Salmon with merlot omniSpring is within striking distance, contrary to vicious storms still harassing the U.S and abroad. Here in Florida, where I am based, blue skies, light breezes and temperate weather in the 80s draw crowds to art shows, the beach, sports fields, and barbeques. Just like the colourful flowers and vegetables bursting from awakened shoots, people are eager to break from indoor venues and unwelcome routines to greet Spring with renewed vigor. Corporate clients and leisure travellers are ready to be enticed by exciting offers, and boy, are destinations, resorts and venues ready to deliver. Here’s just a sampling of what’s coming.

Omni Hotels Wine & Resorts Wine about their new partnership and property

Omni Hotels & Resorts just gave me another reason not to care if it’s 5 pm somewhere in the world as an excuse for imbibing in a hearty glass of fruit of the grapevine.

Their culinary series, “Flavors of the World” turns its Spring spotlight on the wines of Washington State, thanks to a new partnership with the Washington State Wine Commission. The promotion, running through May 31, pairs 10 Washington State wines (in 6 and 9-oz pours) with specialties of the state, such as artisan Washington Cheeses served with fig jam, honey and olives, Dungeness crab fritters, Dungeness crab and snap pea soup, apple and fennel salad, roasted salmon served with wild Mushrooms, and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. Omni food and beverage professionals sacrificed their time and taste buds in February to crisscross 50,000 acres of Washington State vineyards, sampling the best of what 20 participating wineries have to offer. Each local Omni property will select 10 wines to feature. Many of these wines are labels we frequently purchase, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle, Hogue Cellars, Columbia Crest, and Charles Smith Wines. Omni’s “Taste Washington” package includes an extra taste of the region with a Washington cheese plate, Washington bottle of wine and Washington apple delivered in-room upon check-in. My husband and I will visit The Omni Orlando Golf Resort at ChampionsGate to personally sample as many of the Washington State wines and pairings as possible, but don’t wait for us… go ahead and check out the closest venue to you.

In past years, the Flavors of the World campaign has focused on the wines of Italy, Argentina, Spain and France. Washington State was picked this year because the region is actually the No. 2 premium wine grape grower in the U.S.

crab & snap pea soup - omniFeatured Chef for the “Taste Washington” promotion is Executive Chef John Brand of the Omni La Mansión del Rio. He says he chose these pairings because the dishes have simple, clean and honest flavors that support the winemaker’s craftsmanship and artisan techniques. His favourite pairing is the salmon with mushrooms and the merlot sauce.  “Salmon is one of our super foods and although this specific item does not come from Washington State, the sauce does.  I would like to think that when the Washington Salmon season starts, we will switch to a Pacific variety but for right now, the focus is on the sauce,” says Brand.  “The mushrooms pair well with the salmon and give a it a great meaty feel while still being healthy, a sort of seductive nutrition.  I like all the dishes on the menu and I would order them all, salmon just tends to be my current favourite.” http://tastewashington.org; www.washingtonwine.org; www.omnihotels.com; 1-800-The-Omni.

You might have to wait for three years before the doors open, but if you happen to be in Louisville, KY in 2017 you can be among the first to visit the Omni’s newest luxury property, The Omni Louisville Hotel, a 600 room, four-diamond convention hotel on the old Water Company Block at Third and Liberty streets. The hotel will have 70,000 sf of meeting space, a spa, fitness center, two full-service restaurants, rooftop pool-side café, street level retail venue and a lobby lounge. The property will be joined by a downtown grocery, retail shops and 200 apartments as part of a $261 million downtown development plan. Construction on the hotel begins in 2015. “This investment will be a catalyst for more convention activity, while bringing more out-of-state visitors to Kentucky,” said Gov. Steve Beshear. “By leveraging the Kentucky International Convention Center and Louisville’s dynamic downtown, the plans for the project will bring added excitement and events to Louisville. It’s these types of public/private partnerships that help make Kentucky the ideal place to conduct business and share ideas.”

The Omni Louisville Hotel is the company’s first property in Kentucky. In addition to the hotel’s meeting space, meeting planners will have access to 300,000 sf of meeting and exhibit space at the Kentucky International Convention Center. www.omnihotels.com; 1-800-The-Omni.

 Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa Transforms

The largest full-service beachfront resort on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast prettied herself up with a four-month, $12.5 million renovation of the lobby and public space, Sandcastles Restaurant and Lounge, Hadashi Sushi Bar, Spa Tower guestrooms, and the award-winning Serenity by the sea Spa. Last year, Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa renovated its 32,000 sf of meeting space. The multiyear, $30 million transformation includes new floor-to-ceiling lobby views of Florida’s Emerald Coast. An additional 3,600 sf of public space was added to the Gulf side of the resort. Sandcastles Restaurant nearly doubled in size, with seating for an additional 126. A new private dining space has been created. Both Sandcastles Lounge and the Hadashi Sushi Bar were expanded. The hotel’s Spa Tower now houses 202 guestrooms, including two Presidential Suites with custom furniture, hard wood floors, double balconies, marble baths and steam showers. The hotel’s exterior was also renovated, including replacing the original porte-cochere with a contemporary, sunlit, pergola-style overhang. Also new: a two-level, 160-space valet parking deck, which frees up space in the main garage for self-parking guests. HiltonSandestinBeach.com; 850-267-9500.

Planning ahead: Technology and Marketing Initiatives

More than 570,000 Chinese visitors explored Los Angeles in 2013, a 21% increase over the year prior. As a direct response to China being Los Angeles’ #1overseas tourism market, the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board (LA Tourism) announced the launch of “NiHao China,” an innovative, multi-pronged marketing strategy to maximize Chinese tourist visitation. “When I met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last spring in China, he told me that he expects 200 million Chinese travelers to depart on international trips by 2020, and that the Los Angeles – China relationship was the way of the future,” said Ernest Wooden Jr, President and CEO of LA Tourism. LA’s “NiHao China” programs include: The NiHao China Training Program, Tour Guide Taining & Certification, shopLA; helloLA; and a direct marketing campaign in China. The training program is custom designed to assist Los Angeles-area hotels, attractions and other tourism industry businesses best meet the cultural preferences of Chinese visitors. Upon completion of a series of seminars, businesses receive a certification from LA Tourism and the China National Tourism Administration to do business with Chinese travel companies. The tour guide training and curricula is geared towards those who guide Chinese visitors. The guides all speak Chinese. www.discoverLosAngeles.com/MeetLA.

I am often asked by meeting planners to keep them informed of new technology to enhance their events. If your group’s event consists of a raucous band playing danceable beats in a crowded darkened room, you might want to take it up a notch with this latest gadget, Synchronized Light Bracelets by Wizard Studios Global. These branded nylon wristbands can be programmed remotely to light up at any time and then flash in sync with the music. This cutting-edge technology incorporates LED technology with micro-radio waves to offer an immersive experience for 100 guests or 10,000 attendees. Tell them you heard about their innovation here. wizard@wizard-events.com

Venues and Events – From flower gardens to Sea Adventures

Does your bucket list happen to include learning to sail in an exotic port? If so, then you may be interesting in the three to five-day Learn to Sail Packages that are being offered by Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina in the British Virgin Islands, beginning April 1. The 230-acre private-island haven at the east end of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands has partnered with Fort Myers, Fla.-based Colgate Offshore Sailing School, a globally-recognized leader in comprehensive sailing instruction, to offer these packages. Already know how to sail but want to sharpen your skills? Check out the Performance Sailing, Fast Track to Cruising and Bareboat Cruising courses. All sailing packages include accommodations in one of Scrub Island Resort’s ocean view guestrooms overlooking the marina, taxi from the airport, a commemorative 50th anniversary Offshore Sailing School cap, Graduation celebration, and more. www.offshoreSailing.com; 800-221-4326; www.ScrubIsland.com.

Meeting Planners looking for an unusual venue or activities for your group should check out Peckforton Castle, a gorgeous property in the heart of Cheshire, England… especially while this great offer is going on. Throughout April and May, they’ve increased their commission to 15% for new conference and event bookings. Book a corporate event and receive a free team building activity. There are competitive sports, such as archery or laser clay shooting, or a unique Chocolate Challenge. Don’t know what that one is, but am sure I would love it—Hint, hint! Here’s another team building activity that may be unique to your group—building Trebuchets. They were the largest and most prolific siege weapons of medieval castle warfare. Teams battle to build a 2-metre high trebuchet using diagrams and pictures provided with a little instructor assistance.  After swapping rocks and fireballs for water balloons, opponents aim for marked targets to score. www.peckfortoncastle.co.uk/offers

Luxury Losokwan Camp sits on the edge of the Maasai Mara game reserve in Africa

Luxury Losokwan Camp sits on the edge of the Maasai Mara game reserve in Africa

For anyone looking to experience a wilderness experience wrapped in luxury, think about the new Losokwan Camp on the edge of the Maasai Mara game reserve in Africa in the Lemek Conservancy. The Camp has six spacious mosquito-proof safari tents, equipped with en-suite bathrooms and other amenities. There’s g ourmet dining under the open sky, with a menu combining European, African and Asian dishes. There are game drives, guided trips to the local Maasai villages and visits to Aitong town on Thursdays, which is the official market day to experience the traditional trade. The Camp is open year-round with an abundance of wildlife ever present, but if you want to truly see something amazing, go from mid-July to late October for the Great Wildbeest Migration. 254-731-666555; http://www.losokwancamp.com/

Spring is the time to visit Kentwell’s Garden in East Anglia, UK. The daffodils last into late April, but then out pops  Primroses, Cowslips, Oxslips, Bugle, Violets, and Forget-me-nots. Late May heralds the arrival of Bluebells, followed by the Fruit Blossom in the Walled Garden and the Herb Garden.  http://www.kentwell.co.uk/events/hall-gardens/spring-bulbs. If you’d rather be paddling comfortably along a quiet river, The Broads National Park offers canoeing options along its waterways. There are miles of undisturbed tributaries, dykes and streams and occasional glimpses of kingfishers, bitterns and otters. http://www.thecanoeman.com

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady

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