by Terence Baker | December 01, 2004

FloridaThe Sunshine State
hopes this image prevails
in planners’ minds.

Even as Florida takes stock of lost meetings business due to this year’s crushing hurricane season, the state has moved quickly to repair visitor confidence.
    In October, following the Aug. 13 to Sept. 26 period in which four hurricanes battered the state, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a new incentive by pledging complimentary use of the convention center to groups booking 600 peak-night hotel rooms in August and September of 2005 and 2006.
    To sweeten the deal, the bureau also is offering a hurricane guarantee, which will waive attrition fees at contracted hotels if attendance is disrupted by adverse weather.
    “We are pulling every rabbit out of every hat to protect our growth in the meetings market,” said Nicki Grossman, president of the GFLCVB, who added that meetings constitute 30 percent of the city’s tourism revenue.
    In Tampa, Karen Brand, vice president of marketing at the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the city successfully booked 11 meetings last August and September, all of them to be held during future hurricane-season months. “Our job is to reassure our meeting planners,” said Brand.
    Tracy Dunaway, director of sales for Tallahassee-based Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism bureau, led focus groups around the country  this past fall to gauge the feelings of planners from across the industry. The overwhelming feedback, she said, was that Florida provides value and groups still want to be there. (For M&C’s own poll of planner reactions to the storms, see Research on page 24.)
    Meanwhile, Washington, D.C.-based Associated Luxury Hotels, which represents 12 properties in Florida, stepped up efforts at its nine regional offices to reassure planners that the Sunshine State promises significant value during the summer months.
    “We are answering planners’ questions and concerns, so they in turn can answer those of their boards,” said David G. Gabri, president and CEO of ALH.
    Of ALH’s hotels, which comprise 7,200 rooms, only the South Seas Resort on Captiva Island was forced to close due to hurricane activity. That property is being fully renovated for a spring 2005 opening.