Tropical storm Arlene, the first of the Atlantic hurricane season, hit the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend, a stark reminder that the season, which began June 1, is already upon us. Despite forecasters’ predictions for another active hurricane season, meeting planners are taking some calculated risks and planning meetings in Florida during peak season.

Most of Florida’s travel and tourism infrastructure has recovered from the devastation caused by last year’s four storms, and tourism officials and hoteliers are reporting that bookings for the summer are strong. Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, is offering Cover Your Event Insurance, which offers planners free supplemental insurance coverage for meetings held in August, September, and October.

According to Visit Florida spokeswoman Vanessa Welter, planners had taken out $4.2 million in insurance (covering approximately 20 meetings) by the end of May. They can get the insurance if they guarantee a minimum of 100 room nights during a two-night period during those peak hurricane months. The coverage can reach up to $200,000 with a 500-room-night guarantee.

Welter said the program has proven so successful that Visit Florida has already committed to offer it again in 2006. “In doing our research, [we found that] meeting planners still want to come to Florida [during those peak hurricane months],” Walter says. “They said to us: ‘Make my meeting happen.’ And the news [about the Cover Your Event Insurance program] is definitely out there. “

Visit Florida is not alone in its efforts to attract meetings during peak hurricane season. Planners booking groups at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center during August and September who contract for a minimum of 600 hotel room nights will receive free meeting space rental at the convention center .

Situated between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, the year-old Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood made another smart marketing offer that planners are eating up. “We have over 2,000 room nights confirmed for September,” says Christopher Tompkins, director of sales. He offered to waive attrition and cancellation fees if an event had to cancel due to a hurricane, as long as the group rebooks and hosts the meeting within six months.