Kissimmee lies at the doorstep of Walt Disney World and just minutes away from downtown Orlando, but this city has come into its own. Touted as a “destination within a destination,” the mix of attractions, sophisticated resorts and outstanding hospitality has put it on the radar of meeting planners. Blue skies, swaying palm trees and year-round warm temperatures help round out the destination’s appeal.
Given Kissimmee’s central Florida location, ecotourism and outdoor adventure take center stage. Attractions such as zip lining, airboat swamp tours and balloon rides entice the local-drive market as well as visitors from across the nation. Dinner theaters, excellent shopping and spas offer additional diversions. And Kissimmee’s championship golf courses showcase fairways and greens designed by a who’s-who list of golf legends.
“With all that we offer, Kissimmee is an excellent attendance-building destination,” said Tracy Ward, vice president of sales for Experience Kissimmee. “We find that attendance is up when a conference is booked here, and attendees often build in a few days before or afterward to take advantage of our wide variety of activities.”
Outside gatherings are the norm rather than the exception in the Kissimmee area. Day or night, Gatorland’s 100 acres offers behind-the-scenes tours, three live shows and zip lining over alligators and crocodiles. Tiki torches light the park’s decks and patios for nighttime receptions that range from black tie to barbecue.
At Wild Florida Airboat and Wildlife Park, up to 300 guests can hop on airboat tours that travel deep into Florida wetlands. Visitors can stroll boardwalks through the wildlife park, experience the interactive bird aviary or watch live alligator demonstrations. New this year, swamp buggy rides explore one of Florida’s oldest working cattle ranches and recount the history of central Florida’s cattle industry. The park’s scavenger hunt builds teamwork and interaction skills. On-site dining features the chef’s barbecue specialties, and dining takes place in the 2,200-square-foot Cypress Ballroom or at the outside pavilion that seats approximately 100 and overlooks the swamp.
“This park sits on Lake Cypress just 30 minutes east of downtown Kissimmee, and it’s really our jewel where groups can connect with nature,” said Ward. “We hold numerous events there, and all the structures are brand new.”
Team building is a natural at Forever Florida Ziplines and Adventures in the Wild, which accommodates groups of up to 300. Attendees can step off a seven-story tower, cheer and support one another while flying over the treetops on a zip-line tour or enjoy a coach adventure through the wetlands and swamp. Horseback outings provide a more leisurely pace as they take riders into the wildlife conservation area. For dining, the Cypress Restaurant serves American fare.
Planners who want a laid-back team-building pursuit should check out Orlando Balloon Rides. This company takes passengers up in the world’s largest hot-air balloon, which holds up to 24 people. Its fleet of smaller balloons can each take up to 16 passengers.
Experience Kissimmee also invites planners to consider corporate social responsibility opportunities. These programs encourage folks to step out of the meeting room and volunteer at organizations such as Heavenly Hoofs, which provides therapeutic horse rides to children and adults with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities. Volunteers can take part in grounds and barn maintenance, as well as participate in grooming horses. Groups can also partner with Give Kids the World, a Kissimmee resort where families with children battling life-threatening illnesses stay while visiting the theme parks. Opportunities include fundraising during the conference or volunteering for a Day of Inspiration at the resort.
Service Par Excellence
Experience Kissimmee specializes in coming alongside meeting planners in a variety of ways.
“Central Florida sees 6 million visitors annually, so we’re absolutely in tune with customer service and visitation in general,” said Ward. “We’re all about outstanding service pre, post and during a conference — and we do it well.”
The city’s incentive program, It Pays to Meet in Kissimmee, offers rewards of up to $4,100 per completed meeting, with even larger rewards available for multiyear contracts. Many times the package can make the difference as to whether groups can hold the meeting and what they can afford to offer.
“To further boost attendance, we’ll send an Experience Kissimmee representative to the prior year’s conference to give a presentation promoting the upcoming Kissimmee conference,” said Ward.
After the conference is booked, an entire services department helps planners determine what their particular group needs, from off-site venues and registration to team building and fun activities. Custom landing pages help meeting planners drive attendance. At the conference, an on-site information desk and welcome bags can be provided.
“We offer one-stop shopping for planners,” said meeting and convention sales manager Jadeine Shives for Experience Kissimmee. “For example, one meeting required hotel rooms, a parade route and competition space, so we helped that group find the best location to accommodate their multifaceted program.”