One surefire solution to sagging attendance is to choose a popular vacation destination that will appeal to the whole family. Time-pressed parents will appreciate the chance to blend quality family time into a business-related trip and fully experience all that the destination has to offer. There are many convention cities large and small that should be on every planner’s family-friendly wish list, offering historical, educational and just-plain-fun attractions and activities for association groups to work some and play some. Here’s a sampling of fun cities that association planners have found offer some serious drawing power.
The wealth of museums, monuments and other historical sites in our nation’s capital will certainly entice the 25,000 attendees of the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) 2018 Fall Meeting in DC to bring their families along.
Notes Lauren Parr, vice president of meetings for the Washington, DC-based AGU, “Washington, DC, provides a terrific opportunity for families to enjoy all that the city has to offer and for earth and space scientists to connect with not only their disciplinary communities at the meeting, but also the larger global science policy community located in the DC region,” Parr says.
An important factor in AGU’s selection of DC, is that the meeting is the kickoff celebration of their centennial year and the opportunity to host where the organization is headquartered.
“DC is home to a large community of affiliated science organizations like the Carnegie Institution for Science, National Academy of Sciences, Geological Society of Washington and others,” Parr says. “Many of these organizations are planning public lectures and other events to coincide with the AGU Fall Meeting.”
In addition, AGU is hosting an “AGU Night at the Museums” for conference attendees and their families while they’re here. They are partnering with the American Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History to host programs and an after-hours open house. Many AGU member scientists have contributed to exhibits for the Smithsonian, especially at the Air and Space and Natural History museums.
“We’re looking forward to celebrating those scientists and their contributions during this event,” Parr says. “We’re offering a slate of field trips that includes a multiday visit to Shenandoah to explore the unique geology there as well as opportunities to visit NASA Goddard and other locations that are unique to D.C.
“AGU’s Fall Meeting is a family-friendly event,” Parr says. “We’re one of the few meetings that allow children onto the exhibit floor and into the meeting itself. AGU does this because we understand that work-life balance for our scientists is difficult and often, for parents or caregivers to attend, the family comes along too.”
According to Megan Cumming, vice president of operations at Linder Global Events, who helped organize the USA Science & Engineering Festival, Washington, DC provides access to many major companies, organizations and lawmakers, and continues to be a vibrant and expanding metro area.
“We consider the DC metro area to be a crossroads for multiple major cities and a large population of young families within a short distance away,” Cumming says. “The festival understands the needs of young families.”
Washington, DC, is teeming with museums aplenty for all age levels and interests. Science-oriented meeting and event attendees can enjoy the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall, which offers daily programs involving science experimentation. Kids are welcome to make and fly their own paper airplane, look through a real telescope with astronomy experts, take in a show at the Planetarium, climb in an aircraft or ride a simulator.
Kids will also love uncovering the secrets of espionage at the International Spy Museum, which features numerous experiences. Kids can learn how engineers construct architectural wonders by building an actual arch or truss using soft blocks in the Great Hall of the National Building Museum.
And at the National Postal Museum, kids can create a stamp using their own design, write and mail a postcard, sit in the cab of a postal truck, ride in a stagecoach and sort packages like people in the mail room.
Of course, no trip to Washington, DC would be complete without experiencing the National Museum of American History, which features a wealth of interactive exhibits for kids and adults alike.
Anaheim is known as a popular destination for family travel, and in July 1018, Destinations International, formerly Destination Marketing Association International, will be there hosting its annual convention. Destinations International is making a big push for attendees to bring their families this year and will have programming and events specifically geared to attendee’s families, including a movie night at the Grand Plaza for the kids.
The Anaheim Convention Center (ACC) reigns as the largest exhibit facility on the West Coast, having hosted large, well-attended events in more than 1.8 million sf of function space. Recently the ACC underwent a $190 million expansion, creating 200,000 sf of additional leasable space between two levels that will be used as exhibit, ballroom or meeting space, allowing the convention center to accommodate a wider range of events.
A climate-controlled pedestrian bridge provides access between the existing facility and expansion. In addition, a sweeping 10,000-sf balcony takes advantage of Anaheim’s Mediterranean climate, giving opportunities for outdoor gatherings.
Families visiting Anaheim as part of a convention will enjoy Disneyland Park. At Disney California Adventure, families can explore seven exciting lands with entertainment showcases such as World of Color, seasonal celebrations and transformations throughout the year and the all-new attraction Guardians of the Galaxy.
Disney aside, Knott’s Berry Farm has evolved into a world-class theme park, water park and hotel. The venue offers three mild-but-wild attractions, including Coast Rider and Surfside Gliders. Families can take a stroll back in time on the streets of Ghost Town where they may encounter a real Knott’s Cowboy shootout.
And just over the Orange County line is Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, where attendees can get up close and personal with a variety of marine animals.
Convention attendees and families also can enjoy Huntington Beach by taking a private surf lesson or walking along the pier and watching the locals tackle the big waves. The Balboa Fun Zone on the Balboa Peninsula is a Newport Beach nook featuring quaint shops and ice cream stands. Families can enjoy doughnuts or breakfast croissants at the famed Dad’s Donut Shop & Bakery, then rent a wave runner, go parasailing, head out on a whale-watching tour or take a spin on the Ferris wheel.
Whether an intimate group of 20 or large convention of thousands, Orlando has the space to meet the needs of not only attendees but also the families they bring along. With the Orange County Convention Center, one of the largest convention centers in the country, offering 2.1 million sf of exhibition space and more than 118,000 rooms across the destination, Orlando offers a plethora of options for meeting planners looking to surprise and delight all. What’s more, Orlando is home to some of the most identifiable attractions in the world, including Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
Lesley Kyle, CMP, founder, president and CEO of marketing and meetings company OpenMindWorks Inc., planned a three-day conference in Orlando with concurrent educational sessions, networking opportunities and a trade show for a well-established international association.
“Sponsors, exhibitors and attendees who wouldn’t normally travel with their families planned vacation time before and after the conference,” Kyle says. “The Orlando CVB has an outstanding website chock full of trip-planning resources, including links to discounted attraction tickets, visitors guides and a free mobile app. We also worked with some of the local attractions to offer discounted tickets specifically designed for our attendees via our event website.”
An airport shuttle discount also was offered so that the association could make the visit as affordable as possible for partners and kids to join attendees for an extended stay.
“The Orlando hospitality community was very supportive of our attendance-building approach by focusing on the city as a fun and family-friendly destination,” says Kyle. “Orlando has successfully hosted meetings and families for years — a lot of resources and initiatives are already in place so that planners won’t have to start from scratch when looking for amenities to include in their programs.”
Orlando World Center Marriott, located in not only the No. 1 meeting and convention location in the U.S., but also the most visited destination in the nation, entices large groups with more than 450,000 total sf of state-of-the-art special event space (almost all on one level) and the nation’s largest pillar-free ballroom.
However, the resort provides the perfect “twofer” trip, encouraging travelers to bring their families along for activities and experiences including the Falls Pool Oasis, where guests can enjoy a 104-step slide tower with two 200-foot winding waterslides and one 90-foot speed waterslide — among the tallest and fastest resort slides in Florida.
The resort’s Kids Activity Center at the Falls Pool Oasis features Legoland-themed events and Gatorland animal appearances by alligators and snakes, as well as the Mermaid Academy — where children experience life underwater with a tail.
Orlando World Center has been named by Forbes as one of the “world’s coolest hotel pools.” It’s easy to see why. There are three large screens to display sports or movies overlooking the main pool, a splash pad and a DJ booth.
In addition to Orlando’s world-famous theme parks, other key Orlando “must see” attractions for families include Madame Tussauds Orlando and Sea Life Orlando Aquarium, both of which are complemented with a variety of dining and shopping venues. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! also is a great venue where families can enjoy hundreds of interactive, fascinating displays.
Mike May, president of event planning company Brightspot, says Branson, in the rib cage of middle-America, is within driving distance for 90 percent of convention attendees. “While many meeting planners would prefer to fly, these attendees are happy to drive because they can bring along family members for a work-cation getaway,” May says. “The company encourages family attendance by reimbursing their mileage and adding family-friendly receptions for spouses and children. Their business meeting agenda may even include one free day to see the local sites.”
As May explains, in Branson, a company’s event can be the “big fish” event of the week and local venues can be more flexible than Las Vegas, Orlando and other metropolitan markets. And Branson arouses the curiosity of invitees who may have visited other tier-one cities, so an unvisited destination offers new experiences.
According to the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau, meeting attendees love coming to Branson. Attendees tell planners that the Branson area is a favorite meeting destination for a number of reasons: the central location, the breathtaking natural setting, the abundance of activities — and the fact that their family members love to come along.
In fact, the Branson Convention Center is located at the heart of downtown and the Branson Landing, giving conference attendees and their families hundreds of fun things to do within a few square blocks. Whether they are staying at the Hilton Branson Convention Center hotel, the Hilton Promenade or the nearby Best Western Plus Landing View Inn & Suites, families who have “come along for the ride” will be at the center of the excitement in downtown.
In addition, there are number of unique attractions located nearby, including the Branson Scenic Railway, Parakeet Pete’s Waterfront Zipline and Steampunk Balloon.
Also outside the convention center is a trolley stop, where visitors can catch a free ride to other parts of downtown and the Branson Landing.
And Branson is home to the 1880s-themed amusement park Silver Dollar City and the White Water waterpark. Silver Dollar City recently announced the “World’s Fastest, Steepest and Tallest Complete-Circuit Spinning Roller Coaster” with the spring 2018 debut of Time Traveler. In addition, Branson boasts unique museums including the Titanic Museum Attraction, The Butterfly Palace, Hollywood Wax Museum and Ripley’s Believe it or Not, just to name a few.
And the Branson Mountain Adventure Park is home of the Runaway coaster. This unique, family-friendly thrill ride takes riders along 5,000 feet of track, down hills, around corners and through two 360-degree horizontal loops. Riders can choose to go at full speed for maximum thrills or use a personal braking system to travel at a more moderate pace and enjoy Branson’s natural beauty and spectacular views as they descend the mountain.
America’s Fun Park is scheduled to open in May 2018 to bring another affordable family attraction to Branson. Reminiscent of a classic state fair midway, this park features carnival games, midway rides and a food court.
Nikki Abig, global account executive at Conference Direct, loves recommending Greater Williamsburg to her clients who are looking to incorporate family-friendly aspects to a conference or meeting experience.
“Williamsburg is truly a fantastic meeting destination,” Abig says. “The hotels and resorts offer the options various group types need and the experience and entertainment opportunities for attendees are unmatched. From immersion into our country’s history to theme parks, wine tours and proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, the area is truly a fantastic destination.”
As the world’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg allows families to travel back in time and immerse themselves in an 18th century city to gain a new perspective on the American story. Guests of all ages can meet the nation’s founders, enjoy period stories, and even try their hands at historic trades and games, with a focus on fun for young revolutionaries.
To meet the needs of convention attendees, Colonial Williamsburg has six unique hotel properties offering something for everyone. With 48 meeting rooms, 67,000 sf of function space and stunning outdoor venues, everything a planner could need is close at hand, plus guests have access to all the exceptional resort facilities Colonial Williamsburg has to offer. All of the properties have access to many resort amenities and are conveniently located near historic downtown and Merchant’s square, a unique shopping and dining destination.
Even after 400 years, a visit to Jamestown is still an adventure, but not as challenging as it was for settlers of the first permanent English colony in America in 1607. At Historic Jamestown, site of the original 1607 settlement, families can explore the Glasshouse to learn about America’s earliest industries, see ongoing archaeological discoveries of the fort and view thousands of artifacts unearthed, on display in the Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium.
Named for the most beautiful theme park in America for the past 27 years, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg offers fun for the whole family. Families can enjoy feeling the rush aboard one of the venue’s thrill coasters or at one of the park’s KIDsiderate attractions.
“Greater Williamsburg offers amenities similar to first-tier cities but at a much better value,” says Dominique Holt, associate director of conference sales and marketing, Visit Williamsburg. “Not only are we a historical destination, we also offer adventure, thrills, unique dining experiences and much more. It’s no surprise that meeting planners report that the attendance rises when they meet here. Williamsburg is one of North America’s most popular vacation destinations, and our unmatched combination of attractions and activities will delight delegates and their families.”
As far as cities go, Boston offers the best of both worlds: Exceptional convention facilities and a wealth of family-friendly activities that will keep both attendees and their children entertained for days.
Boston’s Freedom Trail links 16 historically significant sites along a 2.5-mile urban walking trail. Near the trail visitors can experience the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Built in 1742, Faneuil Hall was home to merchants, fishermen and meat and produce sellers. Nowadays families can enjoy unique shops while indulging in the worldwide cuisine.
While the Freedom Trail offers abundant opportunities for education and exploration, the Boston Public Market features a wealth of pushcart vendors and a new indoor year-round public market, complete with dozens of permanent vendors.
Ideally located in the Seaport District, the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center is also conveniently located to several “must see” family friendly attractions. The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum offers visitors the chance to relive this historic event through an interactive setting. Nearby, the Boston Children’s Museum entertains even the youngest of attendees, and the New England Aquarium offers an up-close-and-personal glimpse into the region’s marine life. AC&F