St. Pete’s/Clearwater CVB hosted a top-notch site inspection for the entire S.I.S. staff for a two night, three day inspection that featured 4 fabulous, luxury hotels. We each went with our own ideas of what St. Petersburg and ClearwaterFlorida had to offer. In truth, we’ve never really used these destinations in our client proposals before – but we will now.
As I said, we each came with a pre-conceived idea of what to expect. Personally, I thought the area was host to geriatrics and snow-birders. As a child we used to frequent the area in our motor home quite a bit. But times were different then. The beaches were pristine, with little to no real hotel chains to boast of.
As we saw, times have definitely changed. St. Pete’s/Clearwater is now a bustling, extremely upscale destination boasting some of the industry’s top luxury hotels. Facing those same pristine wide beaches are some of the most beautiful resort hotels we’ve had the pleasure to visit. With soft white sands, gulls and pelicans wheeling overhead, and the warm Gulf coast surf lapping at my cold Canadian toes, I was blown away. I wasn’t the only one. All five of us kept commenting on how little we’d understood the beauty and benefits to bringing our corporate clients to this fabulous locale.
On arrival, we were met by Suzanne and Tina, our two escorts from CVB St. Pete’s/Clearwater, who drove us to our host hotel, The Sandpearl. From the moment we exited the cars, we were warmly welcomed by Sales Manager, Wendy. After a quick change and freshen up, we were escorted to meet Winter, the dolphin, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Just a short ride from the hotel, we were thrilled to meet the darling of the aquarium, Winter, and her friends. The personal tour presented by guide, John, filled us in on all the small details we might have missed otherwise, with heart-breaking stories of marine wildlife in desperate need of the aquarium’s services. This is no tourist “show”, but rather a real, working rescue, rehab and release facility. After the success of the movie, Dolphin Tale, Clearwater Marine Aquarium saw a tremendous influx of visitors, and much needed revenue.
On our return to The Sandpearl, Wendy guided us throughout the property for a full site inspection of this incredible hotel. Situated right on the ClearwaterBeach, the Sandpearl really showcases everything the St. Pete’s/Clearwater areas has become over the years. Her incredible ocean front views, stately elegance and excellent service were balms to the soul during the very humid August days we spent there. Dinner at the Sandpearl that evening was a special affair, with waiter, Chris, regaling us with information and stories throughout the spectacular meal.
On the agenda the following morning was breakfast at the Don CeSar, otherwise known as “The Pink Palace”. After a fabulous breakfast hosted by an array of “The Don’s” top sales staff, we were treated to a tour of this incredible hotel by Sales Manager, Terry. Located directly on St. Pete Beach’s, The Don comes with a long history of providing luxury accommodation – and even hints of ghostly residents who still walk her halls. Her signature pink exterior and Spanish architecture are mirrored inside by luxurious rooms with all the amenities. The grand ballroom was especially awe-inspiring with it’s signature sunken dance area with gleaming parquet hardwood flooring. Almost relegated to the past, Loews Hotel & Resorts invested millions of dollars in bringing this grand dame back to it’s current glory. As we toured her many fabulous meeting rooms and accommodations, again, we were reminded that this was no “old people’s” resort area.
Next came lunch at The Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Petersburg. Not just any lunch, this feast for the eyes and palate was a true treat by all, with the head chef introducing each course personally, making the meal a memorable experience. Nestled on the downtown waterfront, The Vinoy offers the best of both worlds. Although not beach front, this ultra luxurious hotel faces both the intercoastal waterway and bay-side marinas, with stunning day and night time views. Also the only hotel we toured that boasted it’s own private golf and
country club just a short ride away, the superior greens and amenities of the club were evident at every turn. After a return to The Vinoy to continue our tour to showcase her beauty and desirability as a resort and meeting venue, we were thrilled to take a two hour luxury catamaran trip out into the bay, where dolphins frolicked and chased the boat’s wake. Sales Manager, Ally, outdid herself in providing us with a perfect tour, providing all the small details to make this a truly memorable day.
Dinner that evening was a real treat. We were joined at The Parkshore Grill by David and D.T. of St. Pete’s/Clearwater CVB, as well as our guides, Suzanne and Tina for a fabulous meal of the highest quality. Treated to samples of some of the best cuisine they had to offer, we were again reminded of just how far this often overlooked area has come in the past few years. Upscale and trendy, the Parkshore Grill’s interior was a reflection of it’s good taste and great food.
Our final morning in the area was spent touring Clearwater’s Hyatt Regency. Following a wonderful buffet breakfast, we were pleased to visit the many rooms, meeting facilities and unparalleled spa of this very upscale, luxurious hotel. One of my personal favourites of this property was the 20 state-of-the-art, climate controlled cabanas bordering the pool. Much as we would have loved to have stayed and enjoyed the amenities the cabanas offered, time and travel plans dictated our day.
During a quick meeting, we all agreed the inspections had proven to be especially eye-opening and well worth the visit to Florida in the middle of August. Every one of us felt we had come away with a much clearer understanding of the benefits of promoting this upscale, trendy area on the Gulf Coast. Not only does it offer every possible amenity, but it’s geographical advantage of being within the U.S. is a definite plus for our American client groups who would rather not have to deal with passports. The shorter travel times, and the familiarity of an American based destination, with all the features and benefits of our most luxurious Carribean venues, will be appealing to both our Canadian and U.S. clientele, as they relax and indulge in this little known secret of the travel industry.