Shopping for a meeting site in Florida? Whether you’re looking to save a little money or do a little splurging, Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast have plenty in store for meetings, from five-star resorts, designer shopping and glittering nightlife to untouched beaches, pristine nature preserves and hotel gems in settings of eco-seclusion.
When oil and railroad magnate Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railway to Palm Beach in the late 1800s, he envisioned a winter retreat for wealthy Gilded Age travelers, and for a time, Palm Beach was just that—an exclusive enclave of palatial resorts where old-money snowbirds took the sea air and played croquet.
Today the original resort island of Palm Beach has expanded into a 2,000-square-mile county of 15 distinct districts, including Boca Raton and Delray Beach, though its reputation for pomp and panache is firmly in place at places like The Breakers, one of the original Flagler-built hotels, as well as the Boca Raton Resort & Club, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, the oceanfront Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach and the elegant Four Seasons, all boasting copious convention space.
“We’re very proud of the long tradition of hospitality in Palm Beach County. We’ve trademarked the phrase ‘America’s first resort destination,’” says Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of the Palm Beach County CVB. “We’ve had 115 years of hosting dignitaries and others since the early days of meetings. That’s part of the aura and mystique that make meetings in Palm Beach so special.”
Groups can absorb some of that glamour on tours of Flagler’s former estate, Whitehall, now a museum, or take to the waves via water taxi to view the fabulous mansions and yachts owned by the rich and famous that still call Palm Beach home. If rubbing elbows with the local glitterati has appeal, groups can stroll Worth Avenue, dubbed the “Rodeo Drive of the East,” where names from the couture stratosphere include Hermes, Pucci, Armani and Kors. Meanwhile, meetings enjoy a touch of class at such only-in-Palm-Beach locales as the International Polo Club, the National Croquet Center and the Palm Beach Yacht Club.
“We partner very closely with these venues and use them when we host meeting planner familiarization trips,” says Doug McLain, the CVB’s senior vice president of global sales, who also notes that the 9th annual PCMA Education Foundation Partnership Summit is set to descend on the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens from May 17-20. “It will probably be one of the country’s largest gatherings of meeting planners,” McLain says.
But impressive group numbers are becoming more common here, according to recent figures from the CVB showing double-digit growth in the group segment last fall.
“January 2012 was a record-breaking month in the history of the CVB, with 13,300 room nights booked,” McLain says.
Groups of all sizes and budgets are being accommodated here by a host of convention-minded properties, including the Delray Beach Marriott, home to 14,000 square feet of meeting space, and the newly renovated Hilton Singer Island, offering 7,146 square feet of space. Dozens of Doubletree, Wyndham, Hilton Garden Inn, Courtyard, Hampton Inn and Embassy Suites properties also dot the meetings landscape in Palm Beach County.
“In terms of resort and mid-market meeting facilities, I think we have a fantastic mix,” Pesquera says.
That isn’t even counting the 350,000-square-foot Palm Beach County Convention Center, the centerpiece of a conference and entertainment district that includes the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, with multiple rentable spaces, and CityPlace, an open-air shopping and dining center set directly across from the convention center and featuring the multi-use Harriett Himmel Theater, which can host up to 900.