Q: My brother and I have just decided we need to plan a family reunion and we don’t know where to start. We haven’t even decided where to have it. Half of the family is in Maryland and New Jersey, and the other half is down south.
A: We’ve tackled this question before, but it’s always worth revisiting. Selection of the site for your reunion will most definitely impact attendance, so you want to choose wisely. In a nutshell, the best location for any group will be determined by the number of group members and their needs and interests. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- How easy (or difficult) will it be for people to get there? How expensive will it be? Can most folks drive? If they fly, is an airport nearby with ample flights and reasonable fares? The less it costs folks to attend, the better your attendance will be. In this case, you may want to “meet in the middle” by selecting a reunion site halfway between the two extremes, so no one has to drive or fly too far.
- What do we want to see and do? You can get together with your relatives in any hotel ballroom anywhere. Likewise, you can have a picnic most anywhere. You’ll want to select a location with interesting and fun activities that everyone will remember and that will make the reunion special! Do most of your folks like the beach? Some folks do, some don’t! Do they want to ride roller coasters? Visit museums or historic sites that have meaning for your family? Go shopping or out to eat? Play golf?
- What are the ages of your attendees? Things that delight young children may bore teenagers and vice versa. Riding the “Roller Coaster of Death” at the amusement park may be great fun for the 16- year-olds, but not for those over 40. If there are lots of young children, having ample things for them to do is a must; if they’re bored and restless, they’ll be sure to let their parents know it!
- How expensive are hotels? Staying at a four-star resort is a wonderful experience, but is this what your members are looking for? What sorts of rates are they willing to pay? At many beach resorts, summer is peak season, and rates are high. You may want to look at getting together at a location in their “off season” – the hotel or the local CVB can tell you when “off season” rates apply. You’ll be staying in the same hotel, but at much more attractive rates! Meals are another big expense. Are there “family-friendly” restaurants in the area? Does the hotel offer refrigerators in guest rooms where folks can store simple staples (juice, milk, sodas, etc.)? Does the hotel include breakfast in their rates? All these things help attendees control the cost of attending your reunion.
- The “how expensive” question also applies to local attractions and sightseeing. If the only attraction around is a theme park and tickets are $85 per person, that’s a
$510.00 expense for a family with four children! (And that’s before they buy their first hot dog!) Consider places near state or local parks, museums, galleries, historic sites and other activities that are either free or can be enjoyed at minimal cost.
Next, narrow your list of possible locations to a select few that you can seriously consider. Start by calling the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) in each location you’re considering. The CVB is your very best source of information about all you’ll need to consider when deciding where to meet: access, activities, lodging, restaurants, prices, the best times to visit, and much more. And virtually every CVB in the country is eager to assist you free of charge!
Reunions magazine features a directory of cities/destinations in every issue and online that have demonstrated they are eager to host your reunion. Start with this list and go from there!
Ask the CVB representatives you speak with these questions:
- Why would my family have more fun if we get together in your city/destination than if we go somewhere else?
- We’re looking for nice places to stay that can provide rooms for $ ___ in the month of ____. What are our options likely to be?
- Why have other reunion groups met with you? What did they like best about your city? Was there anything they didn’t like?
Once you’ve spoken to CVBs in a number of locations and received their information, narrow your search to a select few (probably no more than three or four) destinations that you’re seriously interested in and call those CVBs again. Ask them to collect bids from their hotels that meet your needs. You’ll need to tell them the number of rooms you’re likely to need, the number of days you’ll need them, when you’ll need them, and the rates you’re willing to pay. Include hotel features that are important to you—for example, a pool, a ballroom for your banquet, a hospitality room for your group, a restaurant, parking, and so on.
The CVB will respond to you with the bids they receive from hotels that are interested in hosting your reunion, and will review these with you. They’re happy to arrange a visit to their city so you can see hotels and the area’s attractions first-hand.
The CVB representative truly is your very best friend in whatever city your group chooses for your gathering. Good luck with your reunion!
About the Hospitality Answerman
Dean Miller, national sales director for Visit Fairfax (fxva.com), the convention and visitors bureau in Fairfax County, Virginia, is a great friend of reunions. Contact him (703-790-0643; [email protected]) when you are planning a reunion in the Washington, DC, area. Fairfax County is nearby, affordable, and conveniently located to all the area has to offer.