Full disclosure: I got married here 35 years ago, so for me, it’s always been special. In my freshman geology class at Baylor U, I spotted a blond beauty across the 100-student class and then spent the next three weeks trying to bump into her at the exit door, accidentally, of course. When we finally spoke, she said, “I’m from Clearwater.” The name sounded magical. Three years later, she said, “I do,” and we visited those white sands and clear waters over 40 times.
Back to Domestic Incentive Trips and Corporate Meeting Planning…
While Clearwater won numerous “best beach” awards for its powdery white sands, it lacked incentive-quality hotels for many years. It was fabulous for leisure travel and family vacations, but not worthy of corporate groups.
Well, that’s changed like a fried grouper sandwich! The analogy makes little sense, but I do highly recommend the fried grouper sandwich at Frenchy’s.
New Incentive Hotels
Recent revitalization projects have produced a bunch of top-notch, incentive-quality hotels. The new resorts are fantastic values too, especially compared to South Florida that gets most of the attention, while the Clearwater – St. Petersburg – Tampa area often gets overlooked.
The beach was named #1 in the USA by TripAdvisor. To help stretch incentive budgets, the area has lots of walkable shops, restaurants, a marina, and an aquarium that’s home to Winter the dolphin from the family film, Dolphin Tale. It’s a quick 25-minute drive from Tampa airport, which has great lift and easy in/out access, making Clearwater a super fit for a short duration, domestic incentive trip.
Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach Resort
With its opening in 2017, Wyndham is the newest hotel, overlooking the beach and Gulf of Mexico. In most RFPs, it should be the bargain too. Most meeting planners view Wyndham as a 3-star option, but “Grand” indicates their most distinguished hotels of nicer, 4-star quality or better. We managed a 3-day incentive trip in January 2018. The staff was excellent, and the sleeping rooms were new and beautiful. Supposedly, it has the largest ballroom on the beach, and its elevated ballroom overlooks the beach, which made breaks enjoyable. 343 rooms.
Opal Sands is the next newest resort – opening in 2016. With a modern design, the contemporary resort reminds me of a Hyatt or Westin. All sleeping rooms offer views of the Gulf of Mexico, so your winners will not be arguing about who has the better room. The Sands is right on the white sand (whereas Wyndham and Hyatt are across the newly landscaped beach walk). However, her section of the beach is pretty small and ties into the public beach, but she has a striking, gulf front, zero-entry pool. 230 rooms.
Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach
In 2008, the city of Clearwater made zoning changes to recruit high caliber hotels and replace aging motels and condos. Hyatt Regency was the anchor property for the Beach Walk redevelopment, opening in 2010. Beach hotels here can age quickly from the salty air, sandy feet, and high occupancy. To Hyatt’s credit, they have done an excellent job reinvesting into the property with multi-million dollar renovations to keep pace with the newer openings. 287 rooms.
The shift to high-end resorts began in 2007 with the opening of Opal Sands’ sister hotel, the Sandpearl Resort, part of the Preferred Hotels Luxury collection. The personal favorite of my Baylor beauty, not just in Clearwater, but across the US48. Sandpearl is a solid 4.5-star resort with a Ritz-Carlton vibe. Awards include Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards 2017 list and Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2017 list. 253 rooms.
While Miami, Palm Beach, Naples and Amelia Island beaches are more familiar to meeting planners, I recommend you dip your toes in Clearwater. You will understand why I fell in love here.
If you’re looking for more bright ideas for domestic incentive trips, head over to our incentive travel page for more info.
“For many years, Clearwater won best beach awards for its powdery white sands, but incentive quality hotels were lacking,” May says. “Recent revitalization projects have produced many excellent group hotels including the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach, Sandpearl Resort, the Opal Sands Resort, Clearwater Beach, which opened 2016, and the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, which opened 2017.”
Incentive Magazine quoting Mike May