A business conference that includes family members, especially children, may seem counter-productive to work. Won’t parents be distracted and more likely to skip out on core conference events? Will parents who do attend daytime functions likely leave them early and skip important evening networking with colleagues? Don’t children add the necessity for more security, oversight or even insurance requirements?
Maybe. But many corporations and meeting planners have found that adding family can actually drive attendance at conferences and promote productive networking. Attendees can also stretch their hard-earned dollars by tacking a family vacation onto the beginning or end of a business conference for which their travel expenses are paid.
“The resort was chosen in part because of the proximity to our headquarters, proximity to an airport, quality of the event space and attractions in the area.”
Setting is important for all meetings, of course, but even more so for those that include family. Fortunately for planners, there are slew of destinations and resorts that are both business- and family friendly.
Prince Corporation, a Wisconsin-based wholesale distributor and manufacturer of agricultural, lawn and garden, pet and wild bird products, believes in the value of family at its fall booking show. And Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in Wisconsin Dells, WI, is the perfect place for meetings at which attendees bring family along. In fact, Sam Solatycki, Prince Corporation marketing supervisor, says they’ve met at Kalahari approximately 20 times and the attendees love it.
“The resort was chosen in part because of the proximity to our headquarters, proximity to an airport, quality of the event space and attractions in the area,” Solatycki says.
Among its business attributes are the business center the group utilizes during the show and the fact that there are many different restaurants on property ideal for client meetings. “The location works great for us,” Solatycki continues. “The convention center at the Kalahari is state-of-the-art and keeps improving. The hotel rooms are great and Wisconsin Dells definitely doesn’t have a shortage of attractions.”
Not surprisingly, Solatycki points to the resort’s indoor/outdoor water park as the No. 1 attraction for his group. “A lot of our attendees come from out-of-state and nobody else has water parks like the Dells.” But his attendees also use the theme park, bowling alley and movie theater, among other amenities.
Family is included in every aspect of this event. “Allowing family at our meeting is an excellent way for us to incentivize customers to attend. The Kalahari resort is a great family location and it allows our attendees to take a mini-vacation with their families while also getting some work done.”
It’s a success for both company and attendees. “The majority of our attendees have their stays paid for by Prince Corporation, and the stay includes all that the Kalahari has to offer. We don’t plan other activities for families with children because there’s so much to do there already.”
Solatycki notes that some of the attendees even bring their families with them to the show floor. “But this doesn’t generally change the way the event runs,” he says. “We have food on the show floor for the entire event and children are allowed to come in without a name badge and enjoy that part of our show as well.”
From his point of view, there isn’t a tremendous difference between a meeting at which family attends and one that doesn’t include family in terms of the success of the event. “The main difference with a conference that families will attend is the choice in location. It might be slightly more expensive to host a conference at a premier resort like the Kalahari, but it makes the event that much more fun and our customers continue to look forward to the show every year.”
To other planners considering a family friendly meeting, Solatycki says, “I think the best advice is to choose a venue that already has activities for your customers. This will save you the headache of having to plan extra mini-events during your main event. Also, don’t skimp on the food. The last thing you want is hungry, unhappy attendees.”
Clark Sell, president and founder of THAT Conference, which is also very much about family and community, holds the annual conference at Kalahari Resort. Sell refers to the conference as “summer camp for geeks,” and including family in the core event was integral to the vision of the conference from the beginning.
“Technology is the theme that brings us all together,” Sell says. His goal with the conference, however, is not just to connect tech geeks, but to develop the common connections that link the community of professionals, families and businesses together.
Kalahari is an ideal setting for this conference and resort amenities are incorporated into the conference schedule. The conference is positioned as “the last chance to get away before summer slips away,” so Sell tells potential attendees they will “geek out on everything from writing some epic code to making paper airplanes,” and have time to cool off in one of the resort’s many pools.
The schedule includes sessions such as Intro to Hacking Web Applications, Scary Stories About Artificial Intelligence Gone Wrong and a data structures and algorithms refresher, along with a family track that provides hands-on, activity-based learning for kids of all ages and an entire track for spouses and kids. Each night there are different events to attend, from a pig roast to a game night and, of course, a water park party because this is Kalahari.
While the conference is aimed at developers and other tech professionals and enthusiasts, Sell emphasizes that a core value of the gathering is “shining a light on the importance of family and caring for yourself.”
When it comes to family friendly cities, San Diego is high on the list, according to Martin Davis, DMCP, general manager of Hosts Southern California, a Destination Marketing Company. Last year, Davis worked with a company whose conference drew some 6,000 attendees, and family was very much a part of it. The attendees were lodged in nine different downtown hotels, all within walking distance of the San Diego Convention Center. “This made it easy for families to come and go from the center,” Davis notes. “Our clients engage their annual conference as an opportunity for many of their clients to come together and enjoy a sense of community. Many of the attendees are independent operators of businesses located in small towns throughout rural America. For a lot of them, the annual conference is a chance to bring their families to a top-tier destination where they can conduct business, learn, network and also enjoy a family vacation.”
Davis’ group assisted with many of the event’s details, functions and activities. “We provided airport arrival shuttles for five days and airport departure shuttles for two days. The weeklong duration for airport shuttles is uncommon but was offered so that families flowing in and out throughout the week would have transportation accommodations, ensuring a positive first and last experience,” he says.
Davis continues, “We also provided the transportation for our client’s children’s program, a four-day camp program during which 800 children per day were taken out to see popular attractions. Coach drivers were screened for security purposes, and the scheduling of drivers had to be consistent every day to ensure they were with the same group of children each day.”
Davis says optional activities were offered on the final day of the conference in order to “provide families with unique experiences that could not be found online.”
The customer appreciation event was the big offsite attraction. “Everyone brings their family members and attendance eclipses 5,000 guests. Menus are tailored to be child-friendly in both food and beverage,” Davis says. “And interactive entertainment was spread throughout the event to encourage constant flow into new spaces. A carnival packed with games along with a park of full inflatables were two major features intended to keep children engaged for the night.”
Davis points to San Diego’s many attractions as one reason it works so well for family inclusive meetings. The San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, the USS Midway Museum and LEGOLAND California Resort are just a few of the options. “San Diego is a very safe city with an endless offering of family friendly activities, from theme parks to water sports and more.”
Menus, too, were created with kids in mind. “Our menus were tailored to be more child-friendly and included less ‘adventurous’ food,” he adds.
The group utilized the San Diego Convention Center, which Davis says, “has all the features of any modern convention center,” and is well set up to execute portions of this meeting. “The front driveway made it very easy for us to organize the motor coaches for the children’s program.”
In terms of planning the meeting, Davis says there are definitely differences from planning a more traditional meeting for adults only. “The biggest difference is in the proposal of food and beverage as well as finding ways to keep children engaged. Security for the children is a constant concern and must be addressed proactively and consistently. Parent attendees are much more apt to engage and enjoy the conference when they know their families are having a great time enjoying the destination.”
Davis says that when planning a meeting with family, “The more attendees the merrier. We find that many attendees are more likely to attend a conference when they can tie a family vacation into the travel plans. With families comes an increased sense of community and inclusion,” he says. “Planners should plan for the positives of that.”
There’s no question having children at a meeting presents some challenges. However, Davis says, “The opportunities that come with a family friendly program far outweigh the limitations.”
No matter where in the country a group wants to hold a family inclusive meeting, there are places to accommodate them, from the seaside to the mountain tops and from coast to coast. Here are several others to consider:
Georgia’s Sea Island has been welcoming families to its lush environment for many decades and has received the Forbes Five Star designation 11 years in a row. It offers 42,000 sf of indoor meeting space able to accommodate groups of five to 500.
There’s no lack of activities for children to engage in while the adults are in meetings. To start, Camp Cloister provides age-appropriate fun and educational experiences for ages 3-14, many of them outdoors taking advantage of the resort’s setting on a barrier island. There’s a Junior Naturalist program as well as an activity titled Fish Dissection, during which kids learn the “ins and outs” of fish commonly caught off the coastline. Families can participate in activities together, too. Nature tours, dolphin tours, fishing trips, tennis and archery are all good choices.
Additionally, Sea Island offers options for groups when attendees bring children along. Camp Cloister is available, but there’s also Kid Fit, an Under-the-Sea workshop, Cloister Kids Crafts and Kids Night Out for those times when the adults are engaged in evening functions.
Camp Dolphin, at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL, is a supervised program for ages 4-12, and parents get two hours free with a dinner at one of the specified restaurants or a treatment at the resort’s Mandara Spa. Additionally there are games and activities scheduled throughout the resort, not to mention five pools and a beach.
The Dolphin recently added a new 1,600-sf meeting space, The Caribbean Room, bringing the resort’s total to 87 meeting rooms. The Swan is opening a new grab-and-go food venue in the lobby, much like the outlet in the Dolphin lobby so popular with meeting attendees. And planners take note: Shula’s Steak House at the Dolphin has been completely updated and refreshed and still offers a variety of flexible private dining spaces as well as the option of a buyout.
Attendees at any of the Loews Universal Orlando hotels have easy access to the Universal Orlando theme parks, restaurants, shopping and services. The parks alone offer plenty for spouses and children to do during meetings. Which hotel you choose may depend on the size of your group and your meeting space needs. Loews Portofino Bay Hotel features 750 rooms, three themed pools, a spa, eight restaurants and ample meeting space, including the 15,000-sf Tuscan Ballroom. Loews Royal Pacific Resort has 1,000 guest rooms a lagoon-style pool and beach and 85,000 sf of function space. The Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando features a 12,000-sf pool with a giant waterslide — who doesn’t love that? — along with 650 guest rooms. Meeting space includes the sleek Velvet Bar, accommodating 125 for a reception.
It goes without saying that this is the destination for those who love the Harry Potter series. Universal’s Harry Potter attractions are super popular, so consider providing attendees and/or spouses/kids with the Universal Express Pass, which includes both Harry Potter-themed lands.
Tucked into the base of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, CO, The Broadmoor has been welcoming attendees and families for a century. Golf, tennis, hiking, horseback riding, falconry, zip lining (that can include a 180-foot rappel), paintball, geocaching, laser tag and swimming — what’s your pleasure? The resort offers all guests junior tennis camps and one-hour tennis “PeeWee Drills.” And the historic bowling alley can be booked for events. Attendee spouses and teens should consider the resort’s highly acclaimed spa as well.
Many of the adventures fall under the auspices of The Broadmoor Outfitters, who supply the appropriate gear in addition to leading activities, so no worries if you packed light. Groups that book the resort’s intimate wilderness lodging options — Cloud Camp (say yes to the mule ride), The Ranch at Emerald Valley and Fly Fishing Camp — have activities and services already built in, many of them perfect for families.
The Broadmoor partners with an exceptional local DMC, meaning planners don’t have to think of everything. Staff at the Colorado Springs PRA office can provide pretty much anything groups want and need and can be onsite to work with planners before and during the meeting. A children’s program and a few swimming pools are no longer enough to make a resort a top pick for families. Ideal locations, great programming and convenient accommodations are a must when you’re traveling with little ones.
Aulani’s epic kid’s club ensures that parents and kids will have a perfect stay. Located on Oahu’s small, leeward Ko Olina waterfront community, the resort features 21 acres overlooking a quiet, calm beach ideal for kids. Disney touches are ample but subtle — character breakfasts and dinners, hidden Mickeys, sightings of Goofy by the waterslide — with numerous “regular” dining options available such as the Hawaiian-themed Ulu Café, ‘Ama’Ama fine dining, appetizers and cocktails at The ‘Olelo Room, a fish and chips shack and a shaved ice counter. A nearby off-property shopping and dining complex provides numerous dining opportunities at every price point.
The complimentary kids club, Aunty’s Beach House, is a 5,200-sf kiddie paradise, complete with themed activities, superhero and princess dress-up, trivia, arts and crafts, fresh lei making, beach excursions, a movie room, video games and a backyard play structure. Attendees hoping for a bit of island culture can book the Ka’Wa’A lu’au, exploring the area’s island culture through a canoe exploration story, which can be enjoyed with or without kids.
While the kids are at Aunty’s, mom and dad can play a round of golf at the 18-hole, Ted Robinson-designed Ko Olina Golf Club or get a massage at Laniwai — and if the kids want to join, there are group massages and salon treatments for the whole family, too. And, of course, there’s the property’s water slides, lazy river, numerous pools, grotto, splash zones, and private snorkeling lagoon. C&IT