Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: May June 2015
African-American Guide To Meeting, Incentives & Traveling In The South
By: Rufus McKinney
How do you know when you've had an authentically Southern travel experience? You've probably received a warm welcome from some friendly folks who are eager to make you feel right at home. You've filled up on some soulful cooking. And you've witnessed the indelible imprint of African-Americans on the history and culture of the place.

The South has a wealth of great cultural and recreational attractions. Meeting groups will find state-of-the-art facilities and lodging catering to a wide range of needs. One of the region's biggest selling points is a mild climate that makes outdoor activity and events available most of the year.

Here is a selection of destinations that are beckoning visitors with their Southern charm.  With so many African-American cultural and historic sites found throughout the state, stay and extra day (or two) and see OUR America.

ALABAMA

One of the 11 lakes that make up the new statewide Alabama Bass Trail might make an ideal setting for an incentive trip for an avid angler or the reunion of a family of fishing enthusiasts. 

Huntsville's historic park and mansion Burritt on the Mountain has a new meeting facility under construction that will accommodate about 300 people, just right for a small conference or corporate retreat.

Mobile is ready to impress visitors with its rich, multicultural history on arrival: The city's welcome center is housed in a recreated 1735 French fort. The National African American Archives & Museum is a great place to learn about the African-American heritage of this Gulf Coast destination.

Visitors to Alabama's capital city should be sure to check out the new Freedom Rides Museum, housed in the Montgomery Greyhound Bus Station in the Court Square Historic District.

Ol' School music lovers traveling to Tuskegee might get a kick out of seeing stage costumes and other memorabilia on display at the Commodores Studio. Tours are available by appointment only through the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center.

BIRMINGHAM

Birmingham's renowned Civil Rights District is a must-see attraction, home to such historic sites as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where the notorious KKK bombing took place; Kelly Ingram Park, where a series of sculptures commemorates the civil rights demonstrations held on the grounds; and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Other area landmarks include the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, located inside the historic Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts; the Fourth Avenue Business District; Alabama Penny Savings Bank, the state's first Black-owned bank; and A.G. Gaston Gardens, a former motel and civil rights meeting space.

Several of Birmingham's top visitor attractions offer space for meetings and other group events. Unique offsite venues include the Sloth Furnaces National Historic Landmark; the Birmingham Museum of Art; the McWane Science Center; the WorkPlay Theater; and Barber Motorsports Park.

The Five Points South district is a popular hangout for dining and entertainment, while the Alabama Adventure theme park serves up a day of family fun.

Birmingham's largest meeting venue, the Jefferson Convention Complex, contains 220,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 60 meeting rooms, and a 10-story Medical Forum.  There are about 14,000 area guestrooms.

ARKANSAS

Pick-your-own fruit farms are cropping up all over the nation, but only in Arkansas can visitors pick their own diamonds - at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro , which also offers picnic areas and hiking trails.

Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Regional Park hosts the popular Smoke on the Water barbecue and music festival every September.  Pine Bluff's Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center is also located in the park.

The spas on Bath House Row in Hot Springs National Park and the Magic Springs/Crystal Falls theme and water parks are just a couple of attractions that make Hot Springs an appealing destination for a business incentive trip, vacation or family reunion.

Little Rock's most notable Black heritage attraction is the Central High School National Historic Site, where a landmark U.S. school desegregation case began.  A conference room in the Central High School Visitors Center, located near the school, is available for meeting groups.

FLORIDA

Visitors to the Sunshine State, which is marking its 500th anniversary in 2012, will find plenty of outstanding historical attractions to explore.

The home of the famed African-American educator Mary McCloud Bethune is open for tours on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, where another historical point of interest is the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse.

Jacksonville's Olustee Battlefield Monument is at the site of a significant Civil War battle waged by the all-Black Massachusetts 54th regiment for the Union. Other local attractions include the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville and the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum.

Along with being home to the historically Black Florida A&M University - and its famous marching band - Tallahassee also is the site of the John G. Riley Center & Museum of African American History & Culture and the museum at Union Bank, which houses exhibits from FAMU's Black Archives.

FORT LAUDERDALE

Today's Greater Fort Lauderdale is a top destination in the U.S. for discerning African-American meeting planners and their delegates, offering a rare cosmopolitan experience in a resort atmosphere spiced with a unique historical character to explore.

Year-round sunny skies and palm-fringed beaches set the scene for adventures and uniquely Lauderdale experiences that your attendees can enjoy with their families. An impressive collection of dining, entertainment, shopping, attractions, events, arts and cultural venues dazzles with Greater Fort Lauderdale's signature blend of beach-chic style and low-key, friendly ambiance.

If its Black history and culture that you crave, Ft. Lauderdale has more than its share. The African American Research Library and Cultural Center, the Old Dillard Museum and the Ashanti Cultural Arts Center are three notable Black heritage attractions in that should not be missed.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center sits facing the Intracoastal Waterway, offering panoramic water views through a soaring glass wall. Its 600,000 sq. ft. of exhibit, conference and meeting space on three levels of expansive architecture and distinctive décor remind attendees of the destination's water culture. The center's exterior features a fountain plaza surrounding a 35-ft. Kent Ullberg sailfish sculpture - dramatic by day and breathtaking by night.  And all this is just a short drive from the airport, the beaches and  downtown arts and entertainment district. 

When it comes to housing your group within the Convention Center area, Greater Fort Lauderdale's ongoing hospitality renaissance and the recent addition of several prestigious properties means whatever your choice, you'll be pleased. 

The six hotels in the Lauderdale Convention Collection offer 2,700 rooms, clustered booking advantages, beach or intracoastal views, discounts and amenities and close distance to the Convention Center, where you will enjoy complimentary space and welcome reception.

Getting to Fort Lauderdale is a breeze, thanks to the convenient Fort Lauderdale/ Hollywood International Airport, just three miles from hotels, attractions, the beaches, Broward County Convention Center, Port Everglades and just about anywhere else they want to be.

GREATER MIAMI

Greater Miami and the Beaches has a formula for success few places in the world can match. It's the perfect place to mix business and pleasure. Varied hotel and meeting space options make it a meeting planner's dream, while abundant sun, sand and surf, world-class cuisine and exciting entertainment choices make it a colorful and vibrant destination to explore. And now it has something else to boast about - the highly anticipated renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center is becoming a reality. 

The award winning firm of Clark Construction Group is in final negotiations with the City of Miami Beach for the renovation and upgrade of the Convention Center. The new convention center and $400 million hotel promise to be magnificent properties, befitting the international, chic and sophisticated hotspot of world renowned Miami Beach.

Ground breaking for the new Convention Center will begin December, 2015. The facility is scheduled for completion by December, 2017, while the park and outdoor public spaces are scheduled for completion by mid-2018.

Portman Holdings, an Atlanta-based architecture and real estate development firm has been awarded the contract to develop an 800-room headquarter hotel - 701 guest rooms and 99 suites, adjacent to the Convention Center. The hotel will also have over 95,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Guests and meeting delegates will be able to enjoy a fitness center, spa, multiple pools amidst rooftop gardens 80 feet above the ground, a business center, 320 parking spaces, and five different dining options. The hotel's expected completion date is January, 2019.

ORLANDO

With all there is to see and do in the theme park capital of the world, Orlando delivers magical experiences and adventurous thrills unlike anywhere else. Seeking to create unforgettable memories, over 62 million people experienced all that Orlando has to offer in 2014. This record-breaking announcement makes Orlando the most visited destination in the U.S.

The Orange County Convention Center has launched the next phase of its five-year capital improvement plan with the renovation of its West Building.  Hall WF will be converted into a remarkable 50,000-sq. ft. ballroom and four boardrooms. The project is expected to be completed by August 2015. 

Planners can also create unique events at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Universal Orlando® Resort and Walt Disney World® Resort.  Walt Disney World Resort is transforming Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, doubling the number of shops, restaurants and other venues, while the opening The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World® Resort, added an additional 37,750 sq. ft. of meeting and event space in an unparalleled lakeside setting..  Additionally, Universal Orlando Resort debuts its newly renovated guest rooms at Hard Rock Hotel.  And by fall 2015, Loews Royal Pacific Resort - already the largest meeting hotel at Universal Orlando - will expand its meeting and event space from 85,000 sq. ft. to more than 140,000 sq. ft.

With more than 400 hotels, Orlando is bound to have your perfect accommodation. From luxury golf resorts to themed hotels, Orlando's hotel collection is as diverse as the destination itself. Splurge on one of our new four-star resorts or stretch your budget a bit further at your favorite moderately priced hotel chain. Whatever the price point, there's an option in every part of town. Check out our handy search function to pinpoint your perfect lodging choice.

GEORGIA

Visitors to Georgia will find a wealth of cultural and recreational attractions throughout the state, including some of the nation's most famous African-American heritage sites. The most widely known is the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, part of Atlanta's Sweet Auburn district, while the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, a relative newcomer, is gaining notice as the largest of its kind in the state. But some of Georgia's hidden gems are the Black cultural and historical attractions found in smaller towns.

The Beulah Rucker Museum in Gainesville is one example, honoring the efforts of a local African-American leader to start a school for Black children. The Roland Hayes Museum and the Roland Hayes Music Guild, named for the pioneering African-American classical tenor who hailed from Curryville, GA, are located in Harris Art Center in Calhoun.

Among the state's most prominent sites for outdoor recreation and sightseeing are the Chattahoochee National Forest, Okefenokee Swamp Park, Desoto Falls and the Chattooga River.

ATLANTA

Atlanta is a city full of history and robust with heritage. From its role in the Civil War and Sherman's destructive march through Atlanta streets, Georgia's capital has been a place wrought with history-making events. Later, as Martin Luther King, Jr., made Atlanta the home of the civil rights movement, this hub of the Southeast once again took center stage in events that would alter the course of history.

Atlanta is a top choice for meeting planners due to the city's accessibility and its compact convention district that boasts a flexible hotel portfolio and event space to host meetings of any size. Atlanta also boasts the fourth largest convention center in the nation, the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), which is surrounded by approximately 10,000 hotel rooms within a one-mile radius.

DOUGLASVILLE

Whether your visit is business related or strictly for pleasure, Douglassville offers you a break from the hustle and bustle of a big city and the unique experience of a charming southern town.

The Douglasville Downtown Conference Center provides the perfect environment for your next business meeting, conference, training session, or trade show. With superior flexibility, the state-of-the-art facility has unparalleled amenities to meet your business meeting needs.

The venue includes a 7,672-sq. ft. ballroom that can be divided into five separate rooms, and offers a breathtaking rear terrace that overlooks Douglasville's charming historic district. The Conference Center also features a business center, two pre-function areas, a 150-seat auditorium and three meeting rooms. The unique blend of elegance and technology-savvy equipped rooms makes the new Douglasville Conference Center the perfect choice for corporate meetings and small to medium sized conferences, as well as weddings and social events.

While in Douglasville, enjoying free time away from the conference room, attendees are encouraged to hit the links at West Pines Golf Club, or explore some of the city's top attractions, which include Six Flags Over Georgia, Sweetwater Creek State Park, Dog River Recreational Complex and The Arbor Place Mall.

The closest major airport is Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), located about 20 miles from Douglasville.

EAST POINT

This suburban destination is situated at what was once the easternmost stop of the Atlanta West Point Railroad, seven miles from downtown Atlanta. Less than three miles from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, East Point is easily accessible to MARTA and Atlanta attractions like the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, CNN and Centennial Olympic Park.

There's also plenty to see and do in East Point itself.  The Camp Creek Marketplace, featuring more than 100 shops and eateries, also serves as a venue for a variety of community activities. Festivals are often held in the Commons area of the marketplace.

East Point has more than a dozen hotels, a number of which offer special reunion packages, and group travel accommodations are easily arranged. The ATL SkyTrain rail system provides an easy connection between the hotels and the Atlanta airport.

MACON/BIBB

Macon is home to the Bobby Jones Performing Arts Center, named for a well-known figure in gospel, and the Booker T. Washington Community Center, which houses the Otis Redding Memorial Library, both of which are located in Macon’s Pleasant Hill Historic District.

Macon's most prominent Black heritage attraction is the Tubman African American Museum, whose centerpiece exhibit is a 63-ft. mural by Macon artist Wilfred Stroud titled "From Africa to America".

The Edgar H. Wilson Convention Center features 102,000 sq. ft. of modern, light infused space. Stretch out a little into the Macon Coliseum with a 9,252-seat capacity adjacent to the Convention Center or take advantage of an additional 5,000 sq. ft. at the 220-room Marriott hotel connected by a glass-enclosed corridor.

With over 5,000 hotel rooms in five distinct areas, Macon, Georgia offers a central location and budget friendly accommodations along with unique spaces for meetings, receptions, trade shows, and athletic events.

Three airports - Downtown Macon Airport, Atlanta/Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and Middle Georgia Regional Airport - service the area.

KENTUCKY

Along with boasting the 2012 NCAA basketball champs, Kentucky's capital city is known as the heart of the state's Bluegrass Region. The 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park and 450 area horse farms have earned Lexington another nickname:  Horse Capital of the World.

Two notable Black heritage sites in Lexington are New Zion, a neighborhood founded by former slaves, and the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum, named for the artist who created commemorative U.S. coins honoring Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver. 

Louisville's must-see attractions include the Muhammad Ali Center and the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, which houses a permanent exhibit on the role of Black jockeys and trainers in the famous Thoroughbred race. The Kentucky Derby Festival starts two weeks before the race with a huge fireworks display called Thunder Over Louisville. Visitors might also enjoy a cruise aboard the nation's oldest operating steam-driven river paddlewheeler, the Belle of Louisville.

LOUISIANA

Each year Louisiana plays host to more than 400 festivals, with many of them celebrating food, from the Strawberry Festival in Ponchatoula to the Catfish Festival in Washington. Some of the most popular musical events - Jazz Fest in late April and early May, the French Quarter Festival in mid-April, the Essence Fest in July and the Satchmo SummerFest in August - take place in New Orleans, where the biggest party of them all is Mardi Gras.

New Orleans is home to the nation's oldest African-American neighborhood, Faubourg Treme, while other points of interest along Louisiana's African American Heritage Trail include the Arna Bontemps Museum in Alexandria, the Northeast Louisiana African American Heritage Museum in Monroe, the River Road African American Museum in Donaldsonville and the Hermione Museum in Tallulah.

BATON ROUGE

With plenty of opportunities to explore the history, culture, music, and food, Baton Rouge offers meeting planners the perfect mix of work and play. Choose from a variety of traditional and upscale hotels and an array of unique venues for offsite meetings and events.

Centrally located in the downtown area, the Baton Rouge River Center is within walking distance of various attractions, cultural sites, hotels, restaurants and bars. With surroundings rich in Louisiana culture and entertainment, the River Center provides its patrons a unique environment for memorable experiences.

The multi-facility complex is equipped with 100,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 17 meeting rooms and is capable of hosting a variety of events ranging from performing arts, concerts, productions, conventions, tradeshows, meetings and more.

Conference attendees will experience southern hospitality at its finest with the many options they will have to choose from when it comes to hotel accommodations in Baton Rouge. The Crowne Plaza-Baton Rouge is a 294-room, full-service hotel with over 30,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space offering planners a perfect choice to house its attendees. Located downtown, the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center hotel is adjacent to the Shaw Center and the River Center Convention Center, less than five minutes to the Louisiana State Capitol and three miles from Louisiana State University. The hotel is equipped with 290 rooms and 20,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Conference attendees and leisure travelers alike will find Baton Rouge is the perfect place to experience great music, attractions, adventures and activities. From the distinct tastes of the local cuisine to the soulful sounds of blues, gospel, Cajun & Zydeco, Baton Rouge celebrates life to the fullest. Spend a night on the town at one of the many live music clubs for rhythm & blues or Cajun two-step as part of the experience at restaurant/dance halls like Boutin's.

MISSISSIPPI

The Mississippi Culinary Trail highlights places to sample hot tamales, barbecue, catfish and other regional favorites. For a taste of the rich musical history of the Magnolia State, you can visit some of the stops along the Mississippi Blues Trail.

Outdoor adventurers might head for the hiking trail along the Black Creek in the DeSoto National Forest, go canoeing on Bear Creek in Tishomingo State Park, or spend some time hiking and dolphin watching on Ship Island, just south of Gulfport.

If gaming is your favorite adventure, Gulfport's Island View Casino Resort offers 1,900 slots and 20 table games, along with an assortment of nightclubs, shops and restaurants. The resort also includes a large meeting space and 562 hotel rooms.  Other local attractions include the CEC & Seabee Memorial Museum, the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, the Gulfport Symphony Orchestra and the Arts Under the Dome concert series at First United Methodist Church.

JACKSON

Immerse yourself and your attendees in the vibrant renaissance of downtown Jackson. Discover the Jackson Convention Complex, the centerpiece of the Jackson convention district. The facility is equipped with over 330,000 sq. ft. of meeting and conference space, a 382-seat, state-of-the-art theater, the latest technology and audiovisual capabilities, as well as a 9,000-sq. ft. kitchen and catering facility. Meeting planners should have no problem booking here for just about any type of conference.

At the end of the day, you and your attendees can sleep blissfully in some of Jackson's 5,500 hotel rooms. Hilton Garden Inn Jackson/Downtown, Hilton Jackson Hotel & Convention Center, and the Jackson Marriott-Downtown are some of the city's top choices for hotels with meeting space for conferences/meetings of various sizes.

A number of local attractions provide unique meeting venues, including the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Dupree House & Mamie's Cottage, the Mississippi Children's Museum, the Mississippi Fairgrounds Complex and Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.

NORTH CAROLINA

The Afro-American Cultural Center in North Carolina's largest city sports a rooftop terrace that would make a prime spot for a conference reception. Other top cultural attractions in Charlotte include the Mint Museum of Art, the Mint Museum of Design, the Levine Museum of the New South and the Charlotte Museum of History, which has the historic Hezekiah Alexander Home on its campus.

Visitors to Durham can browse the African-American art and artifacts at the Hayti Heritage Center, operated by the St. Joseph's Historic Foundation. More artwork is on display at the NCCU Museum of Art, on the campus of historically Black North Carolina Central University.

Along with several sites reflecting its Moravian heritage, Winston-Salem offers African-American heritage attractions like Winston-Salem State University and the Delta Arts Center. Winston-Salem also is the surprising birthplace of Texas Pete® hot sauce, and visitors can tour the company's headquarters and factory.

GREENSBORO

Greensboro is chock full of attractions where visitors can explore the area's Black history and culture. The most recent addition is the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, housed in the original downtown Woolworth's store where four North Carolina A&T State University students staged their famous lunch counter sit-ins in the 1960s.

The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at Historic Palmer Institute, at the former site of a Black preparatory school founded in 1902, offers event space in one of the school's former dining halls. At Mendenhall Plantation, one of the key exhibits is a false-bottom wagon used to transport runaway slaves. Other notable sites include Guilford College, the former location of a shelter for escaped slaves, the African-American Atelier art gallery and the Walkway of History, lined with markers commemorating events in local Black history.

The Sheraton Greensboro Hotel & Koury Convention Center, the city's largest meeting venue, offers 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a business center along with its 1,106 guestrooms.

SOUTH CAROLINA

South Carolina's Gullah community is a prominent part of its African-American history. You can learn more about the culture by taking a Gullah tour in Charleston and shopping at the City Market where artisans sell their traditional hand-made sweet grass baskets and other wares. Other Black heritage sites in Charleston include the Old Slave Mart and Museum and Emanuel AME, the oldest AME church in the South, where the slave rebel Denmark Vesey once preached.

Meeting groups and other travelers looking for a coastal retreat will find plenty to like in Myrtle Beach. One of the resort's newest attractions is the Grand Park Athletic Complex. Golfers can tee off at one of the unique courses along the Grand Strand featuring design themes like jungles and dinosaurs, while the Oceanfront Boardwalk holds a Kids Carnival every Monday night. The Broadway at the Beach shopping, dining and entertainment complex is another favorite hangout.

COLUMBIA

If you're gathering in Columbia, don't miss a chance to tour the Mann-Simons Cottage, the home of Celia Mann, a slave who walked from Charleston to Columbia after gaining her freedom. The home remained in the hands of Mann's descendants until the 1970s. A new addition is an exhibit on the history of a lunch counter that operated at the site from 1891 to 1900, featuring artifacts unearthed from a major archeological dig.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, kayaking, canoeing, camping and more, while planners will find more than 537,449 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the 142,500-sq. ft. Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. That facility contains 15,125 sq. ft. of meeting space, 24,700-sq. ft. of exhibit space and a 17,135-sq. ft. ballroom.

TENNESSEE

Visitors to Knoxville, the largest city in the eastern region of the Volunteer State, can explore the history of women in round ball at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Knoxville's Black heritage is highlighted at the Beck Cultural Exchange Center and Morningside Park, which features a 13-ft. bronze statue of Roots author Alex Haley.

Memphis, Tennessee's largest city, lies at its eastern edge. Its famed historic Beale Street entertainment district is a must-see attraction, while two other top sites are the National Civil Rights Museum and the Stax Museum of American Soul.

In the state's central region, the capital city of Nashville is home to such historic landmarks as Jubilee Hall, on the campus of Fisk University, and Music Row, the heart of the country music recording industry. A new addition will be the $17 million African American Museum of Music, Art and Culture.

VIRGINIA

Virginia's oldest museum is found on the campus of the historically Black Hampton University. Hampton's Virginia Air & Space Center includes an exhibit on Tuskegee Airmen, and there is more history to explore at the Hampton History Museum, the Mariners' Museum and the Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe.

In the capital city of Richmond, some of the most significant Black heritage sites are in Jackson Ward. Visitors to this historic neighborhood can tour the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia and view a statue of Richmond native Bill "Bojangles" Robinson that stands next to city's first traffic light, a gift from the entertainer. A Gallery Walk at the Virginia Historical Society features exhibits on the Civil Rights Movement and the role of African-Americans in the Civil War.

The list of recreational and sightseeing attractions in the Commonwealth includes Hampton's Buckroe Beach, Shenandoah National Park, Luray Caverns and the 343-mile Virginia Creeper Trail.

VIRGINIA BEACH

With the ultimate balance of coastal charm, a vibrant downtown district and year-round events, Virginia Beach offers a distinct vibe for every meeting. With beaches lining the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Beach's location makes it an accessible and desired meeting location for attendees and planners alike, who can choose from a variety of unique and unexpected meeting locations. Meet in the presence of sea life, beneath a rainbow-hued Chihuly chandelier or steps away from the sand and surf of the Atlantic Ocean. All of these options and more are available to make your meeting come to life in a distinct and memorable way.

In the heart of the Virginia Beach oceanfront lies the Virginia Beach Convention Center, a LEED® Gold- certified facility that continues to elevate the industry standard for its focus on sustainability and affordable elegance. The facility features more than 500,000 sq. ft. of column-free space, including a 150,000-sq. ft. exhibit hall, over 29,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and a 31,000-sq. ft. ballroom.

In the city's upbeat downtown district, boasting upscale retail, dining and entertainment, the Sandler Performing Arts Center offers a contemporary and elegant event venue adjacent to the Westin Hotel. Those looking for a unique and marine-themed environment will find the ideal backdrop at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. From an intimate, sit-down dinner for 20 overlooking the salt marsh to a cocktail reception amid sea turtles and sharks for 2,000 attendees, the Virginia Aquarium offers an idyllic ocean backdrop. Not too far away, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is one of Virginia Beach's hidden gems. The award-winning facility features regularly changing exhibits in contemporary media, including painting, sculpture, glass, video, installation art and more. It's a vibrant museum with areas compatible for groups as small as 20 to groups as large as 500.

Just a short drive away from the oceanfront, on the scenic Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center is the most energy-efficient, environmentally smart building in Virginia Beach. With its solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells, natural landscaping and more, the center is an international model for energy and water efficiency. The center features a large conference room for meetings, discussions and collaboration, all set against a stunning natural wonder.

For team-building opportunities, excitement awaits at the Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium, iFly Virginia Beach and Pleasure House Oysters' oyster-farming tours. The Adventure Park, an outdoor, aerial adventure park features multiple zip-lines and ropes challenge courses. Another thrill-seeking group activity, iFly Virginia Beach, is the city's first indoor skydiving complex, taking team-building activities to adventure beyond the boardroom. Additionally, planners can even try their hand at seeing how Lynnhaven oysters are harvested during Pleasure House Oysters' oyster-farm boat tours, which offers an environmentally friendly team-building experience, as well as a unique Chef's Table dining experience, right on the Lynnhaven River.

In addition to Virginia Beach's distinct offerings, it's the experienced and enthusiastic staff at the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau that delivers on the destination's well-known exceptional service. Planners can get acquainted with the staff via the "Meet the Team" feature on the Virginia Beach Meetings website, which offers bios showcasing the dynamic group of people who create memorable Virginia Beach meetings and events. To further the destination's focus on sustainability, the Virginia Beach CVB's give-back program, "One Beach, One World," offers groups the opportunity to be matched with a local or international charity or with non-profit organizations seeking voluntary support, broadening the reach for groups wanting to help others.

For more information on planning your next meeting in Virginia Beach, go to www.visitvirginiabeach.com/meetingplanners.

WEST VIRGINIA

Among the best places to enjoy the views of West Virginia's picturesque landscape are the Bluestone National Scenic River in the southern part of the state, the Gauley River National Recreation Area in the south-central area and the Midland Trail National Scenic Highway near Charleston.

The Mountain State is world-famous for its crafts, and one of the state's top art events is Charleston's Capitol City Arts & Crafts Show in November. The Fenton Art Glass factory near Charleston is open for tours.

For a closer view of the area's African-American culture and history, you can visit the Mattie V. Lee Home, the residence of the first Black female physician in the state; the Samuel Starks House, home of the nation's first Black state librarian; the Black Culture and African Heritage Center at Heritage Towers; and the Booker T. Washington Memorial in nearby Malden.

For entertainment, consider heading over to the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort in Crosslanes.

If this sampling of Southern destinations makes you hungry to learn more, the state tourism offices listed with this article have lots of information to help get your meeting, incentive trip or reunion plans started.

GETTING IN TOUCH

Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel

(800) ALABAMA

www.800alabama.com

Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

(800) NATURAL

www.arkansas.com

Visit Florida/Florida Tourism and Marketing Corp.

(888) 7-FLAUSA

www.visitflorida.com

Georgia Department of Economic Development

(800) 847-4842

www.exploregeorgia.org

Kentucky Department of Tourism

(800) 225-8747

www.kentuckytourism.com

Louisiana Office of Tourism

(800) 677-4082

www.louisianatravel.com

Mississippi Division of Tourism Development

(866) SEE MISS

www.visitmississippi.org

North Carolina Division of Tourism

(800) VISIT NC

www.visitnc.com

South Carolina Department of parks, Recreation & Tourism

(888) SC SMILE

www.discoversouthcarolina.com

Tennessee Department of Tourism Development

(800) GO2TENN

www.tnvacation.com

Virginia Tourism Corp.

(800) VISITVA

www.virginia.org

West Virginia Division of Tourism

(800) CALL-WVA

www.wvtourism.com

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