Enticing Reasons to Plan a Meeting in Southwest Florida

Cabanas Beach Bar and Grill at DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Myers Beach

Air service via most major carriers is available to Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers, 34 miles north of Naples. There are 46 nonstop destinations on 14 different carriers, with new routes recently added. The region’s major meetings destinations are all within two to four hours’ driving distance of Miami, Orlando and Tampa.

It’s hard to beat a seaside meeting. With the number of meetings that are booked near the beach in Southwest Florida, attendees will want to make extra time for sun and sand. For planners, that means inquiring about group-rate extensions when negotiating with hotels.
“Find out if that’s an opportunity,” suggests Francesca Donlan, communications director for Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau. Donlan recommends that business travelers tack an extra day onto their travel itineraries to make personal memories and establish business connections.

“You have a professional opportunity to be here, and you can enjoy it personally,” Donlan says. “You would feel really disappointed if you spent all this time professionally and you didn’t dip your toe into the water.”

Considering the breadth of world-class activities in the area, guests will want to budget time for more than just a quick dip in the water. For planners considering activities and excursions for their groups, the offerings are similarly tempting.

Fresh Opportunities to Taste

There’s nothing like tasting the local flavors to give visitors a sense of Southwest Florida.
Naples is a hotbed of culinary activity, with celebrity chef projects and award-winning eateries. Four of the city’s restaurants—Alexander’s, Baleen at La Playa Beach & Golf Resort, The Turtle Club, and Tommy Bahama Restaurant and Bar—were named to OpenTable’s 100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants list in 2016.

Celebrity chef Art Smith’s new concept restaurant in Naples Bay Resort is generating considerable buzz. After working as Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef for more than a decade and opening restaurants in Orlando, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Palo Alto, California, Smith is serving up Southern American food with a bit of an Italian flare. “For Naples’ sophisticated diners, this is definitely a one-of-a-kind menu, with a lot of surprises,” Smith says.

Suite at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort Naples

Health-conscious foodies will appreciate True Food Kitchen, a partnership with integrative medicine expert Dr. Andrew Weil that opened in March. Inspired by the principles of Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, True Food Kitchen merges nutrient-rich ingredients with a flavor-forward menu that rotates regularly to let diners experience ingredients at the peak of freshness and flavor.

Guests who can’t decide on just one restaurant can sample all the city’s best with Taste of Naples Tours. These are creative, all-inclusive tours of top locally owned restaurants. The door-to-door experience includes luxury coach pick-up and drop-off from participants’ hotels and venues, with food and wine dining tours, as well as sightseeing and shopping excursions.

To add local flavor, many restaurants and venues throughout Southwest Florida are preparing some delicious, freshly caught seafood. For meeting luncheons, planners should inquire about Gulf catches, such as snapper, grouper and fresh shrimp. For a casual meal, the shrimp at Skip One in Fort Myers is a very solid bet because the proprietor also owns the largest shrimp boat fleet in the state.

Ballroom at The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marine Village

More Adventures Await 

Southwest Florida doesn’t offer neon lights and amusements like Miami and Orlando—and it’s not trying to. The charm is strolling on endless white-sand beaches, paddling through a swamp and embracing the calm atmosphere—all at a fraction of major-city event prices.

Still looking for that elusive intersection of productivity and relaxation? Just go west.

Further Reading:

The Great Escape: Southwest Florida

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