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve. Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa finishes their $5 million year-long refurbishment in early 2013. The redo includes the entrance, lobby, 278 guestrooms/69 suites. The pretty 4-star Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina at the tip of Estero Island enlarged its marina and added new docking stations and locking systems to its 213 waterfront rooms.


Among Palm Beach County and Boca Raton’s allure is an intoxicating brew of mansions of the rich and famous, and shopping on Worth Avenue—the Rodeo Drive of the Southeast. Supporting that, iconic luxury resorts like the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach; The Breakers; The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach and Boca Raton Resort & Club offer meeting and incentive groups an elite experience.

“Palm Beach is an aspirational destination based on its reputation for luxury, yet it’s still quite affordable,” says Douglas McLain, senior vp of sales for Palm Beach County CVB.

Even world executives are razzle-dazzled by some of Palm Beach County’s signature events, like having a private reception at Donald Trump’s mansion, Mar-A-Lago, or shopping for Gucci and Prada in the Mediterranean-style Addison Mizner Mall. And only in Palm Beach, groups can attend winter polo at the International Polo Club.

“Any time you can deliver a one-of-its-kind experience for an incentive or meeting program, that’s the sweet spot for a meeting planner,” says McLain.

Rand McNally recognized Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach as America’s #1 small town in 2012. The 154-room Seagate Hotel & Spa has an 8,000-sf spa with a 7,000-gallon aquarium. The 134-room Hyatt Place Delray recently opened with 1,500 sf of flexible meeting space in the Arts District of downtown Delray Beach, one mile from the beach.

For more information and the other Florida sections, check out our VISIT FLORIDA home page at