Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2015
African-American Reunions Mean Big Bucks For Savvy Marketers
By: Rufus McKinney



Dictionary.com describes the word reunion as, "…a gathering of relatives, friends, or associates at regular intervals or after separation…the act or process of coming together again…" And it seems, that despite our turbulent economy, many Black families continue to come together at regular intervals no matter what. Even when money is tight and expenses are cut, they tend to focus on things that are important in life, such as family and maintaining friendships.

Family reunions are a time-honored tradition in the African-American community dating back 150 years.  These multi-generational family gatherings are arguably the largest sector of the African-American travel and tourism market. 

The birth of African-American family reunions can be traced back to Emancipation.  Former slaves began the search for distant family members, by placing ads in newspapers or simply asking those who toiled on nearby plantations.  For those able to reconnect, the reunions were glorious celebratory affairs.  Several studies suggest that 90 percent of all family reunions are held by African-Americans.

Organizing a family reunion, even for a seasoned professional planner, can be a daunting task.  The good news is that most, if not all convention and visitor's bureaus across the nation, will provide you with resources, knowledgeable staffers and support services to help you plan a seamless family reunion that will leave your clients and family members smiling. 

For example, the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB offers the following "Tips for a successful reunion:"

  1. Begin planning 18-24 months ahead.
  2. Designate a lead person who can delegate duties -- with a timetable -- to get others to commit to the event.
  3. Make plans appealing to adults and kids, but be imaginative and flexible based on weather, size of group and time constraints.
  4. Include an oral history project, which can be a great way to spark conversations across generations and cultural backgrounds, preserve history, and bring relatives closer together.

Following is a list of destinations to consider for that family, school or military reunion that will be your most memorable one yet!

ATLANTIC CTY, NJ

Reunions can be great fun in a city that has something for every taste and interest. Atlantic City is one of the world's favorite destinations and the beach differentiates it from any other gaming locale. Millions of guests stroll, ride a bicycle or tour the more than five-mile-long Boardwalk on a distinctive rolling chair. But Atlantic City is not a one-trick pony.  This East Coast hotspot is increasingly becoming known for its thriving culinary scene and world class shopping, as well as for its vibrant arts and culture offerings.

Planners will have plenty to choose from when organizing activities for reunion attendees.  Everything from the Atlantic City Historical Museum, Atlantic City Ballet, and the Civil Rights Garden for cultural aficionados, to day cruises , sailing, fishing, boat, canoe or kayak rentals, or hitting the links at one of the areas more than 25 golf courses for outdoor buffs.

Accommodations are available to fit every budget, including the 2,100-room Tropicana Casino and Resort, Atlantic City's premier destination and New Jersey's largest hotel.  Other options are the all-suite Flagship Resort, 728-room Golden Nugget, and 206-room Courtyard by Marriott, to name just a few.

For more information contact Meet AC, Gary Musich, VP of Sales at (609) 449-7110 or gmusich@meetinac.com.

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AUSTIN, TX

Austin consistently ranks as one of America's best cities to visit according to many leading national publications.  More than 22.6 million domestic visitors come to Austin annually. Known as the Live Music Capital of the World®, Austin offers world-renowned festivals such as SXSW® and Austin City Limits Music Festival - along with more than 250 venues featuring rock, blues, jazz, hip hop, punk or Latino shows nightly. Austin's universal appeal extends well beyond music however - with outstanding dining experiences, world-class sporting events, an oasis of outdoor activities and other unique happenings only Austin can offer.  Sounds like the ideal location for a memorable reunion.

Let the Austin CVB help you customize an Austin itinerary that will provide a one-of-a-kind experience for your reunion. Need a place to stay? They can obtain a rate quote from a hotel that best meets your needs. From step-on guides to ground operators, recommendations on restaurants, attractions and more - the ACVB Tourism Department can help!

Austin boasts 8,300 amenity-filled downtown hotel rooms and 33,000 rooms citywide in a wide range of price points.  As Austin continues to grow and turn heads as a popular reunions destination, 2015 promises to be a big year. Exciting developments include two new 1,000-room hotels and growing nonstop flight options

For more information contact the Austin CVB, Steve Genovesi, senior VP, Sales at (512) 583-7259 or sgenovesi@austintexas.org.

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BALTIMORE, MD

No matter what size family reunion you are planning, Baltimore is the perfect location to celebrate. And Visit Baltimore's family reunion planning ideas provide you with the inspiration to start planning your family reunion in Baltimore. In addition, their dedicated and knowledgeable reunion planning staff can help with hotel leads and tour planning. They'll help you discover all the fun, excitement, and exceptional entertainment you want during your family reunion in Baltimore.

Among the free Baltimore reunion planning resources you will find an array of brochures, guides and maps available that incudes information on group dining options, unique party and reception sites, accommodations and much more.  Just request a packet from Visit Baltimore - it's that simple.  You can also download a family reunion planner and budget worksheet from Visit Baltimore's website.

No family reunion in Baltimore would be complete with experiencing Inner Harbor. Baltimore's Inner Harbor has many stories to tell, from its heyday in the 18th century as the nation's leading shipbuilding site, to a major site for oyster canning, steel working, railroad building, immigration port and military supply center. In 1980, the Inner Harbor area underwent a major revitalization with the addition of many attractions, hotels, restaurants and shops. Today, the Inner Harbor is a major tourist destination and port of call for cruise ships.

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, a major Inner Harbor tourist destination, highlights the history and accomplishments of Maryland's African-American community, featuring exhibitions, resource centers, a cafe and a gift shop.  In nearby Oliver, the National Great Blacks In Wax Museum, America's first wax museum of African-American history and culture, features more than 150 life-size and lifelike wax figures.

For more information contact Visit Baltimore at (877) BALTIMORE or www.baltimore.org.

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BIRMINGHAM, AL

If you've never been to Birmingham, you may be pleasantly surprise by its beauty and charm.  With the foothills of the Appalachians as a dramatic backdrop, the city is laid out on a series of lush rolling hills, with woodland-covered neighborhoods just minutes from downtown.

That this Southern city has its own cosmopolitan personality is another eye-opener to visitors. It's hip without being pretentious. It's tuned-in without being pushy. It's very cool without the exertion. So if you thought you were coming to the Waffle House---not that there's anything wrong with that---you're coming to James Beard country instead.

Reunion participants will be happy to learn that dining is one of the great joys of being in Birmingham. Anyone visiting the city should take great delight in the fine Southern cooking here. No one wants to leave without a meal of catfish, fried okra, fresh corn, tomatoes ripened on the vine, cornbread (made without sugar, please), all topped off by deep dish peach cobbler - hot - with a dollop of ice cream.

Birmingham has experienced the recent openings of dozens of new art galleries of every sort. Clusters of galleries downtown and in nearby suburbs are giving reunion attendees with an interest in art options on paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, fine art and folk art.

Accommodations range from the quaint 8-room Cobb Lane Bed and Breakfast, Birmingham's first and only Bed and Breakfast, and 329-room Hyatt Regency Birmingham, The Wynfrey Hotel, to the 757-room Sheraton Birmingham Hotel, and everything in between.

For more information contact the Greater Birmingham CVB, Michael Gunn, senior VP, the Greater Birmingham CVB at (800) 458-8085 or mgunn@birminghamal.org.

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COLLEGE PARK, GA

Are your family reunion attendees looking for fun? Do they want to learn, see and explore? It's all here. Frequent fliers will enjoy the Delta Flight Museum and auto enthusiasts will want to tour the Porsche Experience Center. And while they're in the south, they have to visit the South's favorite chicken eatery, Chick-fil-A, and enjoy the Chick-fil-A Backstage Tour.

A short ride to Atlanta places you in the middle of famous museums, theatres and historical centers, including the Woodruff Arts Center and High Museum of Art, The Children's Museum of Atlanta, The Atlanta Botanical Garden, and the brand new National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Family members who love history will want to learn about famous Georgians, President Jimmy Carter and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at The Carter Center and The King Center. Time permitting, they should also check out the World of Coca-Cola, The Georgia Aquarium and CNN World Headquarters.

With more than 8,000 hotel rooms, the Atlanta Airport area offers countless ways to spend the night. From luxurious and spacious to quaint and modest, and all of the world's most popular and trusted names.

If you are looking for the perfect place to hold that family reunion picnic, or simply some fitness, fresh air, and fun, there are a number of beautiful parks and recreational facilities to enjoy.

For more information contact Meet College Park Georgia, Todd Neal, senior sales manager at (404) 334-7505 or tneal@meetcpga.com.

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COLUMBIA, SC

Columbia, South Carolina area attractions that will entice family reunion attendees are the South Carolina State Museum, African American History Monument, Booker T. Washington High School, Palmetto Motorsports Complex and the Columbia Museum of Art.  The younger set will especially enjoy the Southeast's largest children's museum - EdVenture Children's Museum, as well as Frankie's Fun Park and Riverbanks Zoo & Garden.  A family reunion shopping spree is another possibility at one of the area's many retail stores, while Congaree National Park offers hiking, primitive camping, bird watching, picnicking, canoeing, kayaking, and nature study. And when it's time to get their grub on, family members will rave over Columbia barbecue restaurants that serve up a signature tangy, but sweet, mustard-based sauce over smoky pulled pork.

No matter what your style is, Columbia has the perfect place for your reunion. Several properties, like the Homewood Suites by Hilton, or the Embassy Suites Columbia - Greystone, offer many amenities that are a perfect fit for family reunions such as complimentary full cooked-to-order hot breakfast, evening Manager's Reception, in room refrigerator and microwave, and courtesy shuttle service available to pick you up and drop you off at the airport or any other location within 5 miles of the hotel.

For more information contact the Columbia, SC CVB, Twila Jones, senior sales manager at (803) 545-0017 or tjones@columbiacvb.com.

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FORT AUDERDALE, FL

The Central Broward corridor of Broward County has emerged as an international crossroads of African-American, Caribbean and Hispanic cultures. The newly-renovated Westfield Mall, in the heart of Greater Fort Lauderdale, has become the meeting place for affordable family-friendly vacation fun.  An array of artistic and cultural activities presented around the theme, "Where Community Celebrates Culture," capitalizes on the richness of heritages in the African Diaspora and the homelands of Caribbean and Hispanic residents and makes the mall a place where many can feel at home.

What better place to connect with relatives, friends, schoolmates and cultural roots than an area accessible from major US cities and a gateway to the Caribbean? Reunion planners can choose from a variety of beachfront, boutique, and suburban hotels in an urban experience that offers relaxation and multigenerational fun. Broward County Parks offer pavilions, water slides, boat rentals, picnic areas and even a cricket field at Central Broward Regional Park to meet your family's needs.

If its Black history and culture your reunion participants crave, Fort 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 that should not be missed.

Other family friendly attractions include the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Everglades Holliday Park/Airboat Tours, Fort Lauderdale Riverfront Cruises, Xtreme Actions Park and CB Smith (water) Park.

To receive your family reunion planning kit (includes welcome bags, visitors guide and map, multicultural visitors guide, discount coupons and promotional item giveaway) call Valerie Troutman at (954) 2547.

For more information contact the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB, Albert Tucker, VP, multicultural business development at (954) 767-2456 or atucker@broward.org.

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MILWAUKEE, WI

Looking for plenty of easy, affordable, family-friendly fun? Look no further. Rated as the Top Destination for Family Travel in 2014 by ABC Travel Guide for Kids, Milwaukee is the perfect choice for your family reunion!

Milwaukee offers the one-of-a-kind attractions that make family reunion memorable, including the world's only Harley-Davidson Museum, the lively atmosphere of the Milwaukee Public Market and the soaring wings of the acclaimed Milwaukee Art Museum. Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, the nation's largest Native American casino, recently added a 381-room luxury hotel to its property. Milwaukee's heritage shines through in the city's rich traditions, including some of the world's largest cultural and ethnic celebrations.

Reunion participants can enjoy the outdoors with views of Lake Michigan and the downtown skyline from Veterans Park, or contact Milwaukee Kayak Company which rents kayaks (tandem and single), canoes and stand up paddle boards to families with children ages five and older.

The city's African-American culture is celebrated in the northside Bronzeville and Garfield Park areas, while the United Community Center and Layton Boulevard West are centers for Hispanic, Hmong and African-American communities.

Arts and cultural offerings are varied, with something to satisfy every family member, young or old.  From the Betty Brinn Children's Museum, where children ages 10 and under can have a blast exploring hands-on exhibits that make learning fun, to the Milwaukee County Zoo, where family members can see the king of the jungle and slithering, swimming and swinging creatures, take a ride on the steam-powered Safari Train, get a bird's eye view on the Sky Trail zip line, ropes course and climbing wall or enjoy the colorful menagerie on the Zoo's carousel.

For more information, contact Visit Milwaukee at (800) 576-6466 or www.visitmilwaukee.org.
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