OCT 2017

ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.

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Page 18 of 67

O C T O B E R 2 0 1 7 ⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 19 Upgrades Are Ongoing At the Hilton Sandestin Several years have passed since I last visited the Hilton Sandestin in north- west Florida and two of the changes that have taken place in recent years were immediately evident. One was the re-oriented and redecorated lobby which has soft, light colors and now provides a view of the pool deck and beach from the moment of entry. The other was the expanded pool deck with Barefoot's Beachside Bar & Grill at the center, an excellent place to enjoy lunch or watch the sunset while sipping a signature cocktail. These and other changes, including a redesign of all of the hotel's 200 Spa Tower guest rooms, were part of an extensive three-year, $30 million renovation project completed in 2015. At that time, the Serenity by the sea spa was also expanded and revamped and a new 7,500-square-foot ballroom was built, bringing the total indoor and outdoor event space to 60,000 square feet. But Director of Sales and Marketing Lisa Jones explained that the property is continually upgrading and renewing its facilities and services. "The owners have been wonderful about reinvesting in this resort every year," she emphasized. "We are upgrading on an annual basis." Beginning this month, upgrades will be made to the 400 guest rooms in the Emerald Tower and there will be a make-over to the lower-level meeting spaces, which are typically used for breakouts and smaller meetings, Jones said. "We will freshen this area, lighten up the colors and make the spaces more efficient and innovative for planners," she ex- plained, adding that the meeting area will still be available for use while the changes are made. During a meeting with Executive Chef Dan Vargo, I learned about plans to change the concept of Sandcastles, one of several on-site dining options, to that of a Florida fish house, specializing in local and regional products, beginning in early 2018. Additionally, an upcoming expansion to the Hadashi Sushi Bar, located adjacent to Sandcastles, will add a raw oyster bar to the already extensive selection of fresh seafood options Vargo, who oversees all of the resort's food and beverage operations, pointed out that meeting groups as well as leisure guests generally prefer to have dishes that are from the area they are visiting and that are "more story-oriented." This means using local foods as much as possible and being able to tell how they are produced. Jon Lovett, director of events, described the planned revamping of banquet services for group func- tions, which are changing from endless lines of food served cafeteria style to separate and interactive food stations, where meeting participants can see the food being prepared and engage in conversation while dining. This concept is being implemented gradually but will eventually effect most, if not all of the resort's food functions. Offering 600 guest rooms, 40,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, including three ballrooms, the Hilton Sandestin is the largest full-service beachfront resort in northwest Florida. The property also has several special event spaces for smaller gather- ings and a number of team-build- ing programs. Amenities include two large pools, the Serenity Spa, a 24-hour fitness center and the Kids Krew program. n N&R Site Visit By Marcia Bradford Island with 2,000 square feet of meeting space. Green initiatives remain at the forefront of revitali- zation and development as destinations position for the future. As Arkansas's premier performing arts facility, the Robinson Center, underwent a $70 million re-imagining and expansion that provided significant improvements to its performance hall, lobby and back- of-house amenities. The project was also certified LEED Gold, making it one of a small number of National Register structures that are LEED certified. "As cities develop, we all need to be good stewards," Mayner said. "We are fortunate for a city of our size to have as many green buildings and structures here." Connectivity Tools and Outreach Technological advancement and growth of social media is not lost on today's destination marketing professionals. Cities across the South are leveraging new connectivity tools to reach out to meeting planners as well as enhance attendee meeting experience. For instance, Visit Jacksonville is now using LinkedIn to better engage meeting planners. "We are posting our travel on LinkedIn in an effort to encourage meeting plan- ners to visit us at the shows and events we are attending," said Monica Smith, vice president of sales and services. "We have also created a new social media toolkit to assist planners with destination specific posts and discounted offers for attendees during their Jacksonville program." A sales team LinkedIn page was also launched by Flo- rida's Historic Coast to stay connected with meeting and event professionals, according to Kathy Catron, director of communications with St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and the Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. "There you will find information on the shows the sales team members will be attending, local destination information, and updates on news and events," she said. Smaller destinations are also getting in on the action. The Del Rio CVB in Texas recently added a Visit Widget mobile app to its website, said Hannah Hinson, public re- lations and community outreach specialist. "This is an app that can be downloaded that features everything Del Rio has to offer when visiting," she said. "From planning your trip with hotels, restaurants and attractions to a guide to the 'must sees' here. We are very excited about integrating this into our marketing efforts." Destinations also continue to up the ante on service through customer loyalty rewards programs. Visit Jack- sonville now offers new cash-back incentives and conces- sions through its Cool Cash and Comeback meetings programs. "We realized that many of our clients with smaller meetings were not eligible for our convention grant program and developed new meeting promotions geared towards smaller meetings," Smith said. The Asheville CVB "Have More Fun on Us" incen- tive program offers planners with eligible meetings up to $2,500 to incorporate unique-to-Asheville elements into their meetings. n NEW & RENOVATED Sites In The South!

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