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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Business at the Beach

Sugary sand, salty breezes, white-capped waves: Sun-seekers and vacation-goers flock to beaches to relax, recharge and recreate during their time off. If people want to go to beach destinations for leisure, it only makes sense they would want to go there for business. 

Planners who organize multiple meetings or the same conference in different destinations every year often report that holding a conference in a beach destination boosts their attendance as well as attendee satisfaction. If you want to bring beach appeal to an upcoming event, consider these cities, which offer planners a plethora of waterfront venues and on-the-water activities.

Clearwater Beach, Florida

Florida’s Clearwater Beach is no stranger to accolades; it regularly lands atop lists of America’s best beaches, along with nearby St. Pete Beach.

“Obviously, our beautiful beaches are an attraction,” said Suzanne Hackman, vice president of business development for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. “It’s attractive to planners to host their meetings here because people can come pre- and post- and get some destination time in.”

Construction is underway on a new JW Marriott on Clearwater Beach that will include 162 hotel rooms and 36 owned residential units when complete in early 2023. The beachfront property will also feature meeting space, ballrooms, an 11th-floor swimming pool and bar, and oceanfront restaurant with private dining.

The Wyndham Grand, which opened in 2017, fronts Clearwater Beach and offers over 22,000 square feet of meeting space, including the 10,000-square-foot Dunes Ballroom and 12 meeting rooms.

On St. Pete Beach, the iconic, pink, 93-year-old Don CeSar hotel recently wrapped up a resortwide renovation that included all 277 guest rooms, fifth-floor meeting space and the first-floor 5,700-square-foot Grand Ballroom. Also on St. Pete Beach, the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort offers over 50,000 square feet of indoor meeting space and another 20,000 square feet of outdoor venues. 

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium just built a new waterfront meeting facility, Hackman said. The venue features a 7,200-square-foot ballroom with intracoastal waterway views, a 289-person theater, meeting rooms and exhibit spaces.

Gulf Shores and  Orange Beach, Alabama

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach sit on Alabama’s Gulf Coast — and on bays and bayous, rivers and lagoons.

“We are surrounded by water, and we have 32 miles of beach,” said Michelle Russ, vice president of sales, sports and events for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism. “We have great beachfront properties with options for properties on our back bays.”

The Lodge at Gulf State Park opened in November 2018, 14 years after Hurricane Ivan destroyed the original lodge in 2004. With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Lake Shelby on the other, the lodge’s 350 guest rooms and 40,000 square feet of event space take full advantage of surrounding views and encompassing nature. Groups can use the beach for picnics and bonfires or explore the 6,500-acre park on 28 miles of trails. Planners can also use the Learning Campus, with its mix of indoor and outdoor classrooms, meeting spaces and bunkhouses, or the Woodside Restaurant just across the street.

In Orange Beach, the Perdido Beach Resort boasts 44,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space, including a flexible 8,500-square-foot ballroom and two expansive outdoor beachfront venues that total 14,500 square feet. The stand-alone Orange Beach Event Center has another 18,000 square feet of event space.

The Wharf is a multipurpose entertainment venue with dining, shopping, a 10,000-seat amphitheater, an arcade and a marina that offers recreational boating, like dolphin cruises and sailboat tours.

Galveston, Texas

On Galveston Island, just outside Houston, “we practice what we call island time — that feeling you get when you come over that bridge,” said Bryan Kunz, director of group sales for Visit Galveston.

The barrier island is surrounded by water, and “pretty much every hotel on the beach has outdoor meeting space or indoor meeting space with gulf views,” he said.

The San Luis Resort is a 32-acre beachfront campus that is home to three hotels — a Hilton, a Holiday Inn and the San Luis Hotel – with 700 guest rooms among them; 10 dining venues; entertainment attractions; and the stand-alone Galveston Island Convention Center that’s “literally across the street from the beach.” The elevated, stand-alone building offers 140,000 square feet of event space, including floor-to-ceiling windows that deliver ocean views. The San Luis Hotel boasts another 40,000 square feet of IACC-approved conference center space.

The beachfront Grand Galvez hotel was built in 1911, and the new owners are remodeling and restoring the elegant, 225-guest-room property. The hotel’s 15,000 square feet of meeting space includes the 4,500-square-foot Music Hall and the 2,500-square-foot Terrace Ballroom that leads onto the 2,500-square-foot veranda.

On the island’s bay side, Moody Gardens is a 240-acre resort with a 418-room hotel, over 100,000 square feet of event space, a golf course and three pyramids that house a living rainforest, an aquarium and a discovery center.

Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier is “basically a theme park over the water,” Kunz said, with a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster and a stage area that works well for opening or closing receptions. Groups often book sunset cruises, rent jet skis or pontoon boats and arrange fishing charters.

Ocean City, Maryland

People who grew up spending summer vacations in Ocean City, Maryland, may not realize everything the destination offers in the off-season.

“Our beach season is so extended; we start seeing meetings and conventions as early as January and February,” said Jessica Waters, communications manager for Ocean City Tourism. “There’s something extremely peaceful about being at the beach in the winter; it’s quiet, it’s natural. We have so much to do here in the shoulder seasons.”

Because the city straddles a barrier island, it fronts both the Atlantic Ocean to the east and two bays to the west. The Roland E. Powell Convention Center sits on Assawoman Bay with waves lapping at its base, so it offers “absolutely incredible views, especially at sunset,” Waters said. An expansion is underway that will add 30,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 15,000-square-foot gallery overlooking the bay, along with meeting rooms and restrooms.

Ocean City has over 30 hotels with dedicated meeting space, many of them bayside or beachfront. The Cambria Hotel Ocean City Bayfront, which opened in May, is home to Spain, a rooftop wine bar and Spanish restaurant that dishes up ocean views. The Aloft Ocean City opened in 2019 with 120 guest rooms and two bay-facing event spaces that total 3,250 square feet.

On the north end of the city, the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel has a 40,000-square-foot conference center with 16 meeting rooms. The beachfront Grand Hotel offers not only beach access, but also boardwalk access, along with 10,000 square feet of event space. 

Groups can go kayaking or take out catamarans, gather around a beach bonfire or golf on one of the area’s 17 professional courses.

Newport Beach, California

In Newport Beach, California, the Balboa Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean like a protective arm around the city. The strip of land serves as a beachfront attraction and creates islands and inlets, harbors and bays behind it, so water weaves its way throughout the destination.

Newport Harbor is the centerpiece of Newport Beach. Mansions and restaurants ring the harbor, which is dedicated strictly to recreation and residential uses. Fronting the harbor coastline, the Balboa Bay Resort offers 159 guest rooms and 30,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event spaces, including the 6,900-square-foot flexible Grand Ballroom, bay-view meeting rooms, a bayfront event lawn and a terrace patio.

Visit Newport Beach can connect planners with vendors of a fleet of Duffy boats — small, covered electric boats with banquette seating for eight to 10 people around a central table. Groups can enjoy a floating happy hour with cocktails and appetizers as Duffy boats ferry attendees to harborfront restaurants for dinner. Groups can also take the boats to an off-site event at the Marina Park Community and Sailing Center on the harbor side of the peninsula; the venue can seat 144 for banquets and offers two classrooms and an event lawn.

The Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort and Marina is a 110-acre property that wraps around the horseshoe-shaped waterfront stretch of Back Bay Nature Preserve. The shoreline is dotted with event terraces, pavilions and gazebos, allowing planners to arrange formal dinners, casual barbecues, beach picnics and water sports activities. 

The Balboa Inn sits across the street from Balboa Pier and offers the 2,000-square-foot Siena Room for events with up to 120 guests and the Siena Grand Terrace, with ocean views.