When it comes to convention hotels, a few things are key, especially the number of rooms, amount of meeting space and location.
In Jacksonville, those factors often lead groups to the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront.
A review of Duval County Tourist Development Council grants since November 2013 shows that groups booking conventions at the Hyatt have received 33 percent of the total public funds used to secure convention contracts. Of $424,950 distributed, groups using the Hyatt received $139,695.
The Hyatt was the hotel listed in 16 of the 23 grants based on guaranteed room nights approved by the Duval County Tourist Development Council in that period.
At the development council’s May 21 meeting, seven of the nine grants approved were for groups who booked the Hyatt for their functions.
It’s not a surprise that more conventions and group meetings are booked at the Hyatt than at any of the more than 150 other lodging providers in Duval County, said Visit Jacksonville National Account Manager Marcia Noon.
Visit Jacksonville is contracted by the development council to provide marketing and sales services to promote convention, corporate and leisure-based tourism.
When the decision is made to make Jacksonville their destination, groups that require a large number of guest rooms and expansive meeting space usually select the 963-room hotel that also has more than 100,000 square feet of flexible function space.
“You’re pretty much limited to the Hyatt,” Noon said.
While compact compared to Florida’s largest hotel – the 3,056-room Disney Port Orleans in Orlando – the Hyatt is by far the largest facility in Northeast Florida.
The No. 2 hotel in Duval County in terms of rooms is the Omni Hotel with 354, followed by the Wyndham Jacksonville Riverwalk Hotel with 323, the Crowne Plaza near Jacksonville International Airport with 317 and the 292-room Crowne Plaza Jacksonville Riverfront.
In terms of Downtown convention and business hotels, the Hyatt’s 963 guest rooms are equal to the Omni, Wyndham and Crowne Plaza inventory combined.
“When we are doing sales calls and we’re asked what is our largest hotel, a lot of groups are surprised,” said Noon.
The hotel at 225 Coastline Drive E. opened in 2001 as an Adam’s Mark. Since 2005, the Hyatt flag has flown in front of the building.
Gwen Knight is a Lincoln, Kan.-based certified meeting planner who works with Pioneer Network, a national nonprofit that booked its August 2012 annual meeting at the Hyatt.
The five-day convention brought about 1,000 people to Jacksonville who booked 750 rooms, she said.
“Associations and nonprofits are known for being space hogs,” said Knight.
“The Hyatt could provide all the guest rooms we needed and the meeting space is the best I’ve seen,” she said. “Our No. 1 priority is how well a hotel can fit our meeting needs.”
Another nonprofit, Prevent Child Abuse America, booked its national meeting in May at the Hyatt. That marked the fourth time the group has convened at the hotel, said the organization’s event planner, Robert Allen.
The group also has held its conventions in Orlando, Chicago, Dallas and San Diego.
The Hyatt’s location along the St. Johns River and within walking distance of the Jacksonville Landing are attractive, but the availability of enough guest rooms for more than 600 delegates and the ample space for vendor exhibits are what keep the group coming back to Jacksonville.
“Ideally, we like to have everything in one building,” said Allen
Knight agreed that being able to consolidate guest rooms and meeting and classroom space provides an advantage for the Hyatt.
She said in other cities, the group has booked accommodations at multiple hotels and rented convention space as well. That can be an advantage because the delegates have a choice of a full-service or a limited-service hotel which usually has a lower room rate.
In addition, the budget for a convention is increased when ground transportation for delegates must be arranged between hotels and meeting space.
“The added cost and inconvenience of having to rent the convention center made Hyatt the choice,” said Knight.
Cost aside, meeting planners like to keep operations as simple as possible.
“Large groups like to house everything under one roof. That makes it easier to plan logistics,” said Noon.
The Hyatt brand has an international reputation that can give it the edge in Jacksonville as it does in other cities and the hotel’s Downtown location also is an asset.
“Hyatt is a convention and group brand. We look for planners that have placed events at Hyatts,” Noon said. “It’s also within a 15-minute drive from the airport.”