Florida is the place attendees want to head, year after year—especially when the cold weather sets in across much of the rest of the country. With so many destinations across this vast state, groups can’t wait to be Florida-bound, whether they’re heading to a meeting or incentive trip in the sophisticated southern cities of Greater Miami or The Palm Beaches, to one of the award-winning beaches of the west coast like Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach or Northwestern Florida’s South Walton, or a bleisure trip to family-friendly Orlando.
With many exciting new hotels and resorts in the pipeline, and each city adding new attractions and activities geared toward groups, the possibilities for meeting planners are limitless, says Dana Young, president and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA. “Florida is the ideal destination to host a group in 2023 and beyond. Our world-renowned theme parks are adding new rides and attractions every year; the first MICHELIN Guide Miami, Orlando and Tampa recently launched; and we have 275,000 sf of meeting space at 14 hotels in the pipeline as of October 2022. We invite you to come for the trade shows, conventions and other meetings but stay for the beautiful weather, diverse culinary scene and wide array of leisure activities the Sunshine State has to offer.”
Miami’s world-class culinary scene keeps growing and growing, with 10 restaurants throughout Greater Miami & Miami Beach receiving one Michelin star, and one restaurant—L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, located in Miami’s Design District—having the only two-star rating in the state of Florida.
Groups can also experience the Cuban cuisine that the city is so well known for by taking the new Little Havana Food & Cultural Tour through Miami Culinary Tours. This award-winning company specializes in small group tours that seek out renowned chefs in off-the-beaten-path locations.
The hotel scene throughout the city is booming, too, with citizenM’s second new hotel in Miami just opened at the Worldcenter, with 351 rooms, four spacious societyM meeting rooms and, for events, a rooftop pool/bar on the 11th floor. The brand, known for its cosmopolitan, design-forward hotels with large-scale artwork, recently opened the 252-room citizenM Brickell, with eight societyM meeting rooms. To give these two new properties an art collection that felt distinct to Miami, citizenM hosted an “Open Art Call,” where more than 70 artists submitted works inspired by their love of the city.
The first hotel in the Wynwood section of the city, known for its street art scene, is the new 217-room Arlo Wynwood, featuring more than 250 works of art and several small, creative spaces for meeting and brainstorming.
In the elegant enclave of Coral Gables, the newly opened, 242-room Loews Coral Gables features more than 30,000 sf of indoor/outdoor function space, including the Alhambra Ballroom, the largest in the city at 9,000 sf. Also in Coral Gables is the elegant 271-room Biltmore, a National Historic Landmark with a rich 98-year history (guided history tours are available), known for its classic Mediterranean revival architecture. It has 75,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space, including a terrace overlooking its famous pool. There’s also an 18-hole Donald Ross Championship Golf Course and the Jim Mclean Golf School.
In addition to its sizzling art and culinary scenes, accessibility by air is an important factor for groups considering Miami, with its location as an international gateway to South America and more than 190 daily direct flights from 54 international countries. “While there are numerous reasons Greater Miami and Miami Beach is such a top meeting and incentive destination, the overwhelming reason is location, location, location,” says David Whitaker, president & CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “And perhaps no other meeting and incentive location in the U.S. can provide a world-class convention center just steps from the magnificent and world-famous Miami Beach.”
In northern Greater Miami, the 685-room JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa is a popular choice for groups looking for a spacious meeting- and golf-oriented resort. Its 120,000-sf conference center has two grand ballrooms and 40 flexible meeting rooms, along with a variety of outdoor terraces and venues. There are two 18-hole Raymond Floyd-redesigned championship courses and a full-service spa. Dining options include BOURBON Steak by Michael Mina, featuring signature cuts of prime meat, local seafood and a selection of more than 1,000 wines.
With the increasing focus on attendee wellbeing, this 125-mile-long island chain offers nearly endless opportunities for rejuvenation and wellness. Even better, the islands are now more easily accessible with a variety of convenient, stress-free nonstop flights for meetings that typically include 15 to 100 attendees, and Key West International Airport is undergoing a $100 million Concourse A terminal expansion, with targeted completion in late 2024.
Cheeca Lodge & Spa in Islamorada now offers 43 oceanfront suites, its top-end luxury experience for guests. Each 685-sf suite has unobstructed Atlantic Ocean views through floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to an expansive private lanai with spa tub. There’s also the brand-new, 10,000-sf The Islamorada Ballroom, the largest in the Upper Keys. Sitting just north of the resort’s main lodge, steps away from the ocean, the center features wide-open spaces and ceiling heights of 17.5 ft; it can accommodate up to 1,500 guests for receptions and 788 for banquet-style dinners. Retractable walls will allow for three breakout rooms for smaller events and functions. Surrounding the center is a wrap-around foyer area. In combination with the existing 6,300 sf of meeting and event space, the resort will now offer more than 16,000 sf of meeting and event space.
Popular with small meetings and incentive groups, Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key has 177 hotel guest rooms and suites as well as 250 two- and three-bedroom townhome-style villas. Its 7,000-sf Calm Waters Spa includes a tropical rain room with Vichy shower, eucalyptus steam rooms and a dry sauna. Group activities include backcountry fishing, diving, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Groups can view, interact and learn about the dolphins and Florida’s marine ecosystem as part of the resort’s Dolphin Connection program.
While in the Middle Keys, groups can explore the iconic Seven Mile Bridge where they can hop on the recently debuted 60-passenger, 2.2-mile Old Seven Mile Bridge Tram. The tram heads to 5-acre Pigeon Key, located at the end of the bridge, where groups can visit the onsite museum or have a picnic.
In the Upper Keys, planners should consider Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s second satellite coral nursery at the Reefhouse Resort & Marina. It’s a new land-based coral nursery offering groups the chance for a teambuilding experience by helping restore reefs off the Florida Keys. The 153-room Reefhouse Resort & Marina, itself, offers 20,000 sf of exterior space and 12,000 sf interior.
The all-inclusive, 135-accommodation Bungalows Key Largo is an ideal choice for incentive groups. Here, groups will find a wellness center, private sunset catamaran cruises and more (for a full review, stay tuned for Prevue’s March/April issue).
The first phase of the reimagined Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center is now open and features 800,000 sf of total space, a 350,000-sf exhibit hall and water taxi access. Completion of the $1.3 billion expansion is set for 2025, and will include waterfront ballrooms, a 5-acre outdoor waterfront plaza and an 800-room Omni headquarters hotel, for a total of 1.2 million sf.
Last year saw the addition of the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences Fort Lauderdale, with 129 rooms and 19 suites that reflect the classic yacht club vibe of its surroundings. It has 12,900 sf of meeting space and can accommodate groups of up to 300 for a reception. The new AC Hotels by Marriott Fort Lauderdale Beach overlooks the water, with three meeting rooms accommodating groups of up to 80.
The 1,271-room and -suite Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood is home to the unforgettable Guitar Hotel, rising 450 ft into the sky; 120,000 sf of meeting space, including a 38,000-sf exhibition hall; 19 dining outlets and 20 bars and lounges; and Hard Rock Live, a 7,000-person capacity indoor venue with tiered seating.
Located midway between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the 369-room, 18-story Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort is situated on the legendary Hollywood Beach Boardwalk. Its position between the Atlantic Ocean and Intercoastal Waterway means that each room has waterfront views. It has 15,000 sf of interior meeting space located on the ninth floor, away from the crowds; eight restaurants; a full-service spa; and a variety of water sports and activities, including a double FlowRider.
Additionally, the new, 99-room, -studio and -suite Hillsboro Beach Resort on Millionaire’s Mile is home to a 1,700-sf event space with oceanfront floor-to-ceiling windows.
For an authentic, local group experience, the exquisite Bonnet House Museum & Gardens offers a new paddleboard or kayak tour by Sunrise Paddleboards. After groups paddle from Coconut Cove, they can walk the grounds of the plantation, home to wild monkeys, turtles, manatees, heron and other wildlife. Outdoor venues for groups of up to 350 attendees include an interior courtyard and veranda on the East Lawn, and there is also a small indoor meeting space for 25.
West Palm Beach’s The Ben was the site of Prevue’s Inspired Events Summit last spring, where the destination showed off how they can create an afternoon of locally inspired gifting and food. Attendees enjoyed lunch and dessert from three “foodie trucks” and a marketplace of local vendors including a cookie dough maker, watercolor gift cards and sustainable jewelry. The Palm Beach Cultural Council was also on hand to share how they work with incoming groups. Discover the Palm Beaches will help meeting planners design their own local gifting and dining experience to show off all the treats and treasures of the destination. Prevue has chosen Palm Beach again for its Next-Level Events Summit Sept. 18 to 19, 2023 at the Tideline Ocean Resort & Spa, which is undergoing a renovation of its guest rooms and meeting space.
Hotel highlights in The Palm Beaches include the opening of Banyan Cay Resort & Golf in West Palm Beach, with 150 rooms—Florida’s first Destination by Hyatt hotel and the first full-service Hyatt-branded property in Palm Beach County. The new 158-room Mandarin Oriental in downtown Boca Raton features a 4,500-sf ballroom, rooftop pools, a spa and a nearby 18-hole golf course redesigned by Jack Nicklaus; and the 155-room Amrit Ocean Resort & Residences will open on Singer Island early this year with 100,000 sf of wellness amenities.
Following a $65 million transformation, The Boca Raton, on the Intracoastal Waterway, has opened its new 27-story Tower—essentially a fifth hotel within the complex—with 224 spacious suites, bespoke amenities, access to the new Harborside Pool Club and a redesigned spa. “We’re really excited about this opening,” says James Bishop, director of group sales. “The Cloister and the Tower will now be the main hotels that use the Mizner Center for their conferences.” In addition, the resort has opened two new restaurants: Japanese Bocce Club, in partnership with Mario Carbone, and the Harbor House, casual dining at its Harborside Pool Club. It will be doing a $75 million renovation of its Beach Club rooms in the summer and fall of 2023.
The PGA National Resort underwent a renovation of its own, one that poured $100 million into every part of the resort—guestrooms, meeting spaces, new culinary experiences, wellness offerings and new programming.
Other classic Palm Beach properties undergoing renovations include The Colony, which reopened last fall after recently undergoing a full guest room and suite re-redesign; and The Breakers, the ownership of which, each year, invests an average of $25 million on preservation and modernization.
Florida’s Paradise Coast, as this area is known, has rebounded at a staggering pace. Just two weeks after Hurricane Ian, two of the area’s largest resorts, the JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort and the Naples Grande Beach Resort, hosted full conference buyouts.
More than 88 percent of rooms in the destination are open and maintaining high occupancies, and the 5th Avenue South restaurants, retail shops and art galleries are open and bustling. According to the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB, many of the meeting planners they have been in touch with are planning to book meetings in the region specifically to generate economic impact and have requested information about CSR opportunities that are aligned with the destination’s recovery efforts.
“Florida’s Paradise Coast is eager to relay the message that our destination is open for business and welcoming back groups that have a long history with us, as well as those that may have just discovered us,” says Paul Beirnes, executive director of the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB. “The industry’s support is invaluable as our dedicated teams of professionals across the destination are eager to welcome you back with legendary hospitality and first-class service. Your support has never been more important or appreciated than now.”
One of the region’s top properties for groups, the 447-room Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples, is rebranding as The Ritz-Carlton Naples, Tiburon, reflecting a number of resort enhancements it will be unveiling. These include a renovation of the guest rooms drawing from the natural beauty of the Audubon sanctuary surrounding the resort, to be completed in 2024. The resort will also feature a new restaurant concept, with seasonal menus created by executive chef Aldo Novoa Rodriguez and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the surrounding golf courses and Audubon sanctuary.
Many of the main meeting hotels and resorts in the Fort Myers area are open or in the process of reopening, including the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs; Westin Cape Coral at Marina Village in Cape Coral; and Luminary & Co. and Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers. On Sanibel Island, South Seas Island Resort has plans to reopen, but there is no reopening scheduled yet for Sundial Beach Resort.
“While Hurricane Ian has affected some portions of our community, our destination still offers many options for hosting meetings that are open and ready to book business,” says Tamara Pigott, executive director, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. “Hosting a meeting in our destination is one of the most valuable ways to help ensure a full recovery for our community. Meetings remain an important part of our economy and we will continue to do our best to welcome and accommodate all who wish to visit.”
The Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach area has always been known for its pristine shoreline, and now, with the 2023 opening of Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor, it’s becoming known as a meetings destination. The resort will have 785 guest rooms, including 189 signature Sunsuites; 20 original world-class food and beverage concepts; 18 holes of championship golf; and two pools. As one of the largest convention spaces on the west coast of Florida, Sunseeker will offer 60,000 sf of event space.
For a boutique experience, the Wyvern hotel in the charming downtown of Punta Gorda features 63 newly renovated rooms, walls filled with artwork by local artists and a rooftop bar with sweeping, panoramic views of Charlotte Harbor.