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Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2014
Reunions Provide Growing Source Of Revenue
By: Rufus McKinney


Reunions are a gift bestowed upon us to reconnect with friends, family, and co-workers. In this hyper speed age, it has become even more essential to not lose track of the bonds that made us who we are. As the nature of the world changes, so has the nature of reunions. Although the traditional reunion is still a popular event, things are changing. Destinations not normally associated with reunion travel are embracing this market.

 The birth of African-American family reunions can be traced back to Emancipation.  Former slaves began the search for distant family members, by placing ads in newspapers or simply asking those who toiled on nearby plantations.  For those able to reconnect, the reunions were glorious celebratory affairs.

Today, global economic conditions are accelerating the growth in family reunions, as family members leave the nest to find employment in distant states or even foreign countries.  Several studies suggest that an estimated that 90 percent of all family reunions are held by African-Americans.

TYPES OF REUNIONS

 The most common reunion is a family reunion. These joyous events tend to attract anywhere from 100 to 400 family members looking to reconnect and have a good time. Family reunions generally last about three to four days, primarily in the summer months. More often than not, family reunions take place on the weekends, beginning on a Thursday or Friday and ending on Sunday. Most family reunions are simple affairs that will incorporate some sort of outdoor picnic or barbeque. A banquet or dinner event is also standard and allows the family to gather in a more formal setting. A variety of activities are also scheduled to keep things busy and exciting for the duration of the reunion.

Military reunions have a much wider range in attendees with some reunions attracting thousands of participants, but as with family reunions generally take place over three days during the weekend. Whereas family reunions usually occur in the summer months, military reunions are spread throughout the year with many being held in the spring and fall months. The major difference in the military reunions is in the activities. They will usually include a formal banquet as well as tours of local museums and military attractions. Organizations such as the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and the 369th Veterans Association, Inc. would fall into this category.

Class reunions are similar to family reunions in terms of numbers, attracting between 50-200 people in most cases. The activities tend to be similar as well, usually incorporating a daytime picnic of sorts, a dinner event and excursions to local attractions and sites.

PLANNING A FAMILY REUNION

Organizing a family reunion takes time, dedication and lots of planning. The easiest way to get started is to form a small committee of about three to four family members that will handle all of the arrangements for the reunion. Commit to meeting on a regular schedule, whether it's once a week or once a month, to discuss the progress in the reunion planning. Some of the topics that should be discussed at committee meetings include: the date, location, invitations, travel and lodging, facilities, food, mailing list, the programs, finances, local transportation, communications and souvenirs.

COMMUNICATIONS

Communicating with family members is an essential ingredient to the success of your reunion. Effectively communicating to the family helps to generate information and maintain interest in the reunion over the many months leading up to the big event. The committee should compile a list of names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of as many family members as possible. Note how each person is related to the family.

The first communication can simply be a notice that the family reunion is being planned. This will generate interest and possibly draw more family members to the cause. Once a location, date, and facility have been confirmed send out another notice that includes the cost to family members. This should be done at least four-six months before the reunion but can be done as early as nine months before. If the hotel or facility has any special amenities, be sure to highlight those, as this will get people interested in the whole event.

Sending out a survey to family members is a good way to find out what types of activities attendees would like to participate in. A survey could also help with picking out a location or to gather information about each person to include in a directory.

Be sure to set a definite date for registration and payment. It is important to know who will be coming to the reunion so arrangements can be finalized concerning food, trips and tours, and lodging. Be prepared to mail a follow-up letter closer to the due date and set up a telephone chain to contact family members who have failed to respond. And don't forget to send out directions to the reunion using various modes of transportation.

FINDING A VENUE

More often than not, the family budget will dictate the search for the right venue. But there are many other factors that can determine the final decision of where to actually hold the reunion. Convenience, affordability, proximity to major attractions, and availability of activities can all play a role in the final choice. For instance, if the primary role of the conference is to get the family to spend time together, then a more isolated venue might work. Or if the reunion is an attempt to create more adventure in the family's life then a venue close to lots of exciting attractions might be a better choice. It is in situations like this that communication is key. If family members have expressed that they want a lot of free time, then picking a venue near shopping and nightlife could be the way to go.

Most local CVBs can provide assistance with picking out a venue for your reunion. In addition to hotels, consider conference centers, state parks with housing facilities, resorts, and college campuses as suitable choices. Be creative. Even if a hotel hosts your reunion, you can schedule events at other venues. Hold a picnic at a local park, host a barbeque at a theme park or water park, or hold a banquet at an African-American history museum.

Food and catering options can also dictate a decision regarding the venue. Some facilities require you to use their food service while others may offer a meal plan. Many reunions prefer to cater the event themselves for that home-cooking vibe. Confirm all arrangements in your negotiations with hotels and venues and in the information package you are sending to family members.

PLANNING ACTIVITIES

The main point of a family reunion is to get families together to have fun. The type and number of activities planned is the key to the success of your reunion. The more family members that are taking part, the more fun that everyone will have. When setting up activities keep in mind all age groups. It is important that all members of the family feel included so things like dances are a good idea for the younger set while the older generation might enjoy guided tours of the area or museum trips. Some popular activities include talent shows, family history telling, choir singing, recognition ceremonies, arts and crafts exhibitions, fashion shows, music and poetry, and sports.

Workshops led by family members are another good way to get the family involved with each other while also adding a level of education to the reunion. Workshops can focus on a variety of topics such as economic development, investing, education, parenting skills, political action, and more. This serves as a good opportunity for family members to share their knowledge and talent with the rest of the family.

Sharing the family history has become a major activity at family reunions. Families are discovering that there are many ways other than family trees and charts to tell their history. Genealogical societies, groups, genealogists and other resources are available to help families trace their roots. Interviews with elder family members can be videotaped and edited into a presentation that can be shown at the reunion. Families with a knack for showbiz can even put together a stage show to tell the family story.

RAISING FUNDS

A reunion can be an expensive endeavor, but with careful planning every family should be able to have one. The cost of organizing includes expenses such as postage, duplication, stationary, catering, and planning services. These costs may be passed on to the family members as a part of their registration fees. The planning committee should also be aware that deposits might also be needed for the hotel and activity sites, souvenirs and local transportation. Some families have fundraising events throughout the year to offset these costs. Families often raise money through dinner dances and parties, raffles, casino or theater trips, card parties or garage sales. Be creative. Collect donations from family members. The entire family should feel responsible for having the best reunion possible.

CHOOSING A DESTINATION

Finding the perfect city to hold your reunion is always a challenge. There are many factors to consider including proximity to the majority of attendees. When choosing a destination it is always important to factor in how easy it will be for people to get there, how affordable the destination is, the type of attractions and activities available, and the quality of service from the local CVB. A much overlooked deal breaker is the destination's relevance to the family or group. Many families will choose to have their reunion in a city with some historical ties to them rather than somewhere that has the best casinos. Black Meetings & Tourism has put together a list of excellent destinations that are quite capable of hosting your family, military or class reunion.
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