Florida experienced “winter” over the last two weeks, but while the locals huddled together to fend off the extreme cold—which reached a mind-numbing 32 F (0 C), a temperature every Floridian lives here to avoid—the big travel trade show of Florida Huddle put the focus firmly on what the Sunshine State does best.
London’s World Travel Market brings the whole world together with the goal of promoting tourism in every country. IPW (formerly Pow Wow, and if you’ve been reading our blogs for a while you’ll know what incredible fun it is!) brings the world to the United States with the goal of promoting U.S. tourism. But Florida has its own special travel trade show called Huddle, and it’s laser-focused on the parks, attractions, hotels, destinations and holiday add-ons that make up your family’s magical memories.
Huddle can’t hold a candle to World Travel Market in terms of size, nor does it come up to the level of IPW fun, where the parties each night involve Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter, and Shamu when IPW is held in Orlando, as it often is, but it’s a sentimental favourite because it’s all about the place we love so much.
We are often asked how we do research for the Brit Guide to Orlando, for magazine or newspaper features, and for other writing we do about the theme parks, restaurants, hotels and attractions of Central Florida—and, indeed, we often get offers to be our “research assistants”!—and while the majority of our research involves boots-on-the-ground, or tapping into the relationships we’ve made over the last 25 years, the big travel shows play an important role. They require a lot of mental work, but they’re also a LOT of fun!
As Media, our first day at Huddle centred on Media Marketplace, where journalists connect with representatives of various destinations and venues with an eye toward writing features, news articles, reviews or destination brochures.
The Marketplace is staged in a separate conference room to the main exhibit floor and is held in 15-minute ‘sessions’ throughout the morning and afternoon programme. Each attraction or destination has its own desk, and the media move from desk to desk according to their schedule (which we set in advance).
It is a fun and well-choreographed process, and we had 14 separate meetings on our schedule, starting with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of film-star dolphin Winter), which is in the middle of a $63million expansion that will be complete by the end of 2019. We heard all about it, and about new exhibits like their pelican habitat and sea turtle rescue centre – very busy this winter as the prolonged cold spells have been a real problem for marine life.
Then it was on to talk to the PR people from Naples and Marco Island, where we heard about a lot of new hotel development and refurbishment, including some necessitated by the damage caused by Hurricane Irma last September.
The folks at Visit Tampa are some of our favourite people in the tourism business in Florida, and it is always a pleasure to hear about developments in their area, which include new flights from the UK with Icelandair, new hotels (including a wonderful new boutique property called The Godfrey) and the complete redevelopment of the Channelside area of downtown in the next couple of years.
Panama City Beach is one of the most overlooked parts of the Sunshine State (at least by European visitors) and their rep told us about some major hotel development as well as new additions to the fun Pier Park area, including a 200ft Ferris wheel ride.
Our meetings continued with the Florida Keys – still battling to shake off the effects of Irma but definitely back in business – and the Crystal River region (Citrus County), which makes for a great day-trip from Orlando and is developing some new eco-tours and small-town attractions that are sure to appeal to out-of-state visitors. We’ll be discovering more in a visit there in early March, but suffice it to say the small towns of Inverness and Floral City are firmly on our radar!
After lunch we met in turn with Punta Gorda/Englewood (on the Gulf Coast south of Sarasota), the St Pete/Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bradenton, and New Smyrna Beach. We also learned about the Salamander hotel group, who have some gorgeous golf-inspired hotels like the Henderson Beach Resort in Destin and Hammock Beach Resort in Flagler County, just south of St Augustine.
We sat down with the marketing people for the Xtreme Action Park in Fort Lauderdale – which opened in 2016 but is new to us and offers a terrific array of indoor attractions, including bowling, a ropes course and an escape-room game – and the Benchmark hotel group, who own three really interesting Florida properties, including the new Grove Resort & Spa in Kissimmee and the boutique Costa D’Este in Vero Beach.
We even managed to find time for a quick foray onto the exhibit floor to talk to the Old Town marketing team, where there is a LOT of redevelopment going on to make this Kissimmee shopping and entertainment attraction much more attractive in future.
No convention is complete without an evening party or three, but this year we were circumspect (mainly because we were exhausted!) and stuck to just one. Okay, two, but they were on the same evening, back-to-back, and they were both “official” parties rather than exhibitor-sponsored, so they count as one. Sort of.
First was the VIP party at the Fort Lauderdale Hilton, hosted by Daytona Beach, and then it was on to the Museum of Discovery and Science, a fantastic choice for families with children, who have made Fort Lauderdale part of a twin centre stay. And no, we’re not just saying that because we scarfed down some excellent paella and had a gin and tonic at their party. It’s a hands-on, interactive place where kids (and adults) soak up a bit of knowledge in an atmosphere that is so much fun they’ll never know it’s educational.
As Huddle winds down, media are invited to experience local attractions, and this year our options included the Art and Culture Center in Hollywood (just south of Fort Laderdale), the superb culinary ‘art’ at GG’s Waterfront Bar & Grill (with its fantastic view of passing super-yachts as you dine) and a Segway tour offered by Segway Fort Lauderdale, that was as hilarious as it was enjoyable.
The best part about Huddle? We know we’re making contacts and forming relationships that will translate to incredible holidays for our readers, because they’re based on first-hand knowledge and a real desire to present the best of the best to UK visitors to our adopted home state.
Have questions about what’s new and exciting in Central Florida? Join us on the Attraction Tickets Direct discussion forums!
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