Mr Flexible Space
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel

TOPEKA, KS

Largest meeting venue: Kansas Expocentre - 116,000 sq. ft. of meeting and exhibit space

Number of area guestrooms: 3,000+

"Kansas has always been a very affordable area when compared to other states," says Olivia Simmons, president and CEO of Visit Topeka, Inc. "However, affordable doesn't mean what it should if you do not have the distinctive choices for shopping, dining and entertainment to offer visitors."

Simmons says visitors to the state's capital city - with its rich history, central location and great hospitality - will discover "a plethora of attractions, museums, outdoor activities, festivals and performing arts."

She goes on to say that the local tourism industry is offering a variety of incentives to bring visitors in. "Our hotels are working hand-in-hand with our attractions, retail stores and restaurants to bundle the best of our city and offer these packages through a coordinated marketing effort on their websites and through Visit Topeka's site," Simmons says.

A must-see attraction in Topeka is the Brown V. Board National Historic Site and Museum, which preserves the history of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision. The museum is located in the Monroe Elementary School.

At the Kansas Museum of History, visitors can see a 1950s diner and a locomotive made for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. The Charles Curtis House Museum is the former home of the only Native American to serve as vice president of the United States. Another place to explore the area's past is Old Prairie Town at Ward Meade Historic Site, a 5.5-acre pioneer village that's situated on the old Oregon Trail.

For outdoor recreation, visitors might enjoy a picnic in Gage Park or a date with the animals at the Topeka Zoo. Other notable attractions include the Kansas State Capitol; First Presbyterian Church, with its Tiffany-designed windows; the Great Overland Station, which showcases the city's railroad heritage; the Combat Air Museum; and the Topeka Civic Theatre.

For meeting groups in Topeka, convention services include hotel bids, site inspections, customized tours, transportation coordination, registration assistance and press releases. The visitors' bureau also offers assistance for planning reunions, tradeshows and other group events. For more information call (800) 235-1030.

AFFORDABLE FLORIDA

"One great thing about Florida is that we have many different destinations for every budget," says Dia Kuykendall, corporate communications manager for Visit Florida. "For example, in South Beach you don't have to stay in one of the five star, luxurious hotels - you can stay at one of the smaller, low-cost hotels and still have access to the same things as everyone else: South Beach, the shops, the nightlife." Each November, the state tourism department brings a networking event for meeting planners called "Florida Encounter" to a different location in the Sunshine State. "It's really good for meetings professionals . . . because they get a chance to come together to an event and practically put together a conference in one location," Kuykendall says. "The hoteliers are there, the restaurants, the beverage people."

There are more than 6,000 hotels within the state, and Kuykendall says many of them offer special deals for meeting groups.

Travelers to Florida - whether for business or pleasure - will also find lots of free and low-cost things to see and do.

The list of freebies includes the exhibits at the Astronaut Memorial Planetarium in Cocoa Beach, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary on Key West, Hollywood Beach in Fort Lauderdale, boat rides from Jacksonville Landing during the monthly Wednesday Art Walk in downtown Jacksonville, Saturday evening vintage car parades in Old Town Kissimmee, tours of the Biltmore Hotel in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables, Monday morning tours of the Happy P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels air show in Pensacola, the University of South Florida's Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, boat tours of Fort Matanzas National Monument in St. Augustine, admission to Egmont Key State Park in St. Petersburg, tours of Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, admission to the Tampa Bay History Center and much more.

For just $3 per vehicle, you can get into Munson State Park near Pensacola, while admission to the Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee and Ybor City Museum State Park in Tampa is $3 per person. Splurge for $5, and you can enjoy an outing at St. Augustine Beach.

For more information call (866) 972-5280.

AFFORDABLE WISCONSIN

Some of the most notable visitor and meeting destinations in the Badger State offer a wide range of low-cost amenities.

Those who are driving in might enjoy taking in some of the sights along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. More than 50 local parks and beaches, 12 state and three national recreational resources are located along this picturesque route.

Madison is known for its abundance of biking and walking trails, giving locals and visitors a cost-efficient way to see some of the city's sights. Free attractions in the capital city include the Henry Vilas Zoo, guided tours of the State Capitol, Wednesday Concerts on the Square by the Madison Chamber Orchestra, the Allen Centennial Gardens and the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Milwaukee - known for its year-round schedule of festivals like Jazz in the Park, Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival, the Juneteenth Day Celebration and RiverSplash! - offers free tours of the Miller Brewing Company Visitors Center, the Haggerty Museum of Art and the historic Lowell Demon House. Several other attractions have admission under $10, such as the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center and Alfred L. Boerne Botanical Gardens.

Admission to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary in Green Bay is free, while the rides at Bay Beach Amusement Park cost less than 50 cents. For $2, you can explore how the Mississippi River shaped the history of La Crosse at the Riverside Museum.

For a fun incentive trip or corporate retreat destination, there's Wisconsin Dells, the popular vacation spot in south central Wisconsin north of Madison. The resort area boasts nearly two dozen waterparks, plus other attractions like the famous Original Wisconsin Ducks WWII amphibious vehicles that glide along the Wisconsin River, live Vegas-style entertainment and a host of golf courses, supper clubs and spas. You can find discounts on many area attractions and shops in the Wisconsin Dells Coupon Book, available for purchase at www.dells.com and www.wisconsindellscouponbook.com.

For more information call (800) 432-8747.
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