There are many reasons associations allow members to bring family along to a meeting or convention, not the least of which is that doing so can boost attendance. For some, it fits with the culture of the association and/or its membership base, so that bringing family along is the only way to go.
Including family can be structured in many ways. They might be at most or all convention functions, on spouse or family tours when members are in sessions, at evening functions only. Often, family members tag along for the start or finish of a convention, providing attendees with a way to combine business and vacation in one trip.
Including family works best in a destination that’s both family- and business-friendly. Any city or town with stellar museums, a range of family attractions, nature opportunities and tours with appeal to all age groups, as well as excellent conference facilities can work. Here’s how five family-friendly cities and associations make balancing business and family easy.
With its notable theme parks, Anaheim is a family magnet. “For meeting and convention attendees in Anaheim or Orange County, traveling for business doesn’t mean sacrificing family time,” says Junior Tauvaa with Visit Anaheim. “Home to world renowned theme parks, beautiful beaches and sporting events, Anaheim makes it easy for meeting and convention attendees to arrive early or extend their stay to vacation with family and build lasting memories.”
LaDonna Pettit, director of operations and conferences for Stone Fort Group, worked with the Automotive Service Association (ASA) on the 2016 show management of the NACE/CARS event in August, with 7,000 attendees.
“A big majority of NACE/CARS attendees are mechanical and collision repair shops that are family owned, so being a family oriented convention is important,“ she says. “On behalf of ASA, Stone Fort Group coordinated and operated several activity options/tours during the event.”
Among them were discounted tours via LuxBus America to Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles, Orange County Beaches and the Peterson Automotive Museum. There were also discounted Disney theme park tickets and information on a variety of other attractions, including Knott’s Berry Farm and ART (Anaheim Resort Transportation) and on local restaurants.
Pettit says the inclusion of family definitely impacted location selection. “During site inspections, we visited many of the offsite activities we organized and offered during the event. Chris Nuccio, CMP, at Visit Anaheim was amazing and took great care to ensure we understood the venues and activities available and personally took us to visit them.”
This was the first time NACE/CARS was on the West Coast, and Anaheim proved perfect. “The weather was beautiful in August. Airlift was easy, and between L.A. and Orange County, the availability was fantastic,” Pettit says. “We found great local entertainment for the outdoor opening reception and even enjoyed fireworks at Disney at the end of the night as you can see them from the convention center and convention hotels.”
Available hotels also made Anaheim a good choice. “Every hotel pool was busy throughout the week,” Pettit says. “Many of the resorts offer breakfast buffets in the package, which was great for families. I highly encourage that option for groups considering Anaheim.”
Upscale food trucks on the outdoor promenade worked well for lunches. “This was a hit,” Pettit says, “and easy to arrange via Aramark. Access Destinations also assisted with opening reception food trucks, which offered a variety for all ages.”
The conference included sessions that families didn’t attend, and, Pettit notes, “Because we have heavy equipment on the show floor there was an age limit there. We did not provide childcare as most parents enjoyed Anaheim with their children pre and post the event.”
Because this is a large convention and everyone wanted to be in Anaheim, early hotel reservations were a must. Pettit advises planners to offer hotel packages and discounts to parks and tours pre and post. “This may call for being creative with the tour company or DMC,” she says, “but in Anaheim, everyone was very accommodating.”
With sublime beaches, dolphins leaping offshore, excellent golf and numerous ways to enjoy the compelling Gulf Coast environs, Naples is popular with families. It’s also a fine choice for meetings. The National Pasta Association (NPA) successfully combined business and family at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort in 2014 and 2016, drawing 120–150 attendees.
Linda Arcangeli-Story, CMP, manager, meetings and expositions with association management company Kellen, notes differences in meetings that include family. “Associations that include families typically contract more sleeping rooms than we typically would in the room block on shoulder nights, including larger suites to accommodate families traveling with larger numbers or who want to stay additional days. A larger (and full!) room block supports the association financially, which is always a benefit,” she says.
“I’ve also found that when doing an event with a high family element, attendees want more free time, which means a shorter day event-wise. In turn, the association doesn’t have to hold as many food and beverage events, resulting in cost savings. Additionally, I’ve noticed that events with a family element result in higher registration numbers. For attendees who can’t always afford family vacations, these meetings let them tie vacation in with a work trip, which saves money and makes the entire family happy.”
In terms of the right destination, Arcangeli-Story says, “Florida by far is No. 1. Orlando is obvious; however, Naples, Tampa, Clearwater and South Florida also are very popular, and Arizona does well, too.” She says resorts that have worked well for family-friendly meetings include Ponte Vedra Inn & Club (Ponte Vedra), LaPlaya Golf & Beach Resort (Naples), various Ritz-Carlton properties across Florida and the Wigwam Resort in Arizona.
“An ideal family/business location also has to have easy lift and be cost effective,” she says. “You want a top-tier location that families can easily travel to but won’t cost an arm and a leg. Perfect properties have great pools, are near or on the beach, have activities for families onsite but also great meeting space — preferably off the beaten path and away from the pool. You don’t want people in swimsuits wandering into your meeting space.”
She also likes to make sure that hotels where families and spouses attend are safe and have easy access to transportation to and from all amenities, onsite or off.
Naples’ beaches are a huge draw, but the town has multiple family attractions, including Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, the Nature Center at Conservancy of Southwest Florida and catamaran sailing adventures. Families also can book tours in the Everglades, about 11/2 hours away. Most NPA families spend time together before or after the meetings and create their own activity schedules. By design, the resorts booked for these meetings include daycare or children’s programs, giving parents time at adult functions and meetings or on their own.
Most NPA meeting functions are for adults only, with typical food and entertainment provided. However, NPA offers a few activities that include families, too. “Families are included in sports events, such as golf and bocce,” Arcangeli-Story says. “This allows attendees time to network and do business but also time with family.”
She adds that conference functions typically end early enough that members can spend time with family or go out as a group. “And for those events where children are included,” she says, “we offer different food options on a lower scale for kids, and activities to keep them busy, such as face painting, characters and a variety of options on the dance floor.”
The biggest challenge, she says, “is finding a property that’s ideal for a family-friendly meeting but also cost-effective for attendees and the association’s bottom line. Some are willing to spend over $279 a night, but not all.”
At the end of the day, Arcangeli-Story says, “Conferences with and without families are not all that different, as long as you know your audience. That’s the key in event planning: Know whom you are planning for. If you have that, finding the property isn’t complicated.”
In addition to knowing your groups, she says, you have to also know their expectations. “If you know what is desired, then you can make it happen. Do your best to do a site visit and always ask what other events or activities are occurring at the property when your group is there. You don’t want to find a dream location then realize you booked over spring break.”
It’s known for songwriters and some of the country’s coolest music venues. But Nashville also easily melds family and business. If your meeting happens to take place at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, there ‘s enough to keep a family occupied for many hours inside the resort, including a “riverboat” ride along the property’s meandering manmade river.
Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. says, “In a city known for music, there’s plenty to do for the family. The interactive Grammy Museum Gallery at Musicians Hall of Fame is a great and appropriate start. The Nashville Zoo’s addition of four exhibits in 2017 makes it a must-see. Then, there’s the Adventure Science Center, zip lining and canoeing in the surrounding areas, and of course our new AAA ballpark with a miniature golf course to round out the family experience.”
“We make our evening events kid friendly. One night we did a reception at the Country Music Hall of Fame and entire families attended that. The next night we were at the Grand Ole Opry and again had a lot of kids.”
— Kristin Torres
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association set its Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Trade Show, with nearly 10,000 attendees, at Gaylord Opryland Resort in February. Kristin Torres, executive director, meetings and events, says, “Allowing family members is a huge positive for our association. Many of our members work with their families; they run family operations. For a lot of our members, our event has become their annual vacation. They don’t always travel a lot.”
Torres says the association accommodates spouses and kids. “We offer spouse discounts on registration and don’t charge for children under the age of 12. We do spouse tours for a select VIP group but don’t offer them to the masses because we’ve found historically that most of the time people do their own thing. We do specific marketing around the destination/facility being family friendly.”
She says Nashville is a great location for members for several reasons. “It allows for drive-in traffic; there are a lot of cattle producers in the region who can easily travel in for a day trip. The entertainment options Nashville provides are endless. Our members are huge country music fans and love not only the music in the city but the history behind it. Nashville is easy for our group to navigate and it’s a safe, comfortable and friendly city.
“There are also tons of things for families to do outside of the convention,” Torres adds. “That said, most of our families that do attend also attend the convention, especially the trade show.”
No need to ask what was served at convention functions. “We serve beef and things that go with beef at our events, and that works great for our members,” Torres notes. “We do not adjust our menus for families.”
Evening functions were family oriented but also provided adult-only time. “We make our evening events kid friendly,” Torres says. “One night we did a reception at the Country Music Hall of Fame and entire families attended that. The next night we were at the Grand Ole Opry and again had a lot of kids. But we follow that event with an after-party just for adults so our members feel like they are getting some adult time as well.”
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is a good fit for this large group that prefers to be mostly under one roof. “Gaylord Opryland provides us the ability to get a large chunk of our attendees staying in the same place. Our group is very social and having them in close proximity always works the best,” Torres says.
There can be challenges with kids around, especially with a large trade show in the mix. “Probably the biggest challenge is when we have attendees/exhibitors who bring their family and they want to have the kids in the trade show during setup. It’s not safe for them to be there and most folks don’t understand that. Additionally, a lot of people won’t register their kids, which can affect our seating/numbers etc.”
That aside, Torres points to the many advantages that come with families. “It makes it so much easier for attendees to justify not only attending an event but staying for the whole thing. Everyone is strapped for time these days. If you can bring your family to an event, it can eliminate the guilt of not being home with them,” she says.
To those planning an event that includes families, Torres says, “Be as flexible as possible. Don’t make it difficult for people to bring their families. It will make your attendees happier and ultimately make them want to return to attend your event year after year.”
It’s no surprise that Orlando is a top destination for meetings that include family. When the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers met in January for a seminar and board meeting for 109 and 70, respectively, the Disney Springs Area was the choice — and location was primary.
“We focus on a central location in the state that may also work as a family trip for our members,” says Becky Barlow, executive director. “The location near Disney Springs covered that focus.” In addition to location, Barlow says the other major factor in deciding where to go is price.
In terms of meeting this and other needs, Holiday Inn Orlando-Disney Springs Area is a good choice given the brand’s standard options such as Kids Eat Free, allowing up to four children under the age for 12 to eat free with a paying adult. “Being in the heart of the Walt Disney World Resort, we also make getting to the four Disney parks easy with transportation every 30 minutes at no additional charge to groups and their families,” notes the hotel’s Christine Burns. “Another savings is specially priced Disney tickets for meetings and conventions, available to attendees and their guests, which includes a bonus for two-day or longer full-day tickets.”
As is true for many associations, Barlow says this one sees great value in including family members at a meeting. “Our members work long hours so any chance they have to mix work with family is a bonus.”
For very large association groups visiting Orlando, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is an ideal fit with 2,267 guest rooms and more than 329,000 sf of recently renovated meeting space. Guest rooms in the Swan hotel were updated in 2015, and the Dolphin hotel guest rooms and lobby will complete a makeover this fall. Guests of the resort enjoy free transportation throughout the Walt Disney Resort and special extended theme park hours. Kids at the resort can take part in Camp Dolphin, with supervised activities during evening hours. There also is mini golf, five swimming pools and beach, a game room, basketball, beach volleyball and more.
Attendees at the January family-medicine conference of the Michigan Association of Osteopathic Family Physicians (MAOFP) easily combined education and family time. While the Traverse City area is well known to families for its lakeside setting and outdoor recreation in warmer months, it offers much for families in winter, including skiing and snowshoeing. It’s also well priced and safe.
Mary Anne LaMarre, CAE, the group’s account executive, says this is an important element of the meeting. “Family physicians put in many work hours per week while trying to balance their personal/family life,” she says. “By offering an event where they can obtain their continuing medical education credits at a family-friendly resort, they can bring their families to enjoy resort amenities while they attend the conference, and then they can spend their free time with their families.”
After meeting space and lodging needs, LaMarre says, “A location that is family friendly with reasonable pricing is a factor in choosing the facility.” She adds that resort amenities, dining and shopping also impact the final decision.
Shanty Creek Resorts, a four-season property with skiing, offered exactly what the group of 200-plus needed to meet conference goals. Among the pluses it brought to the table, says LaMarre, were location and access, customer service, ease of reservations and good property/facility conditions. It offered the right business amenities, including private meeting space in one central area, Wi-Fi, shuttle service, flexibility and AV equipment and staff, along with the right family amenities, such as onsite restaurants, activities and babysitting.
“At Shanty Creek Resort, family members can ski for free during the conference dates,” notes LaMarre. “MAOFP also offers guest tickets for family members to attend conference special events such as evening receptions. This year, we hosted two evening functions for members and their families: a night of tubing with s’mores and hot chocolate, and a sponsored reception with hamburgers and hot dogs.”
Breakfast and lunch functions were for conference delegates only; families had those meals at their own time and cost. However, at functions with families in attendance, LaMarre says, there were child meal options, and those functions were set at an earlier time. The group also provided entertainment applicable to families rather than just adults.
LaMarre says planners who work on conferences that include family members must “hit the right mark” in providing what attendees and their families need in terms of activities, and that can impact attendance. “Families who attend conferences usually form bonds with other families who participate in the activities,” she says. “That can help in the decision to return to the next family conference.”
In the end, most associations that include family at meetings derive valuable benefits from doing so, including increased attendance and ongoing commitment to attend year after year. In an age when drawing enough attendees sometimes proves difficult, that is an ROI factor that can make a difference to an association’s bottom line. AC&F