Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: February/March 2008
Special Report: Emerging Markets for African-American Travelers
By: Michael Bennett
As meeting and incentive planners we have a tendency to look at the familiar because that’s what our attendees want — after hour activities, golf, shopping the latest in audio/visual equipment and four or five-star accommodations. We all know the destinations I am talking about — Atlanta, Orlando, Philadelphia, Miami and Washington DC to name a few.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these destinations. In fact, I find myself visiting these wonderful locales often for culture, history, or a weekend getaway. These cities represent themselves well and have the latest in venues, hotels, tourist attractions and other amenities to make your group or family think they’ve just won the lottery.

While these large communities offer outstanding choices for the meeting planner or the leisure traveler, there are several emerging markets that we think are worth a look. Most offer tremendous cost savings over their larger brethren, but there is more to it than money. It’s the quality of the offering and less hustle and bustle than the big city. Consistent readers of this magazine are familiar with the size and economic impact of the African-American market and the hard facts are not lost on places like Valley Forge, PA; Puerto Rico; Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina; Wilmington, DE and a few others we’ve selected below.

The motivation for many of these destinations is to seize on the financial windfall that the African-American traveler brings to the table — and pursuing your financial interests, after all, is why we are in business. Tapping into the African-American market is just good business sense.
Several of the markets we’ve selected have major new developments they are “chomping at the bit” to share with the African-American traveler. Things like new convention centers, hotel openings, attractions and/or significant downtown developments. Regardless of the reason, the destinations below are worth exploring for your future group gatherings or family vacations.

Many of you read about Valley Forge while studying the Revolutionary War in high school. It was here where General George Washington led his ragtag group of starving, poorly clothed warriors during the winter of 1777 and rebuilt them into an army capable of beating the British forces on the battlefield.

This proud southeastern Pennsylvania community just outside of Philadelphia has come a long way since Washington held his first meetings here nearly 250 years ago. Following in Washington’s footsteps, although I am sure he wasn’t thinking about meetings and conventions at the time, Valley Forge has turned into a great place for group gatherings. The Valley Forge Convention Center has 108,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space with indoor access to the Radisson Hotel. The convention center is part of the larger Valley Forge Convention Plaza with a total of 145,000 sq. ft. of meeting, exhibit and banquet space that can accommodate 3,000 guests.

There are numerous hotel/conference centers in the immediate area plus plenty of museums, nightlife, shopping at one of the largest malls on the east coast — King of Prussia, entertainment, recreation and restaurants for just about every palate. Valley Forge’s proximity to Philadelphia makes it easy to attend or visit many of the entertainment venues in the big city.

If you are interested in taking a glimpse into African-American history during your stay check out the Patriots of African Descent or one of the Freedom Trail tours. Many African-Americans served with Washington at Valley Forge and their contributions are chronicled in venues throughout the region.

You can request a meeting planners guide by going to www.valleyforge.org, and once you are ready you can also submit your RFP online through their website.

The Caribbean has long been a popular destination for the African-American traveler. As a people we don’t need much of a reason to frolic in the warmth and hospitality of a region that welcomes us with open arms. One place that should be on your itinerary for a visit is Puerto Rico.

For those meeting planners among us, the Puerto Rico Convention Center (PRCC) is the largest most technologically advanced convention center in the Caribbean and throughout Latin America. This center has 580,000 sq. ft. of meeting/exhibit space and can easily accommodate 10,000 people. The PRCC is located in the heart of San Juan, just minutes from the airport and the ocean. As a commonwealth of the United States no passports or visas are required for American citizens and the local currency is the good old U.S. dollar.

There are over 5,000 hotel rooms in the greater San Juan area alone and a new anchor hotel for the PRCC, a Sheraton is scheduled to open any day now.

If it’s vibrant nightlife that interests you, Puerto Rico is the place. From wild nightclubs to quaint jazz clubs and theaters, Puerto Rico has a little something for everyone. And if you’re a gambler there are some great casinos around. Casinos are only permitted in hotels. Isla Verde, Condado and Old San Juan are just some of the places to try your hand at blackjack, roulette, craps, poker and other games of chance.

Charleston, SC has consistently ranked at the top of virtually every poll when it comes to measuring popular tourist destinations over the last 15 years. Africans both freed and enslaved made significant contributions to the culture and economic prosperity of Charleston and the surrounding community especially in the area of agriculture. And for a truly unique American experience a visit to the Gullah community is an absolute must.

Much of Charleston’s African roots are also on display in museums and monuments throughout the region. Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture and Boone Plantation are a must stop on any vacation itinerary to the region.

On the meetings and conventions front, the Charleston Area Convention Center Complex features over 150,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and has an adjoining Performing Arts Center. Just steps away are the North Charleston Coliseum and an Embassy Suites. Combined, this complex is the largest of its kind in the southeast.

Charleston’s proximity to the ocean makes this a great place for boat charters and other outdoor boating activities. Theater, golf and great dining are just part of the Charleston experience.

Meeting planners and leisure travelers alike can learn more about Charleston by going to www.charlestoncvb.com.

Up the road from Charleston in the central portion of South Carolina is the state capitol of Columbia. The Columbia Riverbanks Regions as its know for being near the confluence of two rivers is a great place for meetings and conventions with over 537,000 sq. ft. of meeting space in the city, including 142,000 sq. ft. at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

Columbia has numerous accommodations to choose from including the new Hilton Columbia Center adjacent to the convention center along with a Hyatt and Courtyard by Marriott and several others.

Along with its southern hospitality and rich history this college town is one of the most affordable destinations in the United States. For the African-American historians among us, Columbia has done a magnificent job of preserving its African-American heritage.

Places to eat are plentiful throughout the city with over 450 dining establishments. To learn more about Columbia head to www.columbiacvb.org.

Another destination that might not be on your radar is Wilmington, DE. Located midway between New York City and Washington D.C. and less than two hours drive from several major metropolitan areas including Philadelphia (20 minutes) and Baltimore (90 minutes), this city is ideally situated for leisure travelers and those meetings and conventions.

If you are looking to save money and have a good time, Delaware has a very low lodging tax and offers tax-free dining and entertainment. Need a little retail therapy then Delaware is the right place with tax-free shopping.

Wilmington is a great place for those mid-size meetings of 3,000 or less and is dotted with chic restaurants, a thriving theater life and some great jazz clubs. The refurbished riverfront area is a great place to just hang out.

Wilmington was the last stop to freedom on the Underground Railroad.  Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park was named in honor of Harriet Tubman and stationmaster Thomas Garrett.

The Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau can be located on the web at www.wilmcvb.org.


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