Inviting families to accompany attendees at meetings and incentive events provides an array of potential positives. Including families can boost attendance, underscore and promote a family-friendly corporate culture and serve as motivation for employees striving to qualify for annual corporate reward programs.
There’s no one kind of company, no one size of meeting, no one type of event that works for bringing family along. The addition of families can be a positive part of any corporate gathering.
Eric Czerlonka, principle creative director with Czerlonka Productions, brought an annual incentive group of 250 to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last year.
“This particular client,” he says, “wants to support the importance of family and views this as a way of thanking the entire family for their support throughout the year.”
Czerlonka worked closely with The Broadmoor to create children’s programming that was available to parents during their stay. “It included games, movies and snacks throughout the day, along with access to the resort’s many amenities. In addition, Play at The Broadmoor, the resort’s combination dining and games venue, offered activities such as shuffleboard, pool and bowling for the families. We found this to be a great benefit in our decision-making process.”
Czerlonka notes that the addition of family did not directly affect the choice of destination or resort. “The beauty of the resort, its surroundings and the service are key to the success of the program,” he says. “However, a family component does change how we view the resort options.”
Activities, dining and choices are key, whether or not family is along. “The Broadmoor offers luxury shops right on property, golf and amazing restaurants,” Czerlonka points out.
Additionally, he says, there are options off-property that make The Broadmoor and Colorado Springs an ideal incentive destination. “Seven Falls, The Broadmoor’s fly-fishing camp, Garden of the Gods and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway (currently closed for an operational assessment) are just a few of the experiences that groups gravitate toward.”
Czerlonka also likes that whether attendees fly into Colorado Springs or Denver, the transfers are easy. “Transfers from Colorado Springs to The Broadmoor are very convenient, and the close proximity allows you to manage transportation costs,” he says. “For those who decide to fly into Denver, we’ve found that the drive to Colorado Springs is one that is full of amazing views, and our guests don’t mind the 90-minute trip to the resort.”
This particular group had meal functions for all attendees including family, with at least one surprising result. “The culinary team at The Broadmoor was very creative with providing menus for the kids. We actually found adults going for the children’s food items at times!”
“It’s a way for the company to…give the qualifiers a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience that they are able to share with the ones that they love.”
— Michael Dalton, CIS
At the end of the day, Czerlonka says there are some differences in meetings and programs with families vs. those without. “I believe the big difference is that the parents are looking for a balance and a safe alternative to having the children with them all day. Our goal is always to give them peace of mind that their children are in good hands.
To that end, we dedicated event managers from our team who partnered with The Broadmoor team in caring for the kids. From a planner’s perspective, this is definitely an additional element that needs to be considered.”
When a western U.S.-based corporate group was looking for a site for its incentive program, it turned to Kip Lambert, CIS, with Destinations, Inc. of Utah. Ultimately, the group of 720 headed to the Grand Hyatt Kauai on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
“Hawaii in general and Kauai specifically are wonderful, family-friendly destinations,” Lambert says. “Additionally, availability of airlift, ease of access, cost, quality of lodging and entertainment all contributed to the selection.”
Lambert says that having family along is important to the company and to its employees. “Company officials feel that having family attend helps qualifiers maximize their incentive experience by being able to share the trip with those important in their life. And each qualifier wanted to earn this trip so that his or her family could enjoy this incentive vacation experience.”
Lambert notes that the Grand Hyatt Kauai perfectly fit this group’s culture and the attendees’ needs. “The Grand Hyatt Kauai has a great mix of beautiful public spaces, pools, kids’ areas and a large ballroom, making it a great choice for this program.”
While arranging childcare was the responsibility of each qualifier, Lambert says that families were encouraged, though not required, to attend all activities and group events. There was just one function open to qualifiers only.
In terms of extra work during the meeting, Lambert notes that the only added consideration was making sure that enough child-friendly items were available at the buffets.
That said, adding family to the mix does complicate some planning. “The biggest challenge to bringing family along was the extra logistics needed in booking airfare, rental cars and other group transportation,” Lambert says.
In addition, having families in attendance may lessen peer-to-peer qualifier interaction during the event. “I feel like group events definitely end sooner or fizzle out quicker because people want to attend the event yet also want to end on time or end early so that they can spend the max amount of time with family. This makes meetings succinct and to the point with much less mingling afterward,” Lambert says.
To other planners who might work on a family-friendly program, Lambert has this advice: “Make attendees aware that if their airfare is booked and then they decide later that they want to bring family, it can be difficult at that point to book the same flights at an affordable cost or to find seats together,” he says. “I suggest you have them first make the decision as to whether or not they are bringing family and then book airfare only after that decision is made.”
Additionally, he suggests, “Provide some kind of group childcare during those events where just the qualifier is invited. That might include games, an activity, etc.”
Noël Mladinich, CMP, CMM, manager of meetings and events at Raymond James Financial, Inc., brought a group of 100, including family members, to the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia. “When our attendees are happy, they are more productive, and including family helps support the company’s culture,” Mladinich says.
The group was looking for a property that offered a relaxed and inviting setting and family-friendly activities, and Salamander fit the bill. “Salamander Resort has great meeting space, sleeping rooms and dining options,” Mladinich says. “Plus, there’s a wonderful pool area and kids’ activities, including the unique equestrian options.”
In addition, the region and resort also offered good airlift options and overall costs were in line with the meeting budget. Typically, the primary attendees spent their mornings in business meetings while family members had free time.
“We offered a family-friendly activity and invited guests of all ages to meal functions. We had a kid-friendly buffet at the dinner and s’mores at our fire-pit farewell function. We also had lawn games and a photographer on hand for family photos,” Mladinich notes.
There were no challenges in organizing the meeting. In fact, Mladinich says, including family is an enhancement. “It adds depth and a personal touch to a business meeting. It’s nice to see attendees with their families and for those families to get to know one another. Attendees truly appreciate being able to bring their loved ones, and they enjoy sharing the experience with them.”
To other planners and companies trying to decide whether or not to include families in a corporate meeting or incentive program, Mladinich says, “Give it a try. I think you’ll find it provides a high ROI.”
Family-friendly meetings aren’t limited to those taking place within the United States. It’s not unusual for incentive programs located in other parts of the globe to include family members as well — and with good reason.
Michael Dalton, CIS, president of SITE Ireland, with Moloney & Kelly, part of the Hosts Global family of DMCs, says incentives in particular make sense for family members.
“By the nature of the business of incentive travel, qualifiers have gone above and beyond their targets, meaning they are likely to have spent a few late nights at the office and time away from their family. The incentive program is a reward not just for the qualifiers, but also for their families. It’s a way for the company to thank the spouse and kids for their support and understanding throughout the year and to give the qualifiers a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience that they are able to share with the ones that they love.
“Time with family is precious,” Dalton adds, “so companies recognized that by rewarding a qualifier’s entire family, it also benefits the company significantly by generating huge loyalty among the staff.”
Dalton worked on an annual incentive program for a North American client last July that included 75 couples plus children. The group stayed at The Killarney Park Hotel in County Kerry and Dromoland Castle in County Clare. The choices of areas to visit and specific hotels were influenced by the fact that children would be present.
“A safe, secure destination is a priority for any incentive program, but beyond this, it was more detail orientated in relation to property and activities,” Dalton says. “Both locations used in this program have a strong reputation for delivering exceptional experiences for families on leisure as well as corporate incentives, so this was a good added bonus. We ensured there were child-friendly activities and a dedicated space with childcare professionals to run activities for children while parents were in meetings.”
Moreover, Dalton says, “Air access from North America is extensive to Ireland with additional routes being added every year, making it an ideal location for North American clients. The quality of both properties is world class, and the value proposition for the destination is exceptional.”
For this particular group, Dalton notes, “Children joined all of the evening events, and a special menu was designed to cater for their needs as would be done for any other attendee. The entertainment was all family-friendly and interactive.”
The only real issue regarded setting up certain activities. “It was important to set minimum ages on some of the activities, and as we didn’t know before registration how many children would attend or what their ages would be, it made it difficult to predict.”
Like others, Dalton says that including children introduces some complexity to the planning process. “It adds another layer to the planning aspect having to ensure that you have an additional space to accommodate the children’s needs and ensure that they have the same fantastic destination experience as the qualifier.”
Dalton’s best advice to planners working on a program that includes children is: “Always add a contingency into your budget to allow for any additional unforeseen expenses that may arise, such as ad hoc activity packs for children during transfers. Ensure that your DMC can provide you with the maximum occupancy per room in each property and specify bed types, along with what is classified as a child age versus an adult at the proposal stage.”
Nicky de Champlain is part of another Hosts Global DMC, JPdl Destination Management Canada, based in Quebec. She worked with a group of 375 for an annual convention based at Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. She says that the fact the event takes place in July makes it right for family inclusion. “It allows families to be together during the summer when children are, for most part, out of school,” she says. “Parents can attend the business meetings yet still be with their families for a portion of the day.”
De Champlain also notes that including families had a “huge bearing” on the selection of the city and hotel. “Quebec City is safe, easy to walk and offers a variety of restaurants, shops and attractions. And many of these are within a short walking (distance) from the hotel.”
A dedicated program for children was offered during the convention. “The same space in the hotel was booked for the duration of the meeting,” she says. “It had specific opening times with a specific schedule of activities, days and evenings. And qualified personnel were onsite at all times the Children’s Club was in operation.”
The Club offered activities, games and workshops for a range of ages, and food and beverages were also served to the children at the Club. In addition, de Champlain says, “We also customized off-site activities to cater to families, both cultural and active.”
Among the family-friendly events at the convention was a Family Day. “We had strolling and interactive entertainment, and a special child-friendly menu was created,” de Champlain says. “Specific food stations with lower tables were adapted for children, and there were mixed seating areas with lots of colors that were vibrant and fun. A special reserved area was also set up for children, which provided better viewing of the stage and the main entertainment show.”
There was a gala evening for adults only at an off-site venue while a special evening for children was offered within the hotel. The children’s final night was grand, fun and made them feel very special!” de Champlain says.
In considering the differences between meetings with and without families, de Champlain says, “We found that the participants were more relaxed knowing their families were with them, yet they were also enjoying the conference program. The participants enjoyed every little bit of free time they had to be with their families. They got to discover a city that they may have never traveled to as a family. The participants were very appreciative of what was offered for the children.”
While de Champlain agrees that inviting families can boost attendance, she also points out that there’s a financial factor to consider. “It’s OK to charge a minimal fee to bring children,” she says. “To do it right, make sure you have the budget to have the proper program in place. If you don’t have the money to do it right, don’t include children.”
Planners seem to be in agreement that while families can add some logistical challenges and unforeseen expenses, the positives and benefits of having them along, for attendees as well as for their companies, are well worth it. C&IT