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March 2012 Issue
Successful Meetings Magazine

The Florida Keys Are Reeling In Groups
By Leo Jakobson

Companies bringing corporate groups to the Florida Keys these days are showing a substantial increase in confidence.

“Properties throughout the Keys are reporting a continued strong rebound in business,” says Jack Meier, sales manager for Florida Keys & Key West, the area’s convention and visitors bureau. “We didn’t necessarily see a drop-off, but a lot of hesitation. Now we are starting to see traditional programs booking with confidence again, and the booking window is extending further out.”

With limited meeting space—the largest available is 30,000 square feet at the Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo—and unlimited beachfront beauty, the Keys appeal mainly to corporate incentives, Meier says. In that market, he adds, “We’re still seeing a little bit of an aversion to going offshore, and we’re benefiting from that, with the idea of keeping the money on U.S. soil.”

Planner Nadene Grossman, a 20-year resident of Key West and president and CEO of Key West planning and event company We’ve Got The Keys, adds, “This year it feels like we’re back in business. People are being a lot more open and creative, and more free with their budgets. We are seeing a lot more experiential activities. Now folks are getting into biplane rides, paddleboarding, and kayaking eco-tours—it used to be that everybody wanted to come down here and just do a Jimmy Buffett theme party on the beach.”

New in Town
Having undergone a renovation and expansion, the newly reflagged Ibis Bay Waterfront Resort in Key West has taken a step up the ladder to become a chic boutique property. The 78-room resort features Art Deco-esque neon accents, tropical hammocks, and engaging local artwork.

A new event venue has docked on Key West’s Truman waterfront. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Ingham, a two-year-old floating museum and National Historic landmark, can host 200 for cocktails or 106 seated on the stern deck. The 327-foot Ingham had a distinguished 52-year career, becoming the only Coast Guard cutter ever to win two Navy Presidential Unit citations.

Islamorada’s Holiday Isle resort has reflagged as the Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle, following an $11.6-million renovation, with a lushly landscaped, tropical oceanfront decor, as well as updated guest rooms and meeting space and improvements to the main lobby and swimming pool area. Wi-Fi access is now available resort-wide, and a new restaurant opened—Shula Burger, an outpost of the former Miami Dolphins coach’s steakhouse chain.

Marathon’s luxury Hawk’s Cay Resort, which has 20,000 square feet of indoor, ocean-view meeting space on Duck Key, is spending $1 million enhancing its culinary options, including turning the Beach Grill and surrounding beach into an adult-only area named Sand Bar. Work is set to wrap up this month.

Several new vessels have arrived in the Keys. Island Time Cruise Co. brought a 128-passenger paddlewheel boat to Key Largo, which is available for two-and-a-half-hour lunches, brunches, and sunset dinners, as well as for special events. The Schooner America 2.0, a 105-foot modern ship based on the historic vessel for which the America’s Cup is named, is based in Key West from November through April and can accommodate up to 75 passengers.

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