Well-founded optimism has Florida feeling pretty good about itself. When it comes to the future of tourism and by extension, the future of meetings and conventions, the proof is in the real estate. New hotels are opening their doors, new convention centers are being unveiled, with more either in development or on the drawing board, and new transportation options are making it easier than ever to bring groups into the Sunshine State.
And behind it all, according to tourism professionals? More tourists. Recent figures released by Visit Florida show 94.7 million visitors came to the state in 2013, exceeding the previous high of 91.5 million in 2012.
One of the major contributors to climbing tourism figures is one of the state's largest urban areas, Greater Miami.
"We had over 14 million visitors in 2013 and that was a record-breaker," says Ita Moriarty, senior vice president of convention sales for the Greater Miami CVB. "That's a mix of group, leisure, business travelers, everything. From a hotel perspective, 2013 was off the charts in group business. It surpassed our 2012 projections."
But Miami isn't alone.
"We had a banner year for leisure tourism in 2013," says Debi DeBenedetto, sales and marketing manager for the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades CVB, adding that there was also increasing interest from meeting planners. "My year was up over 20 percent for group RFPs and inquiries coming into the CVB."
Meanwhile, other CVBs are reporting encouraging gains in group bookings.
"They're definitely strong," says Alex Kaptzan, director of convention sales for Visit Tampa Bay. "We booked 20 percent more definite room nights in 2013 over 2012. It was the largest convention goal we ever had, and we exceeded it."
That might change in 2014, though—for the better. With the year barely under way, Kaptzan says Tampa is already ahead of the game.
"We're over 25 percent better in booking pace going into '14 than we were last year going into 2013. We've already booked into 2020 and 2021."