Courtesy Visit Jacksonville
Each year, the Small Market Meetings Conference puts a smaller city in the spotlight. This year’s conference host, Jacksonville, Fla., has been in the national limelight in the past, proving its mettle when it successfully hosted the Super Bowl in 2005.
The SMM Conference, Oct. 28-30, at the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, gives the city a chance to shine for an influential group of meeting planners.
Dennis Tracy, senior vice president, destination sales and marketing for Visit Jacksonville, believes his city will surprise many.
“We’re the first stop in Florida, here in the northeast corner,” Tracy said. “This city feels as Southern as it does Floridian.
“During their three days in downtown Jacksonville, meeting planners will get a first-hand understanding of why the city works well for smaller meetings and conventions,” said Tracy. “They’ll take the 20-minute ride from our airport, or, if they are driving, they’ll see how convenient we are, just off I-95 and I-40.”
“They’ll also see how their attendees can easily combine several days of business meetings downtown with a day or two on our 18 miles of beaches, a short drive away.”
In Jacksonville’s skyscraper studded downtown, palm trees commingle with moss-draped live oaks, including the Treaty Oak, a 250-year-old specimen that stands tall in a public park on the city’s South Bank.
Adding much to the city’s physical allure is the St. John’s River, which splits downtown north and south. The winding river has wrought seven bridges — each painted a different color — to link the city’s two sides. It makes for a comfortable downtown.
“As soon as attendees step out of the Hyatt, they will realize that Jacksonville is a city geared to pedestrians,” Tracy said. “Our Riverwalk is a street away; within five blocks they’ll find more than 30 restaurants. Our museums and 11 art galleries are also within walking distance, not to mention some of the public parks and green spaces — part of our 100,000-acre park system.
“We’re a more affordable Florida,” Tracy said. “Groups that might not be able to afford Orlando or Miami but want the Florida experience find meeting in Jacksonville an attractive alternative. And, if they want to go to Orlando after the meeting, it is only 2.5 hours away.”
One’s an island resort; the other is America’s oldest town. On a two-day, post-conference familiarization trip, meeting planners from the Small Market Meetings Conference will have the chance to see both.
Following Tuesday’s closing lunch, planners can board a bus for Amelia Island, Fla., 45 minutes northeast of Jacksonville, where they will be the guests of the oceanfront Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. During an overnight stay, planners will tour the AAA Five Diamond property and see the results of a five-year renovation and expansion.
Wednesday’s schedule includes a tour of Amelia Island, voted No. 5 among North American Islands by readers of Conde Nast Traveler, followed by a trip 90 minutes south to St. Augustine. There, the group will be guests of the Casa Monica Hotel, a AAA Four Diamond hotel. They’ll tour the historic property, have a reception and dinner in St. Augustine and return to the hotel for dessert. Thursday morning, after trolley tours of the historic city, planners head for home.
For more information about the post-conference tour, contact Nicole Trueblood at the Jacksonville CVB, firstname.lastname@example.org or 904-421-9182.