“We are blessed and delighted to have RCMA back in 2011,” says Norwood Smith, vice president of sales, Tampa Bay & Company. “The last time RCMA was here was in 2002, just a few months after 9/11. They really were saviors,” at a time when meetings business and travel had come to a standstill, he explains.

“In the wake of having RCMA here in 2002 we were able to track 175,000 definite room nights booked from that event,” Smith says. “So the Tampa hospitality industry will always have a sweet spot for RCMA.”

Smith adds that Tampa has undergone a major transformation since RCMA's last visit. “In fact, if you haven't been to Tampa in the last year,” Smith says, “you haven't been to Tampa.”

Just in the last three months, for example, Tampa has opened three museums along the newly developed Riverwalk, which encompasses four new parks and links the convention center “with everything a delegate would want to do,” Smith says. A new 360-suite Embassy Suites hotel connects to the convention center. And the city's streetcar route has been extended to connect all the main hotels, the convention center, and the 20,000-seat arena. One of the fastest growing areas of the city has been Channelside Tampa, a downtown entertainment complex teeming with shops and restaurants.

As Smith points out, “Tampa has everything people come to Florida for — theme parks, nightlife, and beaches.” It has plenty that appeals to religious conference planners, too: a good selection of low-fare carriers at Tampa International; 1,800 committable hotel rooms within walking distance of the convention center; and 200,000 square feet of exhibit space at the waterside convention center, considered one of the most attractive in the country. Attendees can hop a water taxi or a street car from the convention center, or they can stroll through the Riverwalk to get to their hotels or to downtown attractions.

To this list Smith adds, “One thing we do really well is we have an aggressive delegate-awareness program. When groups come here they feel warmly welcomed by the whole community. There'll be signage at the airport and around town. This kind of welcome makes a big difference, especially to the religious market.”

New this Year

Tampa Bay History Center

Journey through 12,000 years of powerful stories. Stroll through a 1920s cigar store. Row up the Hillsborough River. Ride along with a cattle drive.

Tampa Museum of Art

The museum provides the region with world-class traveling exhibitions, a growing collection of contemporary and classical art, and expanded educational programs for all ages.

Glazer Children's Museum

Designed to inspire children and families by creating learning opportunities around innovative play and discovery, the 53,000-square-foot museum, which opened September 25, 2010, offers a combination of permanent and traveling exhibits, comprehensive programs, and special events.

Tampa Travel Tips

GETTING THERE: Tampa International Airport is seven miles west of downtown Tampa and the Tampa Convention Center. With 560 flights a day and 26 carriers, the airport offers nonstop air service from more than 68 cities.

GETTING AROUND DOWNTOWN: The In Town Trolley, a rubber-tired, historic trolley, connects downtown hotels to the Tampa Convention Center and the TECO Line Streetcar System. It operates daily and provides an additional connection (besides bus service) between downtown and local dining, shopping, and entertainment destinations.

The TECO Line Streetcar System is a 2.4-mile fixed-rail system that connects downtown Tampa, the Channelside entertainment district, and historic Ybor City. Stops include the St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa Convention Center, the Shops at Channelside Bay Plaza, Port of Tampa, the Florida Aquarium, and Ybor City.

CONVENTION CENTER PROFILE: Set along the downtown waterfront, this 600,000-square-foot building features large windows that allow the sun to permeate indoors. The center has 36 breakout rooms and more than 2,000 square feet of waterfront views. Breakout areas literally break out onto patios for outdoor dining and function space. The Riverwalk and adjacent park provide additional outdoor venues for events.

HOTELS: Hotels within walking distance of the Tampa Convention Center include Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, Embassy Suites, Westin Tampa Harbour Island, Hyatt Regency, and Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk.

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