Meetings Case Study
Experience Kissimmee – the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) for Osceola County, Florida – collaborated with its community of Industry Partners to welcome back meeting planners and groups to host in-person meetings in June 2020.
The organization’s internal team focuses on promoting the destination domestically and around the world, representing more than 900 local Industry Partners throughout the Central Florida area. The role of Experience Kissimmee’s Meeting Sales & Services Team is to promote in-person meetings and serve as a complimentary consultant, connecting meeting planners with resources, hotels, and service vendors to facilitate successful planning.
After experiencing a record year in terms of meetings booked in the destination, up 77 percent from the year prior, the pandemic brought business to a halt. The industry was to pivot from face-to-face meetings to virtual platforms, and reevaluate what groups would need to successfully host in-person events.
Several external factors combined with the key actions of Experience Kissimmee and its Industry Partners made it possible for Kissimmee to welcome back meetings earlier than many destinations.
Kissimmee’s Successful Return to Meetings - Contributing Factors:
- After a lockdown period in 2020, Florida began to reopen in phases from May through September. Each phase lifted specific restrictions with encouragement to follow CDC guidelines. Additionally, Osceola County continues to remain under a county-wide face mask mandate.
- Hospitality is the No. 1 industry in Kissimmee, Florida. Businesses understand the value of visitation and meetings in the destination, and therefore quickly came together to support one another and incorporate recommended health and safety protocols throughout their facilities.
- Proximity to major theme parks (Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld Parks and Resorts) proved valuable in a new way. Theme parks began to reopen in July 2020 with limited attendance and new guidelines. Consumer confidence increased in terms of gatherings, and theme parks set the example of best practices to help protect both consumers and staff.
- Experience Kissimmee’s Meeting Sales and Services Team worked diligently throughout the early stages of the pandemic to keep relationships with meeting planners, assuring them Kissimmee would be open for business when the time was right. These conversations helped identify the information and resources needed for planners to present to their clients to help instill confidence in moving forward with in-person meetings and events.
- In October 2020, Experience Kissimmee announced a new partnership with major healthcare system AdventHealth. This partnership helps provide health and safety resources for visitors, meeting organizations, sports groups, and local businesses through an online Safety Hub found on Experience Kissimmee’s website.
- Some of Kissimmee’s top meeting hotels represent major hotel brands such as Marriott (Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center) and Hilton (Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista South), which launched corporate cleaning and sanitization programs. Their measures, along with the theme parks, quickly served as a model for community best practices.
Successful Meetings During the Pandemic: June 2020 and Beyond
Kissimmee is known for its ideal Central Florida location, just 25 minutes from Orlando International Airport. The destination is home to 1 million square feet of meeting space – from large convention resorts to small, unique locations.
Here’s a look at three of Experience Kissimmee’s meeting hotel partners who quickly, and safely, welcomed back in-person meetings in 2020.
Margaritaville Resort Orlando
After closing its doors at the start of the pandemic, Margaritaville Resort Orlando reopened on May 15, 2020, and held Kissimmee’s first hybrid meeting June 3-4, 2020, with 26 in-person attendees and additional virtual participants.
Each attendee was placed at an individual table and spaced 6 feet apart, with hand sanitizer at each table and at every entrance.
The hotel continued to host meetings throughout the year, including a series of meetings in September, October, and November 2020, for Misch International Implant Institute. Each dental implant education session welcomed 40-80 attendees with proper social distancing and CDC recommended health and safety guidelines.
Margaritaville Resort Orlando, which offers 40,000 square feet of flexible meeting space divided among eight meeting and event rooms and outdoor space, worked with Misch Institute to ensure each health and safety concern was addressed during the meeting planning process. At the time of each meeting, hotel cleanliness was maintained regularly throughout the day; plus, Margaritaville Resort offered attendees everything needed for a safe meeting, from hand sanitizer and disposable cups at the coffee stations to extra garbage cans.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista South
As a member of the Hilton brand, Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista South has adopted the brand’s CleanStay and EventReady procedures with protocols such as contactless check-in, housekeeping services according to guest preference, required face masks in public areas, and elevated standards of sanitization.
Kissimmee’s Embassy Suites has more meeting space than any other Embassy Suites in the state of Florida, with 40,000 square feet among 28 meeting and event rooms. It is one of few to continue offering complimentary hot breakfast for all hotel guests – valued by meeting groups.
The hotel welcomed Florida League of Cities for its 2020 Legislative Conference in November 2020. The group expected an overall total of 140 attendees; however, there were some last-minute cancellations due to inclement weather. The event totaled roughly 120 attendees (compared to 200-220 attendees in previous years), plus virtual attendees via Zoom.
Embassy Suites and Florida League of Cities worked together throughout the planning process to guarantee all health and safety concerns were met before and during the event.
Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center
Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center launched Marriott’s Commitment to Clean program, with additional health and safety enhancements throughout the resort including new check-in options, additional sanitization efforts, enforced social distancing, and more.
Kissimmee’s largest meeting hotel with more than 460,000 square feet of event space, Gaylord Palms hosted Southeast Natural Products Association’s (SENPA) SOHO Expo in December 2020. The company has held the expo at the convention resort every year since 2009.
While the look and feel of the show remained familiar, the event welcomed roughly 33 percent of attendees in comparison to previous years. Gaylord Palms was transparent with safety protocols as SENPA created a plan to fulfill the needs of its staff, exhibitors, and attendees. SENPA worked with Gaylord Palms to film safety videos and webinars for attendees prior to the event, a tactic that has proven successful for several in-person meetings Gaylord Resort has executed.
Messaging and Safety
Maintaining Strong Messaging
In January 2020, prior to the pandemic, Experience Kissimmee launched an overall brand refresh and marketing campaign, highlighting Kissimmee as the perfect balance of thrill and chill activities with an ideal blend of business and leisure options. Since January, messaging has been enhanced to include the destination’s health and safety efforts and protocols messaging for all visitors to the destination, including meeting and convention attendees and families.
As the destination began its phased reopening, Experience Kissimmee took to social media to share the destination with potential visitors. The organization’s Social Media Team created a video series titled “Kissimmee On-The-Go,” which shows health and safety protocols implemented at many of Experience Kissimmee’s Industry Partner locations including hotels, theme parks, and more. The purpose was not only to give an inside look at what’s changed in the destination – but build consumer confidence for future travel plans.
Experience Kissimmee’s Media Relations Team hosted a Virtual Media Event (October 2020) with 15 of its meeting hotel, vacation home, theme park, and outdoor attraction Industry Partners to virtually welcome 100 domestic and international media – including meeting publications – to the destination to see what’s changed since their last visit. Because the topics of traveler safety can be controversial during a global pandemic, the team called upon healthcare experts such as AdventHealth and research partners to provide an update including market research and results.
An additional benefit of this event was to highlight the vital role meeting and event planners play within organizations, such as Experience Kissimmee. The CVB’s internal Event Management Team made it possible for the Meeting Sales and Services Team to continue selling and connecting with clients through adapting to virtual platform, Big Marker.
During the Virtual Media Event, Experience Kissimmee welcomed medical professionals from major healthcare system AdventHealth to announce the development of the Experience Kissimmee Safety Hub.
With the help of featured partner AdventHealth, the Safety Hub includes a number of resources for all the destination’s visitors from various segments including domestic and international consumers, meetings, sports, and travel trade.
Resources for meeting planners who are planning Kissimmee meetings include:
• Special access to AdventHealth’s medical experts
• Access to medical facilities including a 24-hour Centra Care location
• Key health and safety vendors
• Access to discounted safety resources such as personal protective equipment (PPE), rapid testing, temperature checks, etc.
• Consulting and best practices for event organizers before and during the planning process, including creating a safe event environment
• Marketing and press content from Experience Kissimmee and AdventHealth to help guide safety messaging when promoting events
The Safety Hub can be found at experiencekissimmee.com/safe-vacations.
It Pays to Meet in Kissimmee
Experience Kissimmee’s It Pays to Meet in Kissimmee incentive gives qualifying meetings up to $10,000 in cash back per meeting.
Planners can take advantage of Experience Kissimmee’s meeting incentive throughout the remainder of 2021 by reviewing the rules and regulations and registering online. Planners must register for this incentive prior to signing a hotel contract and qualifying meetings must be booked by Dec. 31, 2021.
To be successful it takes everyone being committed to the same goal.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Experience Kissimmee became creative in its partnerships with Industry Partners and medical experts to welcome back visitors and in-person meetings. The importance and value of the CVB is not only to promote the destination and drive visitation, but to communicate important messaging, share safety resources, and serve as one point of contact for information to all Industry Partners, as well as the area’s residents and visitors.
Experience Kissimmee saw many changes during the pandemic – from temporary and permanent closings, business re-openings, and new safety protocols from delivery-only to limited capacity. The team housed all this information on its website as one, single resource for residents and visitors.
Communication is key.
Experience Kissimmee’s internal teams focus on promoting the destination domestically and around the world bringing more than 9 million overnight visitors each year. From family-friendly hotels and home-away-from-home vacation villas to thrilling outdoor adventures and classic theme parks, Experience Kissimmee works with more than 900 local Industry Partners to make memorable meetings, events, and team building experiences for all who visit the destination.
In addition to meetings, Kissimmee’s sports industry has been resilient throughout the pandemic. The destination’s top three events include:
• American Youth Football and Cheer | December 2020 | 5,250 Participants
• National XBall League (Paintball) | November 2020 | 2,935 Participants
• Major League Fishing | November 2020 | 75 Participants (including the top anglers in the world)
Kissimmee Sports Commission currently has 14 scheduled events through September 18, 2021. In the same period in 2020, the destination had four scheduled events – all of which were cancelled.
Outside of meetings and sports, general travel trends have increased since 2020. In February 2021, Kissimmee saw an average booking rate of 45 to 50 with higher percentages during the weekends.
Experience Kissimmee’s Meeting Sales & Services Team