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.”
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.