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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Panama City Beach to Host Innovative Small Market Meetings Summit

The new Small Market Meetings Summit, a boutique version of the popular Small Market Meetings Conference, will be held May 12-13 in Panama City Beach, Florida.

The summit is limited to just 25 select meeting planners who will sit down with people from 25 different destinations in a focused day of business-planning sessions. The difference is that the meetings will feature up to three participants from a destination city or region that are hoping to win the business of the meeting planners. The three together can more effectively sell their city to the planner. The meetings will be 12 minutes long, twice the length of a usual marketplace appointment.

“How exciting for all of the CVBs, convention centers and hotels to partner up and really showcase what their cities have to offer,” said Jennifer Ferguson, general manager The Group Travel Family, the company that organizes and stages the Summit. “This is what makes the Summit stand out from all the rest.

“This condensed format is designed to push the sales process forward. Sitting down with three destination representatives will save meeting planners time and help them get many more answers to questions than in a shorter one-on-one meeting. Planners will come away with a better understanding and more information about a city in order to decide on whether to book meetings there. The summit’s length saves everyone time.

“This is a great opportunity for CVBs, conventions centers and hotels to work together with the meeting planners,” said Ferguson. “We have limited the summit to a day and a half so our industry partners don’t have to take as much time out of the office and everyone gets more work done.”

The theme of the summit is highlighting the nation’s second- and third-tier cities that can offer just as fine a meeting experience as any big city. For example, if a meeting were to be held in Panama City Beach, Florida, participants can expect to be treated differently than they would be treated in a major city, where they might be considered only a small fish in a large pond.

Meeting planners were notified that they would be allowed to register for either the Small Market Meetings Summit in May in Panama City Beach or the Small Market Meetings Conference in September in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but not both.

Summit Format

The Small Market Meetings Summit begins on Wednesday afternoon, May 12, with registration at the beautiful Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf and Spa Resort on St. Andrews Bay, which is rated a AAA Four Diamond property. The resort, with 320 rooms, is the official hotel and meeting venue for the summit. At check-in, planners will get to meet the staff that will be taking care of them over the two days of the summit.

Later that evening, a fabulous dinner will be provided to delegates by the host city, Panama City Beach, and its local convention and visitors bureau.

“We hope to host it outside in our lovely weather,” said Renee Wuerdeman, vice president of sales for Visit Panama City Beach, the local CVB. “May is beautiful here, a perfect month to visit us.”

The next morning, delegates will be served breakfast in one of the Sheraton ballrooms. Then it will be time for the keynote speaker, a motivational guy if there ever was one, to take the stage. Author and corporate trainer Johnny Campbell will grab everyone’s attention. Campbell likes to call himself the Transition Man because he helps people embrace change, and many people are uncomfortable with that. He helps his audience members gain the clarity, confidence and sense of certainty needed to manage change.

Campbell will help answer three key questions: First, how do you embrace change? Then, how do you transition through that change? And finally, how do you profit from the change? Campbell will deliver a fast-paced, energetic talk full of humor but with plenty of solid takeaways for audience members.

Then it will be time for the summit’s morning marketplace session, where the meeting planners will sit in a pod with three travel industry representatives and hash out the pros and cons of whether the planners should bring their meeting or conference to that city.

Lunch will be sponsored by the city that will host the 2022 Small Market Meetings Summit: Fort Worth, Texas. After lunch, it is back to work at the afternoon marketplace session. Once that session ends, the fast-paced summit will be concluded. All those contacts have been made, discussions held and information exchanged in just one full day of work.

“In short, Summit will be a very concentrated effort and a great opportunity for CVBs and their industry partners to be a united resource for meeting planners,” said Ferguson.

Pre-Summit Site Inspection

A couple of days before the summit begins, the Visit Panama City CVB will conduct a site inspection tour of the area with some interesting stops that meeting planners will want to know more about.

“We will gather up participants on the Monday of Summit week and get the whole group out on a wonderful dolphin cruise,” said the CVB’s Wuerdeman. Those along for the cruise will get to enjoy the setting sun and delightful views of water, sand and shorelines. “We will be sure to mechanically program the dolphins so that they show up right on time and in the perfect location for the boat ride,” she said, jokingly.

Then, the next day, Tuesday, the tour will begin; it will include visits to several outstanding local hotels and lunch at a great restaurant that the meeting planners can use for an off-site activity for their meeting attendees should they book a meeting in Panama City Beach. After the meal, the group will take a more extensive tour of the area that will end with dinner at another local restaurant with private dining rooms that planners can use with their groups.

“In addition, we are working very hard to create experiences for meetings that relate to nature and conservation, which are popular pursuits now,” said Wuerdeman. “We believe that that will appeal to all demographics. We are doing activities on the shore and on trails in our state parks with games and challenges for people to try. We also bring in experts to give special talks.”

Glad To Have You

Visit Panama City essentially chased after the Group Travel Family to book the Small Market Meetings Summit, not the other way around. The CVB’s Wuerdeman said her agency wants to build its meetings portfolio and likes the clientele that the Small Market Meetings Conference and Summit attract.

“The meeting planners and the markets they represent at those meetings are perfect for our destination,” said Wuerdeman. “We want a bigger share of that meetings market. The Summit is a new conference, and we wanted it here because we knew planners would be given an education about Panama City Beach.”

The CVB said Small Market Meetings is right in its wheelhouse and brings in the perfect number of delegates, 100 to 250, for a city this size.

“We love regional meetings, and we are trying to attract more of them, but we also want to draw meetings from all over the Southeast,” Wuerdeman said.

PCB Highlights

It’s easy to drive to Panama City Beach. Many visitors come from nearby Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport is convenient, quite easy to get into and out of, and just 18 miles from Panama City Beach. The area enjoys an average of 320 sunny days per year, a welcome treat for those living in harsher weather conditions.

Panama City Beach features a retro, laid-back atmosphere. It does not pretend to compete with glitzy Miami far to the south or with Orlando with its huge theme parks and attractions, or even with Florida’s east- and west-coast cities. Its emphasis is on simple pleasures, with as much action or as little of it as visitors want.

Panama City Beach and surrounding Bay County offer 18,000 guest rooms that can be found in many types of rental situations: resorts, hotels, villas, condos, townhomes and bed-and-breakfasts. Meeting planners can find what they want all within their budgets.

Some other prime meeting facilities in Panama City Beach are the Boardwalk Beach Resort and Convention Center, the Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort and Laketown Wharf. The area sees an extensive number of social, military, educational, religious and fraternal group meetings. The CVB staff can help planners find just the right combination of meeting, sleeping, eating and recreation spots for their groups.

Dan Dickson

Dan has been a communicator all his professional life, first as an award-winning radio and TV news reporter for two decades and then as a communications director for several non-profits for another decade. He has contributed to The Group Travel Leader Inc. publications since 2007.