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.”