|Family Reunions and military reunions, even in uncertain times, still result in big business for destinations, especially during summer months. Many destinations typically host four to six family reunions per month. As a result of this demand for desired summer business, the hotels and destinations continue to invent new initiatives enabling generations of all ages to continue to host thriving family and military reunions.
Recently, Philadelphia’s Multi Affairs Congress (MAC) created a family reunion social website, a first for a host city. The site www.PhillyFamilyReunion.com is the “new” home for the savvy and interactive reunion planner. The site not only displays Philadelphia’s unique reunion venues and attractions, families can develop their own web page and photo gallery for free, allowing them to use Philadelphia’s platform as their official family home page. It also provides reunion planners from across the nation the opportunity to interact with one another, swapping ideas and planning tips. Additional functions of the site include videos, blogs, rfqs and more.
“Family reunions are great for hotels, especially during a time when convention business is slow. Families usually come during the summer months and can stay up to three days or more” states Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. “The reunions not only book overnight rooms but also use banquet and meeting space and spend money in the hotel bars and restaurants.”
The Philadelphia Convention Visitor Bureau (PCVB) like other bureaus, including the Greater Lansing Convention Visitor Bureau, welcomes reunions by providing a staff member that specializes in assisting reunion planners free of cost. Providing sample weekend itineraries, offering suggestions for free time and venues, and assisting in locating a host hotel for out of town guests, are among assistance offered.
Dr. Ione D. Vargus, professor emeritus and director of the Family Reunion Institute, stresses, “Families continue to have reunions even during the recession because they know the importance of a reunion. They also know how inspired and uplifted family members become as a result of seeing each other, especially those from a distance that they seldom get to see.” Dr. Vargus went on to add, “Some families think it is even more important than usual to get together to draw strength from each other and are planning their first reunions."
Other important points stressed by Dr. Vargus are that a reunion could have been in the planning stages for a while, even before the recession hit as hard. In some cases, the reunion may have been planned three to five years in advance. Some of those attending were saving and making arrangements to come and kept their goal.
Economic impact of reunions can be significant. The impact varies based upon the size of the reunion.
Once a family member has decided to organize a reunion, the first step is to contact the chosen city’s CVB to obtain a reunion packet. Then it is key to organize a planning/host committee. The bureau can put you in touch with hotels, dining, entertainment parks for family outings and attractions that may cater to reunions. Planners have a host of resources at their fingertips and are able to negotiate with local businesses.
Complimentary services available through the bureaus can include invitations; welcome messages from the mayor and governor; canvass of the hotel properties for rooms during the dates the family needs; promotional information on the city; personnel to assist with registration during the reunion; computer generated nametags for each family member; advertising specialty items for each member attending; and program and tour itinerary planning assistance.
With the assistance from the bureau, rates can be negotiated for all aspects of the reunion so that final per person cost can be determined. The family then votes on where to hold the reunion based on the costs and activities available in the different locations. Hotels are usually selected based on per person / room rate, amenities available, proximity to area attractions, security and property appearance.
Forming a committee is important, with one person heading the committee essential. Most businesses and organizations would prefer to deal with one family member. Treat planning a family reunion as if it’s a job – with deadlines to meet, time to work on the reunion and report back to your family about the progress. After decisions on when, where and what your reunion will entail, make a workable, reasonable budget. Making the budget per person, per day may work best since some family members may not be able to participate during the whole reunion time.
After your planning committee has announced the city and per person cost, money can be handled in several different ways. A preferred method is the opening of a special bank account with checks available. Family members can elect to pay their costs on a monthly basis or at least by a designated deadline. The deadline for payment of all money is important because deposits have to be made on meeting rooms for banquets, attractions for group tickets, buses for transportation during the reunion and any other group meal functions. The providers of these services will not hold space or have food prepared without receiving reservations and deposits. The service providers usually require a 50% deposit upon reservation with due balance upon confirmation of the final numbers. They will generally allow cancellations to occur up to three weeks with refunds.
“Once the family member has an idea of the types of events they want to host and the types of venues they will need, they can work with the bureau to identify the right venues to meet their needs. Here at Visit Pensacola, we can send out a request for proposals to our tourism partners to find great deals on caterers for a family cook-out, a banquet room for an event, hotel accommodations or other activities, acknowledges, Barbara Williams, sales manager.
Don’t forget little ones by planning activities for children as well as adults. Getting the younger generation involved will help ensure the success of future family reunions and events. Plus, this gets them started on continuing the family tradition.
For you next reunion consider:
GREATER LANSINGGreater Lansing is Michigan’s Capital City and our Midwestern hospitality makes visitors feel right at home. The region offers over 4,300 hotel rooms, affordably priced, and conveniently located near attractions and restaurants. The downtown convention facility, the Lansing Center, offers over 71,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and an additional 25,000 sq. ft. of public space set along the scenic Grand River. Connected to the Lansing Center via a covered pedway is the Radisson Hotel Lansing. Just three miles away from a bustling downtown is the campus of Michigan State University. From the many shops and galleries to Big Ten sporting events the leisure options for reunion groups are plentiful. Greater Lansing is easily accessible and at the junction of most major highways.
The region offers several African-American historical points of interest such as the All-Around-The-World African Museum, the Malcom X Homesite Marker and great festivals in the summer months like the Lansing Juneteenth Celebration, the Lansing JazzFest and the Capital City African American Parade and Heritage Festival. Greater Lansing also offers many parks and scenic outdoor areas perfect for large family gatherings. The Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau is also there to help with free welcome packs, assistance blocking hotel rooms and much more.
MACONMacon, Georgia, a city founded on the banks of the Ocmulgee River in 1823, embraces, preserves and shares its rich African-American heritage in local museums, businesses, and festivals year-round. Monuments throughout the city honor leaders who made significant contributions to the community and, museums chronicle the lives of beloved Maconites, from pop music legends like Little Richard and Otis Redding to opera singer Allan Evans.
The Macon Convention and Visitors Bureau recommends key historic sites to explore which represent the city’s significant African-American heritage including: The Tubman African American Museum, est. 1985, and its popular Georgia Pan African Festival, held each spring; the Douglass Theatre, est. 1921 by Macon’s first African-American millionaire; the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the state’s official music museum featuring Macon’s Redding, Little Richard and Evans, plus Ray Charles, Lena Horne, TLC, Usher, Ma Rainey, James Brown and many more music greats; the Otis Redding Statue, erected in 2001 at beautiful Gateway Park; the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame est. 1998, featuring Evander Holyfield, Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron among others, and the Washington Memorial Library Genealo-gical center and archives, offering an extensive African American Heritage Collection which began in 1959, including rare genealogical, archival and biographical information.
PENSACOLAFor military reunions, Pensacola offer’s some great sites such as the National Naval Aviation Museum, USS Oriskany, Blue Angels practices, Fort Pickens, Fort Barrancas and the Wall South: Vietnam Memorial Park.
Resting on the banks of Pensacola Bay, Pensacola’s quaint downtown takes visitors back in time, offering 450 years of history, coastal cuisine, art and culture, unique shopping and year-round festivals. Located on one of the longest barrier islands in the world, Pensacola Beach has an old Florida feel with natural beaches, local hang outs and first-rate fishing. Perdido Key encompasses federal and state parks abundant with wetlands, estuaries and wildlife.
Families will love exploring the sites along the African- American Heritage Trail such as Old Christ Church, Fort Pickens, St. Michael’s Cemetery, Historic Pensacola Village, Johnson Beach and the Belmont-Devilliers district.
The Pensacola Bay Area hosts a variety of free festivals throughout the year, perfect for families, such as February’s Mardi Gras, April’s Jazzfest, May’s Goombay, September’s Pensacola Seafood Festival and the Blue Angels air shows in July and November.
PHILADELPHIACelebrate your family’s heritage by bringing your reunion home – to Philadelphia, a place where African- American heritage is celebrated all year long. The Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau and its MAC, welcome family reunions by designating a staff member who specializes in assisting family reunion planners for free.
This dedicated staff member offers sample weekend itineraries, family reunion checklists, suggestions for free time activities and venues, locates and bids on hotels for you and your out-of-town guests, and provides various items that support your reunion from the planning stages to the actual event!
Many families choose Philadelphia because of their musical legacy of Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. Jill Scott, The Roots, Patti LaBelle, Will Smith and the O’ Jay’s are a few of the musical legends that have infused this city’s restaurants, summer festivals and nightlife with Philadelphia’s own musical legacy.
Famous as the birthplace of the United States, Philadelphia is the site of US history. Families can re-live our nation’s heritage and discover historical ties regarding the struggle for freedom at sites such as the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, Mother Bethel (the world’s first AME church), as well as tour major passageways of the Underground Railroad.
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGOThe dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is a unique destination where business and pleasure find the perfect balance. With world-class accommodations such as Hyatt Regency Trinidad www.trinidad.hyatt.com Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre www.-hiltoncaribbean-.com/Trinidad and Coco Reef Resort and Spa, Tobago www.cocoreef.com the destination offers more 90,000 sq. ft. of meeting space that can all be tailored to the needs of military events and reunions.
To better assist event planners The Trinidad and Tobago Convention Bureau offers a wide variety of services to groups and meeting planners that includes the island’s venues, hotels, pricing, sites and attractions, and acts as an intermediary between hotels and meeting coordinators or local chapters of international organizations.
Key events include Carnival, the largest Caribbean cultural festival, Tobago Underwater Carnival – a week-long dive festival, Tobago Jazz Experience four-day festival with international performers and Tobago heritage festival – a celebration of Tobago’s heritage with myriad presentations by various villages and an experience of people, space, food and great cultural shows.
Major attractions include the Caroni Bird Swamp, Hanuman Murti statue in Trinidad and the Main Ridge Rainforest (oldest protected reserve in the western hemisphere) and the largest brain coral in the world, both in Tobago.
MACONMacon CVB sales manager Pammie Eagle- Jimmar seeks out and targets the African-American family reunion market through a number of initiatives, the most successful of which is her bi-annual Family Reunion Workshop. “Our research indicated that we had an untapped market right here in the Macon-Middle Georgia area due to Macon’s rich African-American heritage and local history,” says Jimmar. “We know generations change and young people venture out into the world, but we also know that many people here can trace their roots back four or five generations.” Jimmar knew there should be a way to reach out to her neighbors in the area to encourage them to bring their families home.
“We decided to host a workshop, providing the ABCs of reunion planning, that would show everyday folks how easy and rewarding it can be to plan and host a family reunion in their own hometown using the services of their CVB,” she says. Promoted throughout a 5-county area, the Workshop has turned into one of the CVB’s best-attended events. Advertisements in the area’s longest running urban newspaper, The Informer, and local guide to African-American owned businesses, The Macon-Middle GA Black Pages, are the CVB’s primary marketing tools to boost workshop attendance. But Jimmar says now that it’s been established for a while, word of mouth in the greater community is becoming a leading source of attendees.
There is no cost for reunion planners to attend the all-day workshop in Macon, although reservations are required, so that each participant may have a personal notebook filled with information and ideas to help make their planning easier and their reunion an event that family will talk about for years to come.
Jimmar and the Macon CVB invite area vendors to display in a mini-tradeshow prior to and after the workshop, helping to ignite creative ideas and make connections. These hoteliers, restaurateurs, caterers, photographers, entertainers, printers, T-shirt makers and other providers of services planners might need, each pay a nominal fee to participate, which offsets the cost of attendees’ notebooks.