Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: December 2008/January 2009
Family Friendly Destinations
By: Sonya Stinson

Now more than ever, when it comes to travel destinations, family-friendly means budget-friendly. "Families are certainly looking for ways to stretch every dollar right now," says Laura Hill, marketing and communications coordinator for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

And it's not just vacationers who have to be mindful of family budgets when planning travel.

"The economy has travelers, for business and leisure, keeping a closer eye on travel deals and value," says Susan Lomax Greer, associate vice president of publicity for the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. "We're also seeing a trend towards more combo trips - where families tack on a leisure vacation to Mom or Dad's business trip."

In Wilmington, Delaware, Esther Lovlie has observed similar travel trends.

"The current economy is forcing tourism venues within a destination to figure out ways to offer more value to all travelers, no matter what market segment they represent," says Lovlie, who is director of sales and marketing for meetings, events and group tours at the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Travelers are demanding transparency in terms of pricing. In other words, before making travel decisions and parting with their money, travelers want to know exactly what they will receive for their money and that no hidden costs will suddenly appear when they reach their destination. As for the business traveler and meetings/conventions, I believe you will see more travelers bringing their families when possible. The 'working' vacation or getaway will become even more prevalent as people scramble to find economical alternatives."

Whether you're planning a family reunion or a convention drawing delegates with families in tow, these 10 destinations are ready to roll out the welcome mat for an economical, easy and, most of all, fun experience for everyone on the trip.


BALTIMORE, MD

"Baltimore's East Coast location and the diversity of our attractions make us an appealing destination for families," says Tom Noonan, president and CEO of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association. "Baltimore is easy to get to and very easy to get around once you are here because almost everything is within walking distance or a short water taxi ride away."

Baltimore is located within a day's drive from half the U.S. population. Amtrak offers service to Baltimore from all along the Northeast corridor. Air travelers can use the convenient light rail system for the 10-mile commute from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport into the city.

Once you arrive, you'll find a host of interesting attractions clustered around the city's famed Inner Harbor. Pick up a Harbor Pass from the BACVA for discounts on admission to many of those spots, and get a Heritage Pass for additional historical and cultural attractions. Baltimore has several visitor sites with links to African-American history and culture, including some that might be surprising. For example, African-Americans were among the earliest jockeys to compete at Pimlico Racetrack, now best known as the home of the Preakness. The National Aquarium, one of Baltimore's top family attractions, houses a rare fish collection donated by local Black engineer, inventor and philanthropist Henry Hall.

Baltimore's most acclaimed Black heritage attraction is the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. A Smithsonian affiliate whose entrance faces a former slave market, the museum is considered to be one of the city's most dazzling architectural gems. The 1.2 million-sq. ft. Baltimore Convention Center is within walking distance of the Inner Harbor, and there are 6,500 guestrooms in the immediate area. CVA services include itinerary planning and a complimentary information kiosk at the convention center for groups of 5,000 or more.


CHARLOTTE, NC

"Having something that appeals to all ages is most important when it comes to being a family-friendly destination," says Laura Hill, marketing and communications coordinator for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. "Because of its kid-friendly attractions, public transit, dining options, and mild climate, Charlotte has a lot to offer families. Attractions like Discovery Place, Carowinds, ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center, Lazy 5 Ranch, and a variety of sports teams are fun and affordable options for both adults and kids."

Other family outing choices include events like the summer outdoor concert series by the Charlotte Symphony and the winter opening of the Holiday on Ice outdoor skating rink, Hill notes. The historic Brooklyn neighborhood, the hub of Black Charlotte from the late 1800s until it was razed in the 1960s, will soon become the new home of the Afro-American Cultural Center. The new facility will be quadruple the size of the current one and will feature a roof-top terrace for receptions, meetings and other events.

Major gatherings can be accommodated in the 850,000-sq. ft. Charlotte Convention Center or one of several hotels with large meeting spaces. There are more than 30,000 area guestrooms, including 4,100 within walking distance of the convention center. Event services from the CRVA include planning spouse and family tours for large groups and providing information tables at the headquarters hotel or convention center.

More than 60% of the U.S. population lives within a two-hour flight from Charlotte. The Charlotte/Douglas International Airport is a national hub, offering nearly 600 flights daily to more than 120 destinations. And getting around Charlotte can be as easy as getting there. "Affordable transportation options like the LYNX light rail or the Gold Rush free trolley make it easy for families to get around town without having to break the bank on a car rental," Hill says.


CHICAGO, IL

"Chicago offers a range of experiences that every family can afford, with access to more than 20 free festivals throughout the year," says Bill Williams, CMP, vice president, diversity/sales for the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau. "And there's no better time to visit Chicago. [You can] experience the city that President-elect Obama and his family enjoy, from their favorite restaurants to shopping and sports."

Three of the most popular attractions among families visiting Chicago make up the city's Museum Campus: the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, Shedd Aquarium/Oceanarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. Chicago's long list of museums also includes the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum and the DuSable Museum of African-American History.

The Chicago Children's Museum is located on the shores of Lake Michigan at Navy Pier, where you'll also find the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a variety of restaurants, amusement rides, a musical carousel and a 150-ft.-high Ferris wheel.

The Chicago metro area boasts more than 100,000 hotel rooms, including more than 30,000 in the central business district. Another 3,000 rooms are online to become available by the end of 2009. O'Hare International and Midway airports service 3,500 daily flights from more than 50 airlines. Chicago has an extensive public transportation system, as well as the second largest taxi fleet in the nation, and many of the city's top attractions are within walking distance of one another. The McCormick Place convention center complex, situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, offers 2.7 million sq. ft. of exhibit space, 173 meeting rooms and many other amenities. Meeting groups get treated to the CVB's special "We're Glad You're Here!®" Recognition Program, as well as access to promotional materials and a Destination Marketing Kit.


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