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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Florida: Sarasota is quite a catch on the West Coast

By Vickie Mitchell and Steve Winston
Courtesy Sarasota and Her Islands


The Baltimore Orioles set up spring training camp in Sarasota this year, a development that prompted the Sarasota CVB to take a swing at the club’s hometown and meeting business that might be lured from there to the Gulf Coast.

The Orioles moved to Sarasota this spring after the Cincinnati Reds moved its spring training camp from Sarasota to Arizona.

“I took four hotels [reps] with me, and we hosted meeting planners at a Baltimore Orioles and a Washington Nationals game this year to tie in baseball and business,” said Kelly Defebo, sales manager for the Sarasota CVB. “A lot more of our hotels are making trips to Baltimore and Washington.”

It’s a strategic move, bolstered by the advent of nonstop service from Sarasota to Baltimore on AirTran Airways. U.S. Air offers nonstop flights to Washington, D.C.

Sarasota is likely to appeal to smaller association and corporate meetings. Its three main downtown hotels form a triangle, with the 294-room Hyatt Regency Sarasota and the 266-room Ritz-Carlton Sarasota in a marina setting on Sarasota Bay and the 95-room Hotel Indigo Sarasota across the street. Together, the hotels have 41,100 square feet of meeting space, with just over half of that at the Hyatt.

Having three high-profile hotels so close together in an attractive setting can make it easier to sway meeting planners set on having a group under one roof, according to Defebo.

Groups meeting in any of the three hotels can walk to restaurants, shopping and entertainment in a revitalized downtown that is marching along despite the down economy.

“We have new restaurants opening in the midst of others closing,” said Defebo. “Despite the bad economy, you can never find a parking place down there. The area offers a nice nightlife for those staying in the hotel.”

There’s at least one event venue within walking distance of the hotel triangle: G.Wiz, the Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone. Like the hotels, G.Wiz is on the bay, and it offers event spaces that include two galleries, a bayfront promenade and lawn, meeting rooms, classrooms and an auditorium.

Other venues are a short drive away. Best known is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida.

The name doesn’t do justice to the 66-acre complex. In addition to the art museum, packed with the massive works of Old Masters, there are three other venues: Ca d’Zan, the golden bayfront home of the Ringlings; the Circus Museum; and the Tibbals Learning Center, home to the world’s largest miniature circus.

“You can easily create four totally different events on one property,” said Defebo.

Other popular choices are dinners next to shark tanks at the Mote Marine Laboratory, a private marine research facility, and a historic bayside mansion at the Selby Botanical Gardens. The mansion is empty, so “it can be transformed to whatever you want: seminars during the day, receptions at night,” said Defebo.

Although there are few new developments in the area, several existing properties in the area are being made over. Recently announced is a major overhaul of the Longboat Key Club, a AAA Four Diamond resort with 45 holes of golf, its own marina and more than 10,000 square feet of meeting and event space.