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Florida to Host Big Conventions, Right on Schedule, Despite Hurricane Irma Impact

florida-events-post-hurricane

Photo courtesy of Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB.

When it comes to CVBs proving that their destinations have recovered from a hurricane like Irma, there is a corollary phrase to “show me the money.” It's called “show me the attendees,” and three of the top convention destinations in Florida can do just that—they have big events starting on schedule in their convention centers next week. If there is such a thing as irrefutable proof that a destination is back on its A game, it's large groups of attendees coming to town after the planners of their events have checked out the destination post-hurricane and decided it's in good shape to host their events.

The most dramatic example of event experts pronouncing a destination “A-Okay” is in Florida's largest convention city, Orlando.

As of Sept. 14, a team from Microsoft was in the Orange County Convention Center setting up for Microsoft Ignite. The show will bring 30,000 attendees to town and is one of only three shows that use both buildings of the convention center—totaling 2.2 million square feet of exhibit space, according to Fred Shea, senior vice president of sales and services for Visit Orlando, the city's CVB. “Our destination responded incredibly to Irma,” Shea said. “The airport re-opened on Tuesday. The hotels stayed open through the storm and did an incredible job through the weekend. So it's business as usual now with all the hotels open; all the attractions are open; the convention center is open. So we are ready for the big Microsoft show, which is setting up on schedule—no delays there at all.”

Shea said a few members of the Microsoft team came in early, looked around and determined Orlando to be quite ready for the event. Then the entire setup team for the show rolled into town to prepare for the opening on Sept. 25.

FORT LAUDERDALE

While Fort Lauderdale is a smaller convention destination than Orlando, it is also a shining example of a city that weathered the storm and rebounded quickly. The numbers for the conventions that will be up and running in the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center next week are not as huge as those of Orlando's Microsoft event, but two Fort Lauderdale events—the 5,000-attendee International Esthetics, Cosmetics and Spa Conference 2017 (which starts Sept. 24) and the 1,500-attendee Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants (FICPA) Conference and Trade Show (which starts Sept. 24)—certainly affirm the statement of Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale CVB, that the meeting industry in this South Florida city on the Atlantic Coast is back on its A game.

And on the theory that seeing is believing, the Fort Lauderdale CVB provided MPI with a photograph—shot Sept. 14—showing that the Las Olas Boulevard dining and entertainment district, popular with event groups for years now, looks as good now as it did before the storm came calling. Additionally, the 750-attendee International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Annual Scientific Conference opens at the convention center on Sept. 18.

“Fortunately for us, the sea stayed in the sea; we didn't have any storm surge, so the convention center, which is not far from the shoreline, did not incur significant damage. It's ready to go for these three shows during the remaining days of September,” Ritter said “What makes our convention center so iconic is that it is close to the water, but it stood up well.” She said local hotels are in good shape except for scattered power outages in some parts of the city, but electric service is expected to be up and running everywhere by next week, and virtually all hotels should be opening up.

TAMPA

Another Florida city with a significant convention business that fared well after being lightly hit by Irma and did not suffer much impact to its tourism infrastructure is Tampa. “We were fortunate that we were spared, while a lot of cities around the state were not so lucky,” said Santiago C. Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. “If there was any damage it was landscaping, cosmetics and power outages.” Corrada said a big trade show, IBEX (the International Boat Builders Exhibition and Conference) will start Sept. 19 at the Tampa Convention Center, with 650 trade show booths and extensive educational sessions for members of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

“We are fortunate in that we are in business-as-usual mode now,” he said.

DESTINATIONS STILL CHALLENGED

Because of serious flooding in Miami and Dade County, the big southeast Florida metropolis is still recovering from Irma. Jaime Alvarez (MPI South Florida Chapter), president of World Dimension Miami, said Sept. 14 was the first day downtown Miami offices were widely open for business.

“The flooding and power outages made it difficult to get around the city through Wednesday of this week, and today is the first day you can say that people are back in their offices. Lots of hotels are reopening [Sept. 15] and during the weekend.” Alvarez and several other South Florida planners said events should be back up and running again during the next week or so.

Several beachfront or near to the beach hotels announced they are opening Sept. 15, including W Hotel Miami and the 1 Hotel South Beach. The Setai, Miami Beach and the ME Miami hotel opened Sept. 13. Local planners said a cross section of other properties is expected to open this weekend or early next week. Planners said they expected a large number of hotels to be open next week, when the utility companies say electric power throughout Broward and Miami-Dade counties will be completely restored. But those planners universally advised anyone with hotel bookings in South Florida to call the hotels first before coming to the Sunshine State.

Stuart Gardner (MPI South Florida Chapter), president of Fort Lauderdale-based Florida Meeting Services, said he has been in contact with a venue literally on South Beach, a very popular beach in the city of Miami Beach, that plans to be open this weekend. “By all logic, a venue on the beach should have been wiped off the face of the earth by the hurricane, but it's opening again in the next few days,” he said. “We Floridians know how to handle this hurricane stuff. We are resilient.”

Because of flooding in Miami and Jacksonville, plus massive damage in southwest Florida cities including Fort Myers, Naples and Marco Island, there is still uncertainty in the meetings markets in those destinations now. We’ll be posting new information on those places in a report next week.

Walter Ejnes (MPI South Florida Chapter), president of the Continuing Education Company Inc. in Palm Coast, says that while the Florida Keys were drastically affected by the storm, it’s too soon to know the full extent of the damage to the resort community.

“There are many organizations with scheduled meetings in the Keys planned for the short term and long term,” he said. “Our November conference is being held in Duck Key, just north of Marathon. We have been in daily communication with resort personnel as well as following reports from Monroe County and other government sources. It is way too early to know the actual condition of any [properties] until hotel management is able to travel there and see for themselves.

“We have been amazed by the overwhelming support expressed by the registered attendees for our Keys conference in November. We have only received one cancellation, and many have requested that we keep the meeting there if the resort is open. We have also received many requests to coordinate volunteer opportunities during the conference.”


About the Author

Rowland Stiteler
Rowland Stiteler

Rowland Stiteler, a veteran meeting industry journalist, is a writer and editor for The Meeting Professional.