Suppliers Declare 2023 Florida Huddle a Great Success

L TO R: Sue Webb, VOX International; Terry, Vander Linden, Alberta Motor Association; Madeleine Brydon, WestJet Vacations; Colin Rusch, Goway Travel; Elvira Speziale, Sunwing Vacations; Kristin Bell, Sunwing Vacations; Audrey Tanguay Beaudette, Air Canada. JIM BYERS PHOTO

More than 660 registered attendees. Nearly 7,000 appointments. And great reviews from all corners.

Florida Huddle wrapped up Saturday 04FEB in West Palm Beach after two days of intensive trade talks aimed at bumping up visits to the Sunshine State. Suppliers shared with Open Jaw how the Florida Huddle helps business.

Air Canada

One of the Canadian attendees was Audrey Tanguay Beaudette, Manager- Sales & Tourism Partnerships at Air Canada. “My first Huddle was in 2022, when it took place in Tampa Bay. Alongside another airline, I believe we were the only Canadians that attended and so, it’s great to see a bigger Canadian delegation this year,” she said.

“Some of the international markets attending this year were not able to travel at the same time last year, so the attendance in terms of buyers in 2023 is definitely bigger. I had really good meetings and look forward to working closely with the Florida partners in the coming year.

“Florida is an important market for Air Canada and our new Vancouver-Miami flight speaks to that,” Tanguay Beaudette added. “This flight was initially supposed to be seasonal and given the demand, quickly transitioned into a year-around flight. We are really happy to be connecting Western Canada with Florida and hopefully, this opens up other opportunities for the future.”

Alberta Motor Association

“It’s my first Huddle,” said Terry Vander Linden, Product Marketing Manager, Alberta Motor Association. “I like the flow. I like the format. The pace seems really good. It’s a smaller footprint than IPW (the U.S. Travel show), so I like that.”

Vander Linden said he made of connections with a variety of Florida travel and tourism professionals this week.

“Florida is always one of our top states. A lot of Albertans come for the theme parks and for cruises. I’m trying to get them to stay a couple days and explore other areas.”

David Whitaker, President and CEO, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and Lauren Pace, Director of Global Marketing and Trade, VISIT FLORIDA. JIM BYERS PHOTO

WestJet Vacations

Madeleine Brydon, Portfolio Manager North America, WestJet Vacations, said she had a good couple of days in The Palm Beaches, famous for hotels such as The Breakers, as well for beaches, shopping and world-class cultural institutions like the Norton Museum of Art.

“The vibe was slightly different than previous years but so much of our environment has changed,” Brydon said. “Something that hasn’t changed is the quality, pace and in-valuable in person meetings. Having the exclusivity with Florida partners is an absolute benefit, especially as Florida is a leading USA destination for Canadian travellers.

“The meetings were productive and well timed and often reflected some key elements to our continued success, collaboration, transparency and the power of partnerships,” she said.

Visit Florida: "Thrilled"

Brett Laiken, Vice President Marketing for VISIT FLORIDA, told Open Jaw he’s “thrilled” to see Canadian visits rebound so strongly.

State tourism officials last week revealed that Canadian visits to the Sunshine State in the fourth quarter of 2022 were just 4.5 per cent below the numbers for the same period in 2019.

“Visits from Canada in 2022 were up more than 500% from 2021,” Laiken said. “There are 15 new flights from Canada to Florida. In fact, one in five flights from Canada to the U.S., 21.8 per cent in all, are to the state of Florida.”

Laiken said having Air Canada fly non-stop from Vancouver to Miami on a year-round basis is “huge” for Florida tourism.

A Brightline Train at Miami Station. JIM BYERS PHOTO

“Miami is a great city, but it’s also a jumping off point for visits to the Florida Keys, The Everglades, and Naples. You can hop on the Brightline train in Miami and be in Palm Beach in a little more than an hour, and this year they’re extending the train to Orlando International Airport.”

Sidebar: Riding the New Brightline Train

Your Open Jaw correspondent last week flew from YYZ to MIA and then caught a cab (about $30 USD) to the Brightline station in downtown Miami. It’s clean and bright, and there’s free Wi-Fi. I was in Smart Class (economy) and had a comfortable seat with big windows. You don’t see a lot, but it beats the heck out of fighting traffic on Interstate 95, and it took only an hour and five minutes.

The West Palm Beach Brightline station is right downtown and within walking distance of major hotels. The city has a free, electric tram that takes people to the most popular areas, so I grabbed that for my ride to the Canopy by Hilton West Palm Beach, a vibrant hotel with a rooftop bar and pool. Later I switched to the convention hotel, the Hilton West Palm Beach, which has a beautiful, resort-stule pool and very good food. It’s also connected to the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

Brightline tickets between Miami and West Palm Beach are $15 USD one-way in Smart Class, and $37 in premium. Both have Free-WiFi and charging stations on board. Premium provides free snacks, free beverages (alcoholic and otherwise), premium lounge access, priority boarding, extra seat space, a free ride share to and from the station (within a five-mile radius).

Florida Huddle 2024

VISIT FLORIDA announced on 04FEB that Florida Huddle 2024 will be held in Miami from July 29-31, which marks a departure from the usual winter dates.

David Whitaker, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (and one-time head at what was then called Tourism Toronto) said his city is “one of the most exciting destinations in the U.S., if not the world.”

Jim Byers

Jim Byers is a freelance travel writer based in Toronto. He was formerly travel editor at the Toronto Star and now writes for a variety of publications in Canada and around the world. He's also a regular guest on CBC, CTV News, Global News and other television and radio networks.

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