The south Florida city is a vibrant melting pot of cultural diversity, unbeatable entertainment, chic hotels and fine event venues. By Donna Carter, Sept/Oct 2009
This south Florida city is a vibrant melting pot.
“Miami has an embarrassment of riches to offer meeting groups,” says Charles Kropke, vice-president of marketing and sales for Dragonfly Expeditions, one of the city’s leading tour companies. He says Miami is blessed with a vast array of architecturally-distinctive hotels, exciting nightlife, outstanding restaurants and authentic historical, ecological and cultural experiences.
Shannon Bott, CMP, is director of conferences and programmes for international association JHI, managed out of Base Consulting and Management Inc., an association management company based in Toronto. She organized the association’s four-day annual meeting in Miami’s South Beach in October, 2008. JHI is a global network of accounting firms and since Miami is a major hub, it was convenient for delegates arriving from various parts of the world, she says.
Bott booked 101 attendees and spouses into the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, an oceanfront luxury property she credits with an excellent location and service. “The meeting space was perfect and the co-operation from all staff members was above and beyond.”
She says a special evening aboard the Venetian Lady luxury yacht for a dinner cruise on Miami’s Biscayne Bay was a highlight. JHI’s itinerary also included a spousal walking tour of Miami’s famous art-deco district. Plus, the entire group participated in a dine-around in popular South Beach. A half-day Cuban heritage tour was also on the agenda.
“America has suffered a serious economic downturn that has produced a buyer’s market for meeting groups,” says Scott Flexman, vice-president of sales and marketing for Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel.
Flexman says planners booking now for future programmes will benefit from some terrific deals which may not be available down the road. “June through September is our value season and booking a mid-week programme anytime during the year will result in cost savings,” says Flexman.
Mark Dosman, president of Strategic Site Selection, a Guelph, Ont.-based company with corporate and association clients across Canada and the U.S., has organized two group visits to Miami in the past 12 months. “There is such diversity, with tons of hotels to fit any budget, great direct flights from Canada, lots of activities and excellent restaurants. It’s a unique city and to top it off, it has great weather.”
Among Miami’s most famous neighbourhoods is South Beach, an oceanfront enclave known for the world’s largest collection of art-deco architecture. Known as the “American Riviera,” it is rife with trendy restaurants, chic martini bars, stimulating nightlife, celebrity sightings and a fine beach.
Dragonfly Expeditions offers guided tours of the art-deco district, revealing the history of one of America’s most famous urban neighbourhoods.
In addition to South Beach, the choices include Little Havana, the centre of Miami’s large Cuban community, where attendees can visit a cigar-rolling facility, Cuban coffee houses, an art gallery featuring Cuban masters or sample authentic Cuban cuisine.
Other neighbourhoods that can be incorporated into a programme include Little Haiti, upscale Coral Gables and historic Coconut Grove.
Casa Casuarina, in South Beach, across from the ocean, is a 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion boasting 10 lavish suites, a central courtyard and indoor and outdoor dining. The mansion is a private club accommodating dinners and receptions for 300.
Also distinctive is the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, a National Historic Landmark that accommodates groups for evening functions. Built in the early 1900s, this European-inspired estate offers exclusive use of the inner courtyard, outside terraces and 10 acres of formal gardens. Open for tours 364 days a year, the inside of the Main House is filled with art treasures from around the world.
Exceptionally unique is The Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery, built in Spain in 1141 and eventually dismantled and shipped to Miami, where it was reassembled in 1954. This historical facility accommodates 250 for a seated dinner in The Cloisters and 120 for a garden reception.
Tina Boris-Lafferty, a Dragonfly Expeditions guide, says the most requested group activities are Everglades excursions, the much-acclaimed Cuban Heritage Tour and art-deco tours. Deep-sea fishing, catamaran sailing, kayaking on Biscayne Bay and golf are also a big draw, she says.
What puts Miami on the map as a premier golf destination is the famous Doral Golf Resort and Spa that features five championship golf courses, including the legendary Great White and Blue Monster layouts. The resort also includes the 693-room Marriott Hotel featuring 110,000 sq. ft. of function space, a 24,000-sq.-ft. ballroom and a 52-room spa.
— Donna Carter is a Cobourg, Ont.-based freelancer writer.