- (Photo by Bob Croslin)

Florida Meetings and Conventions Let You Mix Business and Pleasure

Easy traveling, invigorating sunshine and an abundant array of activities make Florida the perfect state to hold a convention or business meeting. Conventions in Florida tend to be hot attractions for one obvious reason: the potential for fun and relaxation after a long day of getting down to business.

Sunny beaches, world-famous golf courses, exciting nightlife, inspiring museums and award-winning restaurants are just some of the Sunshine State’s offerings to make those networking sessions extra memorable for out-of-state guests.

And each region of Florida offers its own gems and assets to entice meeting attendees and groups of all sizes, as well as an abundance of hotel rooms of all price ranges, various transportation options and several international and regional airports with nonstop flight connections to locations all over the world.

Whether you’re looking to host your next meeting in an ultra-modern high-rise hotel in Miami, at a relaxing beach getaway in Naples, near art museums in St. Petersburg or in the historic district of the oldest city in the world, St. Augustine, it’s easy to find the perfect location or venue to cater to your meeting guests’ niche or special interests.

For the innovative and technology-minded

Florida is host to several annual conferences focusing on science, medicine, engineering technology and other progressive, research-based fields. It’s a natural fit; the state is home to top-ranked universities, medical research centers and tech company headquarters. But it also has a number of hotels and convention spaces that suit the needs of those craving the latest in technology, design and architecture.

The Miami area has a number of sleek, modern spaces to inspire innovation, such as the stunning Miami Beach Convention center, which spans four blocks of South Beach with beautiful, sunlit rooms and exhibition space, and it’s just a short walk from the historic Art Deco District. Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center is well-known as one of the most popular – and largest – meeting sites in the country, with the obvious added benefit of being close to some of the world’s best theme parks.

The Space Coast Convention Center in Cocoa is just 30 minutes from Orlando and Melbourne International airports and is filled with various sizes of meeting rooms that have built-in audio visual systems and illuminating LED lighting. It’s an ideal spot for those interested in space, astronomy and aviation, as the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is just minutes away at Cape Canaveral.

Florida’s universities are also hot spots for meetings of the minds. The Harry Sudakoff Lecture and Conference Center at New College of Florida in Sarasota sits on a beautiful campus overlooking water and is steps from College Hall, a historic mansion that was once the home of famed circus owner Charles Ringling. Gainesville, which is full of students and academia types due to its University of Florida campus, has several hotels and meeting spaces of all sizes.

For the creators, writers and artists

While some of the bigger cities get much of the love when it comes to large annual conventions and business meetings, Florida has a number of fun and unique nooks and crannies throughout the state that make for unforgettable guest experiences. Those attending writing seminars, artist swaps and music workshops tend to appreciate funky locales and historical landmarks that get the creative juices flowing.

Key West, the southernmost tip of the U.S. where writer Ernest Hemingway’s famous home still sits, has a number of resorts and hotels that are ideal for business meetings and symposiums of all sizes, including some with outdoor spaces to soak in the salty air.

Every year, hundreds of mystery and suspense writers and fans attend Sleuthfest in Boca Raton, a spot beloved for its easy accessibility with various transportation options from the Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach airports as well as the area’s nature trails and gold courses. And in Northwest Florida, Pensacola is a refreshingly different meeting locale that offers a number of interesting venue spaces such as Pensacola Museum of Art and the historic Saenger Theatre, known for its ornate Spanish Baroque architecture and versatile meeting space.

For the adventure seekers and cosplayers

The Sunshine State is known for embracing the wacky, the weird and the wild, so it’s no wonder so many comic book, cosplay, fantasy, sci-fi and other playful genres gravitate to cities like Tampa, Orlando and Miami. Not only does Florida provide an escape from the norm with its theme parks and nearly year-round warm weather, but it’s affordable for families, young couples and others looking for a quick weekend escape.

The Tampa Convention Center is the perfect spot to host annual events such as Tampa Bay Comic Con, MegaCon and other wild gatherings where talented and creative cosplayers turn out in droves to show off uncanny resemblances to favorite superheroes, villains, cartoon characters and other pop culture icons. Guests can spend all day grabbing autographs, attending lectures by their favorite actors or writers and taking photos and then walk a short distance into the heart of downtown, where there are museums, restaurants and bars aplenty. If they’re lucky on timing, they may catch a Tampa Bay Lightning game or rock concert at the nearby Amalie Arena. Or they can hit historic Ybor City, known for its lively nightlife and music scene.

Orlando is also a haven for comic nerds, gamers, geeks and other kids at heart, with the Disney parks and other attractions providing the perfect backdrop for the various “cons” that have been hosted there for the last several years. The Rosen Plaza Hotel and Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center are popular venues for such conventions, providing the right mix of technology, lighting and audio visual effects to highlight shows and displays of anime, digital graphics and other animated artwork.

For the networkers and business suits

Of course, Florida has a serious side as well. More and more, the state finds itself catering to the “bleisure traveler” – a guest visiting on business who stays an extra few days or so to soak in the sunshine and unwind with a cocktail at a hip downtown joint or a beach bar. Corporate travel is a big industry and the state’s hotels and convention centers aim to strike a balance that suits those looking to conduct business during the day while having ample networking and socializing opportunities during the off-hours.

Jacksonville has a number of contemporary, upscale hotels that are right in the heart of the downtown business, entertainment and sports district that help showcase urban Florida and the city’s beautiful riverfront. Known as “Florida’s youngest city,” the area has a special energy that business travelers like while also being known for its nearby beaches and fishing, creative restaurants and museums. It also has hotel, transportation and entertainment options that fit every budget, as noted when Lonely Planet put Jacksonville on its “10 best value destinations” list.

Tallahassee, the state’s capital city, is also a great fit for business meetings and conferences and for those make lasting connections with colleagues and cohorts. Its convenient location in Northwest Florida and mild, slightly cooler weather compared to its southern neighbor cities make it a favorite quick-stop for corporate travelers from other parts of the country, as well as a top pick for college students and political types. It’s also a hot spot for hiking, biking and paddling, which is ideal for team building and weekend warriors looking for a break from the business suit.

South Walton is nestled along the Panhandle, within easy driving distance from anywhere in the Southeast and bookended by two nearby airports. Lining these 26 miles of sugar-white sand beach are 16 distinct beach neighborhoods ­– home to a wide variety of meeting spaces and accommodations. A dedicated local tourism team is also available to ensure that everything runs smoothly. When the meeting adjourns, there are endless options for outdoor exploration, shopping, nightlife and dining. And all of it is surrounded by pristine natural beauty (40% of the land here is preserved). Festive events and beyond-the-beach activities keep visitors coming year-round.

Whether it’s a small group or a gathering of thousands, Florida has something for every type of special interest, exhibition, business conference or workshop. Its hotels, meeting centers and other venues have perfected the art of providing a welcoming place for those looking to work, learn and grow while also throwing enough fun into the mix to keep attendees coming back year after year. Each city offers its own personality and assets – it’s just a matter of choosing which one is right for your guests.