When Florida Huddles, Visitors Win!

When Florida Huddles, Visitors Win!
By ATD’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
You’ve experienced Orlando’s incredible parks, attractions, shopping and accommodation, but what goes on behind the scenes to make Florida the Number One tourist destination in America? Here’s the inside scoop!

From the first handshake to the final party, Florida Huddle is no dry, boring trade show where deals are struck and schmoozing goes on for days. Instead, it’s a vibrant networking of businesses who truly love the product they’re selling and have a passion for making sure they offer a world-class experience.

This year, Huddle had the added excitement of being held at Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort, and you know that means great food, superb accommodation, and service with that special Disney touch. Come along with us to the 3-day event, for a look at how all those attractions and services you love so much work together to create magical holidays!


Mickey MOuse at Huddle


As part of the media contingent, we started by attending the International Update to hear from representatives from seven countries, and were delighted to hear the U.K. market has re-taken the Number Two position for international attendance (Canada is, as you would expect, number one), with Brazil dropping to number three. Well done, each and every one of you!

During the lunch break, media had the chance to talk to Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson, a brand new appointment direct from the governor’s office in Tallahassee. Lawson was making his first appearance as the new man in charge, accompanied by chairman William Tolbert III and Alfredo Gonzalez, vice-president of international sales.

Lawson told us, “I am here to make sure Visit Florida is viable and appropriate, and that we are responsible stewards. With past issues we have had with transparency, I have a valuable role to play here, and I am going to rely on my people to get it right.”


Florida Huddle


Gonzalez was quick to point out that the U.K. market to Florida remains solid and loyal. “When Brexit was announced and there were forecasts of doom and gloom for foreign travel, we were very happy to see that didn’t happen. We thought we would be flat for U.K. visitation in the second half of 2016, but we were up five per cent for the third quarter of the year and we are hopeful for 2017.”

It was notable that Lawson was very bullish (and enthusiastic!) with his comments, but it certainly doesn’t surprise us that Britain continues to come to Florida in large numbers, and that even the uncertainty of Brexit has not made any real dent in that (although Gonzalez did admit they were watching the exchange rate closely). The simple fact is, Florida represents consistent value for money, in holiday terms, and it will take a LOT for people to decide not to visit!

And that was it for our first day, other than attending the evening party, first at I-Drive 360 and then on to Universal’s CityWalk, where a buffet spread was laid on, with live entertainment in three nightclubs: Pat O’Brien’s, Bob Marley—A Tribute to Freedom, and Rising Star. As always, Rising Star was the stand-out, with many of our fellow Huddlers belting out some seriously excellent tunes!



Florida Huddle



We started the next day with Media Marketplace, a chance for various vendors to pitch their locations and interesting stories to media, and pass out cute and quirky swag. Several fantastic ideas sprang from our meetings, and we’ll have more to share with you through future ATD blogs and through our next edition of the Brit Guide to Orlando.

Lunch followed, then it was off to the Show Floor. There is something about stepping into a flurry of deal-making that makes your heart beat just a little bit faster, especially when the vendors are places like Jungle Island, Wild Florida, Orlando Hot Air Balloons, all of Orlando’s theme parks, plus Legoland, Kennedy Space Center, and destinations like Miami, Sarasota, Tampa, Daytona and Clearwater.

Our own contacts resulted in some terrific upcoming stories about Clearwater Marine Aquarium; scallop harvesting; manatee swims; Everglades swamp tours; and the far-flung fun of the Florida Keys. We’ll also bring you all the latest from long-time favourites such as Gatorland and Boggy Creek Airboats.

The evening entertainment took place at celebrity Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming restaurant at Disney Springs, with the man himself in attendance. Smith is a huge personality and lots of fun to talk to (he was Oprah Winfrey’s chef, among other career moments), with masses of enthusiasm for fresh farm-to-table cooking, specialising in Southern cuisine. Homecoming is a real triumph of his particular art, and he told us, “I am a sixth generation native Floridian. I had been living for many years in Chicago, but I worked here at Disney thirty years ago, hence this represents a real ‘homecoming’ for me. I’d met Disney chairman Bob Iger when I was cooking for Oprah, and I told him I’d like to open a Southern restaurant with a Florida theme at Disney World, and here we are!”





For great food – and some original cocktails – Homecoming takes some beating, and even if you only stop for a drink, the décor and ambience are among the very best of the new-look Disney Springs. If you’re lucky, Smith will also be there, so be sure to say Susan and Simon sent you!

It was back to the show floor the next day, with more deals struck and more stories pitched. Lunch gave everyone the strength to keep going, and by 5pm we were all ready for the final blow-out of the event: dinner at Epcot’s World Showcase Pavilion (which, we’re embarrassed to say, we continue to call the Millennium Pavilion), with a theme of A Night of Good Versus Evil. Fabulous food and drink set the stage for a character-fest, with the likes of Snow White, Tiana, Peter Pan and Aladdin facing off (meet-and-greet style) with Captain Hook, Jafar, The Evil Queen, and Dr Facilier. And, of course, Mickey Mouse made an appearance!



Florida Huddle



The event’s grand finale included a dessert party with special viewing of IllumiNations, then a Huddle attendees-only ride on Soarin’ Around The World. It was a reminder that work and play should be enjoyed in equal measure, and when your work involves making sure visitors’ play-time is the best it can possibly be, we think it’s the best job in the world!


Florida Huddle


If you have questions about what’s coming to Orlando for 2017 – or anything else about the wonders of Florida – be sure to join Susan and Simon on the ATD forums, on this link.

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