By Doug Gollan
Visit Florida. On a day when the wind chill factor in New York was well below freezing, those two words definitely make sense.
More than two dozen representatives from different parts of the state, including its tourist board that operates under the moniker Visit Florida, braved the cold weather to host a group of press at Jeffrey Zakarian’s Lamb’s Club in Midtown.
The publicists had an array of reasons to encourage elite travelers to follow in the footsteps of Juan Ponce de Leon who 500 years was the “first visitor.” Coming up March 11 – 17 the PGA event, Tampa Bay Championship, will be at Innisbrook. The hotel is part of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, which also has interests in Reunion in Orlando and Hammock Beach in Palm Coast.
Founder and CEO Sheila C. Johnson may be better known as co-founder of BET (Black Entertainment Television, now owned by Viacom). She is also Managing Partner of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the first African-American woman to have a stake in three professional sports teams – the NBA Washington Wizzards and NHL Washington Capitals are the other two. Johnson, among other things, was appointed by President Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and she also serves as Chair of the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York as well as a strategic advisor for AOL The Huffington Post.
Anyway, back to hospitality, Johnson has been investing in upgrading the properties and a sign of “mission accomplished” are that each of the three are part of John Ueberroth’s Preferred Hotels, a group that includes well respected hotels such as The Montage Laguna Beach, The Capitol Hotel in Tokyo and Trump New York.
With nine 18-hole golf courses across the three properties, there is plenty of opportunity to hone one’s game, and the Hammock Beach resort also has a 117-foot yacht that can be used for private charters and is particularly popular for meetings. (Johnson this summer will open an equestrian spa and resort in Middleburg, Virginia. More on that in the future.)
Ft. Lauderdale is of course popular with elite travelers for hosting the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show and with Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport boasts one of the nation’s busiest private jet facilities. April 13 – 14 the city will host Rock the Ocean’s Tortuga Music Festival headlined by Kenny Chesney and featuring the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Avett Brothers, Sister Hazel and a dozen others. In addition to General Admission there are Super VIP Passes for $1,299 that include a personal concierge who can provide assistance prior to arrival and five-star meals in an air-conditioned dining room, including snacks. April 20 – 21 Ft. Lauderdale hosts its annual Air Show including the USAF Thunderbirds. For Premium Viewing there are several options, including The Colonel’s Club VIP with unobstructed views from a raised platform, catered lunch and bar and special visits by show performers.
You’re the boss, so you get to decide where to hold the next meeting. In that case the new Florida Keys Convention Center opened at the Islander Resort in Islamorada at the end of January. There’s 4,000 square feet of meeting space that can take groups up to 200. However if you just want an excuse to pop down, Third Thursday Walkabout in Morada Way Arts and Culture Districts is a literal block party of street food, live entertainment and special displays from the local galleries the third Thursday of every month year round.
If you are looking for a special place to hold an event in Florida, the two year old Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is on a list of “must sees” from ArtPlace and can handle private functions up to 350.
If you are a college football fan it’s never too early to start planning your fall road trips, and if your favorite team happens to be playing Florida State at Tallahassee, Hotel Duval – part of the Autograph Collection – boasts a rooftop lounge with table reservations.
Florida these days attracts some 90 million visitors a year, so since you can’t be first like Ponce de Leon at least it’s nice to know there are still plenty of opportunities to receive VIP treatment.