Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: June/July 2008
Visitor Friendly Cities

Word gets around about destinations that know how to take care of visitors, whether they're traveling for business, pleasure or a little of both.

James Jessie, vice president of sales for the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, says the CVB, its business members, elected officials and other local leaders all join in welcoming meeting groups and helping them to create a successful event.

"From the time they arrive at our airport to the time they spend in our hotels, our restaurants and our attractions, they feel a connection - and that everyone has bought into the idea of providing first-class service to all visitors," Jessie says.

Rick Hughes, president of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, thinks meeting planners appreciate the fact that the staff is in tune to their needs.

"I think if you listen and work as partners through the planning objectives, planners find that a comfortable way to do business," Hughes says.

Another attribute of a visitor friendly destination is the ease of getting there and getting around. Sarah LaRose, director of communications for the Fairfax County Convention & Visitors Center, notes that this northern Virginia destination is not only conveniently close to the nation's capital, it's also easily assessable by road or air. Hughes points out that Kansas City also is very accessible, and "you can get anywhere within the community inside of 20 minutes." Nothing says friendly like free, thus most visitor friendly cities will usually offer many complimentary visitors bureau services and at least a few attractions that have free admission on certain days or always. Even a simple detail like parking privileges can make a difference. "One of the other things that makes us very visitor friendly is that parking is almost 100 percent free," LaRose notes. "I don't know of a (Fairfax County) hotel that charges for parking." Read on for more information about how these and other destinations have earned their "visitor friendly" reputations.


ARLINGTON, TX

If you're looking for just the right place for a small convention, family reunion or incentive trip for sports lovers, Arlington might fit like a baseball glove.

In fact, one of top attractions in this north Texas city, Ameriquest Field, can host events for all kinds of groups. Along with being home to Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers, the park is the site of Sports Legacy - the nation's largest sports art gallery - the Legends of the Game Baseball Museum and Children's Learning Center.

Beyond the baseball diamond, there's a treasure trove of other family-friendly attractions in Arlington, from Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor water park to the River Legacy Living Science Center in River Legacy Park, Louis Tussaud's Palace of Wax and Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum. History buffs can tour the historic Theatre Arlington and Fielder House Museum, while art lovers can browse the Arlington Museum of Art free of charge.

Shopping options include Traders Village - a weekend flea market with more than 2,500 dealers - the Lincoln Square Shopping Center, The Parks at Arlington Mall and the Festival Marketplace Mall. The Arlington Convention Center offers nearly 50,000 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space, 12 meeting rooms and a 30,000-sq.ft. Grand Hall. There are more than 5,700 guestrooms housed in 46 hotels citywide, including 15 meeting hotels within three-mile radius of convention center. The Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau will handle your solicitation of hotel proposals at no charge, make presentations to board or committee members and provide many other services. Four hours of free registration assistance is yours for every 60 rooms you book on peak night; additional hours are available for a fee. Groups using two or more hotels and at least 350 rooms on peak night receive complimentary central housing services.


AUSTIN, TX

With four bustling entertainment districts within walking distance of downtown Austin, it's easy for visitors to check out many of the nearly 200 venues that give the city its nickname: Live Music Capital of the World. If you don't' feel like walking, a free trolley will get you to the Sixth Street and Warehouse entertainment districts from downtown.

A new stage for live entertainment, the Long Center for the Performing Arts, opened earlier this year on the shores of Ten Lake. One of Austin's longest-running music traditions is the television broadcast "Austin City Limits," whose tapings at the University of Texas are open to the public. Texas' first African-American neighborhood museum, the George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center, contains art galleries, a theater and conference space. Other cultural attractions in the capital city include the Blanton Museum of Art, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, the Austin Children's Museum and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau's free walking tours leave from the State Capitol, taking in Congress Avenue, the Capitol grounds and Bremond Block, which includes the Governor's Mansion. The tours run through the month of November.

Avid shoppers can head for favorite local retail therapy centers like the Second Street Retail District, the Whole Foods Market headquarters store, the Round Rock Premium Outlets and the new IKEA store and upscale Domain Shopping Center.

For meeting organizations and other group travelers, the CVB offers help with transportation, registration, housing, staffing, and locating services. Business travelers will appreciate the free wireless Internet throughout the downtown area. The Austin Convention Center, which boasts 246,000 sq. ft. of column-free exhibit space, accommodates up to 7,000 wireless computers at once. There are more than 25,000 guestrooms citywide, including 5,500 downtown hotel rooms, with their number expanding to 7,000 by 2010.


BALTIMORE

Baltimore is a very walkable city with loads of family-friendly sites to discover, particularly on a stroll along its famous Inner Harbor.

The Visitor Center located on the Inner Harbor is the departure point for the free, guided Heritage Walks tour that explores the Harbor itself, along with Little Italy, historic Jamestown, the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture and many other sites. Another free tour, the Mount Vernon Cultural Walk, takes you to the George Peabody Library and Conservatory, the Walters Art Museum, the Eubie Blake Jazz Institute and Cultural Center and other stops. The Walters Art Museum now has free admission, as does the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Family reunion groups will have no shortage of places to keep the kids entertained, with options including the National Aquarium, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Sports Legends at Camden Yards, Port Discovery and the Maryland Science Center. A visit to the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in Fells Point offers lessons in Baltimore's maritime history as well as its African-American heritage. With toys, movies, advertisements and comic book characters as the teaching tools, learning about the history of American pop culture will seem like play at Geppi's Entertainment Museum.

The city's premier meeting venue is the 1.2 million-sq. ft. Baltimore Convention Center, which has 300,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 85,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 35,000-sq. ft. ballroom. There are about 6,500 hotel rooms in the downtown area, most of which are within walking distance of the convention center.

The Baltimore Area Convention & Visitors Association offers assistance with planning and promoting events; housing and registration; finding vendors; and post-convention evaluation. If you like, the staff can help you plan an extended stay before or after the meeting.

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