Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 2017
Historic Cities For a Cultural Meeting Experience
By: Buck Samuels
African-Americans more than any other group seek out heritage tourism opportunities on vacation or added to an itinerary when attending a conference.  In one study, over 69% of African-Americans surveyed reported visiting a heritage site or museum and/or attending a cultural event during their last travel experience. For many African-Americans, heritage tourism is an emotional journey that brings laughter, tears, knowledge, pride, and yes dreams and possibilities.  For the struggle of our ancestors serves as a powerful reminder how to persevere when all else seems lost.  Study after study suggests that heritage tourism plays a major role in the selection of a meeting or vacation destination.  Below are some places with year-round offerings to consider for your next conference.

 

WASHINGTON, DC


If you're interested in learning about DC's African-American heritage, start your exploration at the recently opened Smithsonian National Museum Of African American History & Culture.  The stunning new building, which prominently sits between The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, features three tiers of inverted half-pyramids, sheathed in a shimmering bronze-hue screen cut in an abstract pattern based on the intricate ironwork created by freed slaves in New Orleans and Charleston, S.C.

Approximately 37,000 artifacts have been acquired by the museum's 18 curators, including Nat Turner's Bible; Emmet Till's original casket; Harriet Tubman's shawl; and a vintage open-cockpit biplane used to train Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

Follow this up with a visit to the Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Community Museum. Located in a historic African-American neighborhood southeast of the Capitol, the museum houses a collection of approximately 6,000 objects dating back to the early 1800s. The history of this neighborhood - home to orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass - is explored throughout the museum.

After you've visited the Anacostia Community Museum, drop by the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, located at his home, Cedar Hill. When Douglass bought the nine-acre estate, he became the first African-American to buy a home in the Old Anacostia neighborhood. Tour the 21-room Victorian mansion or take part in a program to learn about Douglass' efforts to abolish slavery. Set high in the hills, the house and its grounds also open up onto one of the most breathtaking views of the city.

The Prince George's African American Museum's story begins in 1991 with the foundation of the North Brentwood Historical Society. The historical society undertook the creation of an oral history project and exhibit entitled "Footsteps from North Brentwood," which documented and celebrated the rich cultural heritage of the first municipality in Prince George's County incorporated by African Americans.

With beautiful granite, limestone and dramatic 100-ft. curved glass entry, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center is an outstanding architectural and cultural treasure in a city that already harbors so many remarkable buildings. The Convention Center is located between two of the most fascinating neighborhoods in Washington, DC: the historic Arts District/U Street/Shaw district and the revitalized Downtown/Penn Quarter/Chinatown district.

The Center contains, 2.3 million total sq. ft. with more than 700,000 sq. ft. of prime exhibit space with 30-ft. columns on 90-ft. centers as well as 198,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 77 meeting rooms.

Ideally located on the Georgetown University campus, another option is the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center with meeting rooms that feature all the necessary technology and amenities required for a successful meeting or event. This venue is equipped with 14 meeting rooms and a total meeting space of 13,500 sq. ft.

DC's award-winning hotels are as well known for their attentive service as for their must-have amenities. With nearly 30,000 hotel rooms in the city, there's a style and price point for every visitor.

The Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and the Washington Dulles International Airport all provide both national and international flights to the Washington DC/Baltimore area.

For more information contact Destination DC at (800) 635-MEET or www.washington.org.

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PHILADELPHIA, PA


Philadelphia is known as a city of firsts, boasting not only the first hospital and library but also many of the first contributions to African-American history in the U.S. including the first African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and the first African-American newspaper, (i)The Philadelphia Tribune(ei). This rich historic backdrop makes it the perfect destination for any gathering. Planning a meeting, convention or family reunion in the city is a breeze with the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau ( PHLCVB). Going beyond assisting planners with dates, rates and space, the city's focus on helping connect event planners to the destination's local knowledge assets also sets it apart. Through the PHLCVB's business development divisions, like PHLDiversity which was pioneered 30 years ago as the first multicultural arm of a CVB, planners can be connected with resources and access to institutions, corporations and other industry leads to help with attendance-building, growing sponsorship opportunities, site selection, programming, speakers and more.

Having successfully hosted the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families Congress in 2015, it's safe to say that Philadelphia is one of the most sought-after meeting destinations in the world. With its centrally located state-of-the-art Pennsylvania Convention Center, convention attendees can conveniently explore famed landmarks like Independence Hall, located on the most historic square mile in the country, just a short walk from the facility. Visitors will walk the same streets as influential African-American leaders Richard Allen, Absalom Jones and Robert Purvis did more than 100 years ago and come face-to-face with historic attractions such as Mother Bethel, the first AME church in the United States and The President's House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation, an outdoor attraction commemorating the nine enslaved Africans that worked for George Washington on the site of the first White House.

Philadelphia is also full of cultural masterpieces, from world-class museums to outdoor art galleries, there is so much to discover including the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP), the first institution built by a major United States city to house and interpret the life and work of African-Americans. Museum Mile begins near the western entrance of the Convention Center providing access to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum and The Barnes Foundation (housing one of the largest collections of Impressionist, post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings plus an impressive collection of African sculptures).

Philadelphia's thriving culinary scene, which draws from many diverse influences, is one of the destination's most highly-rated qualities. The city is known for its cheesesteaks, but at the Reading Terminal Market, located across from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, visitors can find an unparalleled variety of international and local cuisine, including Pennsylvania Dutch specialties and authentic soul food.

Getting to Philadelphia is just as easy as getting around in the city. A sophisticated regional rail and subway network links the Philadelphia International Airport - with 30 airlines and nearly 550 daily departures to 126 cities, including 39 international destinations - to Amtrak's 30th Street Station, the Convention Center and downtown Philadelphia.

Blending historic appeal with modern amenities, Philadelphia's walkable streets are here to be explored!

To start planning your event in Philadelphia, visit

www.PHLDiversity.com.

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BALTIMORE, MD


The key to Baltimore's continued vitality are its many cultural and historic attractions that are of particular interest to the African-American visitor.  Add to that Baltimore's strategic location on the Atlantic seaboard, right at the heart of the most densely populated area in the United States, and you've got a most convenient and appealing meeting destination. The city is in close proximity to a large portion of the nation's population - a region that is home to more than 50 million people. This makes it easier for you to reach your target attendees and a built-in attendance base.

Baltimore's premiere destination is the Inner Harbor with shops, restaurants and attractions all within a few city blocks.  It's just steps from the Baltimore Convention Center, the Maryland Science Center and the National Aquarium with over 16,500 animals and a wonderful Dolphin Show.  Baltimore also celebrates its diversity with festivals and events that spotlight its multicultural heritage, the African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities, and its LGBT pride.

To savor the City's cultural offerings, conference attendees might want to explore some of Baltimore's informative African-American historic sites and museums. Just a few blocks from the Inner Harbor is the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, the largest African-American museum on the East Coast. The Lewis Museum shares the stories of African-American Marylanders' triumph over adversity and their influence on American life. Hop aboard a water taxi and visit the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park & Museum. Within the walls of the restored "Sugar House," trace the path of one of America's most famous abolitionists - Frederick Douglass - who, along with Isaac Myers and 14 fellow African-Americans, started the first Black-owned shipyard in the United States.

The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum, the only museum of its kind dedicated to the African-American experience, displays one of the most talked about, moving and emotional representations of the Middle Passage. The museum also features a figure of former President Barack Obama, and is located not far from legendary Pennsylvania Avenue, once home to Baltimore's own artistic Black Renaissance. All three museums are featured in the Legends & Legacies Heritage Pass available for purchase through Visit Baltimore.

Nestled in the heart of downtown Baltimore, the Baltimore Convention Center's location is a tourist's dream and a meeting planner's delight. Linked by a series of overhead walkways to Baltimore's renowned Inner Harbor, hotels and fine dining, the Center offers attendees a wide variety of attractions, and meeting planners with an affordable prime destination. The center features 300,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 50 meeting rooms, and a 36,000-sq.ft. ballroom.

Finding accommodations in Baltimore for your guests and attendees is never a challenge. There are more than 8,500 hotel rooms (5,500 committable) around the Inner Harbor and the Baltimore Convention Center, and thousands more just a short ride away. All of the major brands are here, along with charming inns and bed and breakfasts. The Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards offers 524 sleeping rooms and 18,600 sq. ft. of meeting space in 25 rooms, while the 488-room Hyatt Regency Baltimore Inn Harbor boasts 27 meeting rooms and a 14,161-sq. ft. ballroom that's divisible into several smaller spaces.

The Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport services the Baltimore/Washington DC area with 650 daily flights from 70 destinations.

For more information contact Visit Baltimore at (877) Baltimore or go to baltimore.org.

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NORFOLK, VA


Along with providing Meeting Planners outstanding options for holding conferences and meetings of various sizes, Norfolk provides individuals with just the right ambiance and setting to hold other types of group events. With its mild year-round climate, convenient airport and easy driving distance to two-thirds of the U.S. population, Virginia's "Most Cultured City" is the perfect destination for reunions of all types and sizes.

Norfolk celebrates the rich ethnic diversity of its population with sights, sounds, attractions and special events that pay tribute to the city's long multicultural heritage.  Fun-filled festivals on the downtown waterfront offer up the music, art and culinary delights of the city's diverse Asian-American, African-American, Pacific Island, and Latin American communities, while the traditions of the region's first citizens - Virginia's Native American tribes - are celebrated through numerous exhibits and festivals throughout Hampton Roads. You'll even find a bit of Cajun each summer at the well-loved Bayou Boogaloo and Cajun Food Festival.

The lovingly restored Attucks Theatre- which in its heyday was the focal point of entertainment, business, and racial pride in Norfolk's African-American community, is once again a star on Norfolk's cultural stage. The theatre was financed, designed and constructed by African-American entrepreneurs in 1919. The theatre was designed by Harvey Johnson, an African-American architect and was named in honor of Crispus Attucks, an African-American who was the first patriot to lose his life in the Revolutionary War. 

Norfolk is also the home to the West Point Monument at Elmwood Cemetery.  The memorial is a tribute to African-American veterans of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. The soldier depicted on the monument is Norfolk native Sgt. William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. Carney was the first Black soldier to receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery. Nearly 100 African-American veterans are laid to rest in the West Point Cemetery - this historic section of the once segregated Elmwood Cemetery.

Norfolk's thriving arts community will welcome you into their studios, their galleries, and their performance venues. From the working artists' studios located within downtown's D'Art Center, to the beautiful Tiffany glass collection at the Chrysler Museum of Art, to live performances at the Harrison Opera house, Chrysler Hall, Wells Theatre, historic Attucks Theatre, Generic Theatre or NARO Art Cinema in Ghent, you'll find a multitude of opportunities to enrich your creative spirit.

The Waterside Convention Center is located in the downtown waterfront area and is attached on three floors to the Waterside Marriott Hotel. The center contains 36,365 sq. ft. of function space, 19 meeting rooms and is elegantly decorated with fine furnishings and antiques. The largest exhibit hall is 14,400 sq. ft. and can accommodate 2,400 guests in a reception, 2,000 in a theater set-up and 1,400 for a banquet.

Norfolk International Airport (ORF) is the major airport serving southeastern Virginia with over 160 daily flights provided by various airlines. ORF is centrally located just one mile east of I-64, just minutes from Downtown Norfolk, or anywhere else you want to go.

For more information contact the Norfolk CVB at (800) 368-3097 or www.visitnorfolktoday.com.

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BIRMINGHAM, AL


Birmingham was born out of iron and steel.  Remnants of these early beginnings are preserved in places such as Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.  The city is also well known for its prominent role in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  A visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute gives visitors an in-depth look at that important era.

Birmingham's unique cultural history gives planners an interesting lineup of venues and sites to hold events ranging from private parties and weddings to larger conferences and trade shows.

Long known as a city of civil rights conflict and reconciliation, Birmingham has matured into a city that acknowledges and embraces the impact of its past, both negative and positive. Opened in the 1990s, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a moving and educational example of how a city found a way to heal itself. Looking at the city today, there is little evidence of the scarring, though it will always be there. Today's social scene is the picture of diversity as well, with folks of all ethnic backgrounds enjoying and learning from one another, arguing issues of the day, and sharing professional and social time together in an era that has made the old days almost invisible.

Conference attendees can take a glimpse into the lives of Birmingham's prominent jazz musicians at the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. From the boogie woogie beginnings of Clarence "Pinetop" Smith to the velvet crooning of Nat King Cole, legendary jazz greats are immortalized in the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, within the historic Carver Theatre. This 2,500-sq. ft. theater is an excellent option for planners looking to hold a smaller event with a touch of Birmingham flavor.

When meeting groups get down to Birmingham, they get down to the business of exploring the city's personality. Among the themed tours are trips to sample the city's locally-produced snacks, real Southern dining and the influence of immigrants on the city's cuisine.  Other tours explore the diversity of Birmingham's ethnic communities, reflected in the architecture and cultural events throughout the city.  Plan a tour to visit the Eternal Word Television Network, founded by Mother Mary Angelica.  Take in the historic sites from Birmingham's tumultuous role in America's Civil Rights Movement.  Hear interesting tales from the city's rowdy pioneer days.  Visit the factory where the popular M-Class Mercedes-Benz is manufactured. 

The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex is Alabama's foremost convention, meeting and entertainment center. The venue is fully equipped with 220,000 plus sq. ft. of exhibition space, 74 meeting rooms totaling 100,000 plus sq. ft., a 1,000-seat theatre and two elegant ballrooms seating up to 2,000 guests.  One of the most convenient and unique features of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex is that it adjoins the 757-room Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. The hotel can accommodate groups from 10 to 1,000.

Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport is Alabama's largest airport serving the Greater Birmingham area and surrounding Southeastern cities as well as offering 126 daily flights to 50 airports in 47 cities throughout the United States.

For more information contact the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 458-8085 or www.birminghamal.org.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, FL


Celebrate the spirit of diversity in a friendly beach resort setting. Experience the flavors of Greater Fort Lauderdale.  The African American Research Library and Cultural Center and  Old Dillard Museum are magnificent tributes to the history and contributions of African-Americans and add another dimension to your visit. Discover the spirit and history of the Seminole Tribe's culture at the  Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Learn about the Seminole's way of life in the late 1800s, and wander nature trails through a recreated Seminole village.

At the African American Research Library and Cultural Center you'll find a main library and a unique children's library with more Black history books and books written by Blacks than any other facility in the country. The auditorium and exhibit areas provide opportunities to exchange ideas and cultural values as well as promote an understanding and appreciation of the contributions of persons of African descent.  The facility features two meeting spaces, able to accommodate up to 300 theater-style and 350 for receptions.

Efforts are well under way to add a major cultural and sports complex to the Fort Lauderdale inventory of attractions.  This includes the development of a permanent Home & Tennis Training Facility, a Black Tennis Hall of Fame, a Black-owned hotel and a location to house the offices of the American Tennis Association and the American Tennis & Education Foundation (ATEF). 

According to Albert Tucker, vice president, Multicultural Business Development for the Great Fort Lauderdale convention & Visitors Bureau, the primary purpose of the facility will be a year round training center for young players of color from the US and the Caribbean. Additionally it will serve a cultural hub where coaches from across the country can come and feel at home. The facility will also be an attraction where individuals can come to South Florida and take a well-planned tennis vacation.

The city of Fort Lauderdale knows how to make a meeting planner shine. With the 600,000 sq. ft. Gold LEED Certified Broward County Convention Center, you'll enjoy high-tech meeting and exhibit space as well as five-star food service, an Internet café and elegant banquet rooms. Organizations of all sizes come to Florida each year to hold their meetings/conferences.

Six hotels in the Lauderdale Convention Collection offer clustered booking advantages, beach or Intracoastal views, discounts, amenities and are close to the Convention Center, where you'll enjoy complimentary space and welcome reception. The Collection is comprised of Embassy Suites, Fort Lauderdale 17th Street, Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six, Renaissance Fort Lauderdale Hotel, and the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport offers nonstop flights to over 100 U.S. and international cities, international service to Canada, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, Central America, and South America, and for cruise passengers, a short two mile ride to Port Everglades. Even the Port of Miami is less than an hour away.

For more information contact the Great Fort Lauderdale CVB at (800) 22-SUNNY  or http://www.broward.org.

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