FORUM SONIA FONG
VICE PRESIDENT, CONVENTION SALES, GREATER MIAMI CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU
BY GEORGE SELI
iami has recently enjoyed a resurgence in demand from groups. In part, this trend is due to increased confidence from planners and business travelers since vaccinations have begun. But the city’s considerable draw as a meeting destination is also a factor. Attendees will find a rich international culture, a longstanding tradition in the arts, top-tier resorts and a newly renovated and expanded convention center. Last fall, the Miami Beach Convention Center debuted 127,000 sq. ft. of new meeting spaces and a 60,000-sq.-ft. ballroom. Sonia Fong comments on these developments in the following interview. ow has Miami’s meetings business trended since Q H January? A In the last two weeks or so, we have seen a huge commitment from our group clients: Some have booked for the fall and some for the beginning of next year. The confidence level has definitely increased, and we’re really happy that customers are ready to move forward. One of my colleagues just booked a larger association meeting for 2022, 3,000 room nights. And end of April , we welcomed one of the larger medical meetings at our convention center. It was a hybrid event of about 1,200 attendees and exhibitors. It was our first large convention at the convention center besides the show we did in March, which was the Jewelry International Showcase [JIS] that was produced by Reed Exhibitions. It was the first one they produced since the pandemic, and they had a 10 percent increase in their attendance. Q I n what ways does the Miami Beach Convention Center renovation and expansion improve the client experience? A With the recent renovation, one of the items high on the wish list was to improve our technology. In the old convention center, we were not able to handle the bandwidth of many of our technology meetings. Now, it’s a game changer. In addition, the building now has a lot of glass and natural light: we see the sun and the palm trees. It makes the building look much more open, more inviting. Attendees can now access all parts of the building without having to go outside. And planners have over a million sq. ft. to play with. There is a lot more foyer space where we can have breakouts. JIS said they loved the flow of the building. Everything worked really well in terms of technology and the look and feel of the building. FACILITIES & DESTINATIONS 2021 SPRING
And outside the building we have about $7 million worth of public art. It’s really fascinating because here you have this big convention center in the heart of South Beach and you’re only a few steps away from some of our top restaurants, and of course the beach. hat are the current restrictions on group gatherings Q W in the city? A For a long time we were restricted to 50 percent capacity, and just recently our Miami-Dade County mayor released that mandate. However, we need to follow 6-ft. social distancing, wear masks and obviously the building has to do its protocol. The convention center is a GBAC-certified building. In terms of the F&B, when you go up and make your selection we’ll have the Plexiglas, we’ll have the pre-packed meals, etc. According to a survey of the 2021 JIS attendees and exhibitors, 96 percent felt extremely safe at the convention center.
“According to a survey of the 2021 Jewelry International Showcase attendees and exhibitors, 96 percent felt extremely safe” at the Miami Beach Convention Center. ow has the Greater Miami CVB’s service to groups Q H changed to meet current challenges? A We continue to work very closely with our customers, mainly because of so many new things that groups never used to have to do. Our PR and marketing teams are working more closely than ever with our customers to ensure that whether it’s communication or a specific marketing piece that we can help them create, we’re there for them. Each client is different, and we want to make sure they feel welcome. So we will find the resources, sometimes monetary as well, to encourage their participation. We are ready — city ready, venue ready.