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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Big doings down in Jacksonville

By David L. Malhalab, MNS Photo/M News Service

As attendees arrived in Jacksonville for the Small Market Meetings Conference on Sunday, Oct. 28, they found themselves in the calm after two storms  —  Superstorm Sandy and an annual college football showdown.

By Sunday, the threat of Sandy had passed the Florida coast, bringing only clouds, some wind and a few showers. A day later, she would pummel the Jersey Shore and New York City. Given the uncertainty of the weather, surprisingly few attendees failed to make it to the conference.

And on Sunday, the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, the conference headquarters, was back to its peaceful self after a Saturday packed with football fans who came to town for the annual Florida-Georgia football game. Turnout for the game, played each year at Everbank Field not far from the hotel, goes beyond what the 76,000-seat stadium can hold; in fact, the event has been called “the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party.”

As Kerri Stewart, CEO of Visit Jacksonville, told SMMC attendees during Sunday afternoon’s opening session, the city’s ability to handle the game crowd means, “You can see that we can easily fit 200,000 in this downtown area.” She added though that a comfortable citywide convention size is up to 10,000 people.

Networking in northern Florida
During their two and a half days in Florida, some 200 meeting planners and industry representatives focused on ways they can work together as they attended three education sessions, visited over drinks and hors d’ouevres at receptions, dined together and met for six-minute appointments to discuss business. There was even a time for relaxation on Monday afternoon, with tours of Jacksonville.

The conference’s marketplace and meal functions were held in the Hyatt’s conference space in side-by-side ballrooms that made it a short walk from one event to another. And each time attendees walked into the preconference space, they were treated to views of barges and sailboats, traveling up and down the St. John’s River, which cuts a blue swath through downtown Jacksonville.