Florida Feels the Pinch as Conventions Pull Out

Skift Take

Florida is going to lose out on major conventions because of its controversial new laws. Many associations are no longer considering meeting in the Sunshine State.

Florida’s political climate and laws implemented by Gov. Ron DeSantis are negatively impacting meetings and conventions.  

Orlando, consistently ranked the top meeting destination in the U.S. by Cvent, is among the destinations impacted. The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) has moved its 2027 Global Surgical Conference & Expo from Orlando to Philadelphia. That means around 7,000 nurses and exhibitors will no longer be contributing to Orlando’s economy.

Fort Lauderdale Faces Multiple Cancellations

Fort Lauderdale just received its eighth meeting and convention cancellation in response to the political climate and travel advisories. The American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) was planning a Fort Lauderdale citywide convention for 2026. Approximately 4,500 room nights represent $3.25 million in room revenue. The total economic loss of approximately $8.1 million.

Visit Lauderdale was told that they lost ASTRA 2026 and any chance for a future year until the “unfriendly political environment in Florida” changes. “We have been working to book this group since September of 2019. Countless hours, two site visits, the convention center rethinking their bid, the Omni getting creative with their rate, losing it to politics is awful,” said Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of Visit Lauderdale. “We have also heard that many associations have completely taken Florida out of consideration because of the travel bans.”

ASTRA is just Visit Lauderdale’s latest cancellation. Other groups that have pulled out of Broward County include the Institute for Educational Leadership, scheduled to bring its 2024 National Family and Community Engagement and Community Schools Conference encompassing 2,433 rooms with an estimated economic impact of approximately $3 million.

Other groups that have canceled include the Church of God and Saints of Christ, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, the University of Southern Mississippi, 100 Black Men of America, and the Supreme Council of America Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite Masons.

State Laws Overshadow Citywide Efforts

“I am saddened but not surprised. You can’t marginalize and dehumanize groups of people and then expect them to spend their money here,” said Ritter. “It saddens me as we are a huge state with as many opinions as there are people,” said Ritter.

Diversity, equality, and inclusion have been a focus of the organization for years, with Ritter saying it is the first destination to have an LGBT+ dedicated department that has been in place since the nineties. “I am just numb at this point. We have worked really hard to be a welcoming destination, but the bigger picture is overshadowing that with some groups.”

Ritter discusses Florida’s travel advisories, and whether groups should boycott or not on our latest podcast.

Alternative Approaches

Some groups are doing their best to shed light on the issue of travel bans. The Florida Out Coast Convention (FLOCC) is launching in August as the first and only conference focused on the Florida LGBTQ tourism industry.

Fabstayz, often referred to as “the LGBTQ+ version of Airbnb,” has produced a series of videos shedding a positive light on Tampa Bay with drag queen flight attendants as the stars.”I pitched the idea last year as a way to show off the place I call home in a lighthearted, fun way,” said Robert Geller, FabStayz founder and Tampa Bay resident. “Not knowing how the political climate would shift in that year’s time, the project has taken on special meaning. Traveling safe and feeling welcome are not a given for the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, our team at FabStayz finds joy in highlighting welcoming, inclusive spaces around the globe and in our hometown.”