All In The FamilySeptember 15, 2021

Meeting Planners Seeking More Family Friendly Venues By
September 15, 2021

All In The Family

Meeting Planners Seeking More Family Friendly Venues
The Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association recently held their 50th annual Summer Conference in Sevierville, Tennessee. The family friendly event was a hit for attendees and their families. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association

The Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association recently held their 50th annual Summer Conference in Sevierville, Tennessee. The family friendly event was a hit for attendees and their families. Photo courtesy of Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association

As business and trade-professionals spend most of their time in the field traveling, or even just working unfavorable hours, it is important for planners to take family friendly venues into consideration when choosing association meeting or convention locations.

After all, more conventions are inviting the family along, championing the idea that attendees, when they bring their spouses and children with them when attending an event, creates happier workers and a more peaceful family life for those involved. “While of course the main priority is the success of their meeting, it’s a huge draw when an attendee can tell their spouse and kids to pack their bags because they’re going to the beach — especially when it’s snowing outside,” says Emily Hartstone, vice president of Magellan Management. “I myself can still remember running to the staircase every time my father came home from a business trip because he was traveling so much when I was young. Looking back, I wish those meeting planners chose destination properties instead of convention centers, because you better believe my mother would have put us on that airplane.”

She adds that being able to offer activities for a family while one parent attends a meeting helps create a solution to an issue that probably isn’t discussed enough out loud — the number of hours one or both parents have to work, and how to keep everyone together

Marla Everett, CMM, CMP, CITP, director, consulting services for Omaha, Nebraska-based Event Travel Management, notes business trips take people away from their families, and offering family friendly destinations may encourage attendance from members and invitees who may not otherwise attend the meeting or convention. “Also, the idea of “bleisure” [a blend of business and leisure] travel has become more popular,” she says. “It reduces the cost of a family trip if at least a portion of the business traveler’s trip is covered as a business expense. Families also tend to be more understanding and supportive when they benefit from the hard work being done.”

Dustin Weatherford, administrative assistant with the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association (TSA), is charged with planning the association’s annual conference, and always keeps families in mind during the planning stages. They recently held their 50th annual Summer Conference at the Sevierville Convention Center in Sevierville, Tennessee. “Venues that have family friendly activities allow for larger functions to come and be successful,” he says. “The TSA is like a big family, so when we can expand to our members’ actual family, it always brightens the event. The best way we can make this event successful is by finding venues that are connected to their communities and offer a wide range of activities for the families to do while our attendees are busy.”

Pamela Gonzalez, sales manager for the Banyan Tree Mayakoba, a luxury resort in Mexico, oversees meetings and event bookings and often deals with companies who want to bring along their families. “More and more, meeting attendees want to combine business and leisure trips,” she says. “When they travel with family members, they can combine their professional activities and experiences with leisure family activities. Since the hotel offers a variety of activities that they can do on their own while their parents have meetings — the ecological boat tour, a kids club, non-motorized water activities, a beach club, among others — it’s easy to accommodate this type of request.”

Greg Jenkins, a partner with Bravo Productions, notes venues that offer family friendly activities to entice association meetings and conventions can create a win-win situation for all parties involved. “From the attendee’s perspective, it can take on the form of a family vacation,” he says. “The attendee can participate in meetings during the day and spend time with family in the evening. Following the conference and meeting, the attendee can make this a family vacation for extended days.”

From the venue’s perspective, it adds value to a meeting and increases revenue for the venue, as you will have attendees and their families spending money at their property during the convention and post-convention for a few extra days. The impression a venue leaves on attendees and their families fosters an endearing corporate brand. Many attendees at these events, including children, may remember their experience with much affection years after the event and will likely become repeat customers. “By including families, it often makes it easier for some professionals to attend meetings and conventions,” Jenkins says. “More specifically, some professionals often skip meetings, conventions and events, because of family responsibilities. A person may not be able to attend because there is no one who can look after the baby at home, pick up children from school or drive kids to activities. Family friendly activities at venues help solve that problem.”

Travelers have learned that it is possible to strike a work-life balance when attending meetings and conferences, so in order to capture their attention and business, resorts are increasing their focus on appealing to the entire family. “The contemporary jet-setting family is looking for a destination with a wide range of experiences and offerings that will appeal to each member of the family,” says Cora Cartwright, conference service manager for SLS Baha Mar in the Bahamas. “These experiences need to be of the highest quality, easily accessible to their accommodations and remain authentic to the destination.”

For example, SLS Baha Mar recently introduced Baha Bay, a luxury beachfront water park that encompasses 15 lush acres directly adjacent to the hotel. “The water park is inspired by the natural beauty of the Bahamas, and is designed to perfectly fuse a relaxing island environment with exhilarating fun for the entire family,” Cartwright says. “This is the ideal place to spend an afternoon together after a morning full of meetings, with spectacular water slides and elevated culinary concepts that will satisfy all ages.”

Photo courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Photo courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

Location Matters

When planners design meetings with families in mind, it’s vital that they think about what’s available in the area for everyone to do. Hartstone says the location of a venue is very important in this regard, and destination properties certainly help make life easier for the planner. “I also think places that have scheduled activities you can sign up for can be helpful as well, as the planners have less to worry about,” she says. “Not that planning for the family is the planner’s job, but it’s inevitable they will ask what there is to do.”

Magellan Management recently held a meeting at Naples Grande Beach Resort on Florida’s Paradise Coast on the Gulf of Mexico, and found the venue to be perfect for the families who came out. “Their pool and waterslide area are awesome, and their private beach could not be more pristine,” Hartstone says. “The spouses did not complain about the world-class spa, and snorkeling, fishing and shelling are only steps away.”

Also, with many still concerned for their family’s safety with COVID-19 numbers fluctuating, finding spaces that have safety protocols in place is highly sought out when planning family friendly meetings today. Nilda Padgett, the South Carolina Association of Counties’ director of administrative services, recently held the association’s 54th Annual Conference on family friendly Hilton Head Island. The island offers everything from dolphin spotting during a sunset cruise to getting up close and personal with reptiles and amphibians at the Coastal Discovery Museum. “Our conference is always around the time where kids are about to return to school, so we want to ensure that our participants can soak up the final days of summer vacation together with their families,” she says. “I’ve found that Hilton Head Island is the perfect venue to host families, as the island sits on 12 miles of pristine coastline in addition to offering a variety of activities from tennis, biking and golfing.”

Any venue that has on-site activities is ideal for family friendly meetings, whether it is an organized “camp” type experience or short classes such as cupcake decorating. “Resort-style hotels are also very popular because they often include programming, such as movie nights, making s’mores, stargazing,” Everett says. “Swimming and water activities also seem to be a big draw, whether it is a pool, canoeing or boating.”

Those that offer something like a lazy river at the pool, bikes to ride or other activities are also highly in demand. “Orlando is a big draw because the theme parks tend to be an expensive bucket-list trip for families, and the key there is to stay on property at one of the theme parks or at a hotel that has a convenient shuttle,” Everett said. “Washington, D.C. is another nice option because of the history and all of the important U.S. locations. It can be viewed as a learning opportunity for kids.”

Banyan Tree Group prioritizes sustainability, and Gonzalez notes that many times families enjoy the sustainable activities and initiatives. Examples include recycled paper workshops, tree-planting events and a wellness program, including self-care activities.

Rebecca Baumwirt, director of sales for San Diego’s Catamaran Resort, notes when attendees are choosing whether or not to attend a conference, having the ability to combine business and pleasure — especially with family — makes it much more enticing. “In addition to our memorable Polynesian-themed meeting space, the Catamaran offers unlimited activity options, both on land and water, for spouses and children of all ages,” she says. “The family remains together, and everyone leaves with a valuable and memorable experience.”

Three great places to hold association meetings in Southern California are the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Universal Studios Hollywood, and for smaller groups, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. All are family friendly and offer a plethora of activities for attendees and their families. Jenkins notes a couple of meetings that were successful at these family friendly venues, including such things as deep-sea fishing; back stage tours of motion picture film lots and studio shows; water and beach activities, such as kayaking, water biking and ocean excursions; tour museum galleries and participation in interactive activities at a science center. “Some venues have arranged for sightseeing tours, tickets to sports games and other activities, as part of their concierge and meeting planning services,” he says. “Following the meeting, families can gather for dinner, come together for a movie at the theater or just stroll along the walk. It is an all-day fun and exciting affair for attendees and their families.”

Venues that take into consideration factors that are specific to new moms, such as providing areas for breast feeding, pumps, etc., also tend to stand out as a perfect family friendly venue. Also keep in mind that with more people caring for their parents these days, more attendees are bringing them as well, so they are seeking destinations that not only provide activities and adventures for children, but those that can fulfill the needs of their retired or older immediate family as well.

Photo by Zack Smith / Courtesy of New Orleans & Company

Photo by Zack Smith / Courtesy of New Orleans & Company

Tips for Success

When considering the dates for a meeting, if you want to promote families coming, then you will need to plan the travel around the school year, so holidays and summer breaks are good times to jet off. Success in this segment starts with listening to the attendees, Cartwright says. “The team needs to remain inquisitive and open to guest feedback, whether that’s coming from the parents or the children, and their input on activity options,” she says. “It’s a great way to stay ahead of the curve as the product offering continues evolving. Team brainstorm sessions to discuss new ideas and develop current guest experiences further are also a great way to ensure success.”

Everett has found that negotiating a good rate with the host hotel is helpful because it can encourage families to stay at the hotel pre- and post-event. “It is also important to think through the overall experience,” she says. “Is the main hotel within walking distance of the family friendly activities? Do they have activities on-site or is there a shuttle to the activities? If it is too hard for families to take advantage of the location, then they are less likely to join on the trip.”

When planning family friendly conventions, Padgett keeps experience at the forefront. For her event, which is somewhere around 500 to 700 attendees, she needs hotel accommodations and meeting facilities large enough to hold them and to entertain the children who tag along. “Home to several wildlife refuges and rich with Gullah culture, there is always something for attendees to immerse themselves in on Hilton Head Island, which is why we continue to go back,” she says. “It is also a gastronomic heaven, home to over 250 restaurants with diverse cuisine offerings and renowned for its locally sourced seafood. Of course, you can also find traditional chicken fingers and hamburgers in bustling restaurants, as well for the littles and picky eaters.”

Choosing a place where the meeting space is separate from the family activities is also recommended. “If your group is in an important discussion, you don’t want to be able to hear the kids screaming at the pool,” Hartstone says.

The Catamaran Resort recently hosted an engineering association, and they were encouraging both spouses and children to attend the meeting. “In addition to the conference schedule, entertaining daily activities were offered for the families, including spa treatments, beach games, standup paddle boarding, surf lessons, sushi-making classes, wine tastings, shopping excursions, bike rides and more,” Baumwirt says. The key is to offer accommodations and meeting space that cater to the business traveler, while also offering a variety of recreational options for family and those who are tagging along. The Catamaran’s spectacular beachfront location is the perfect postcard setting for an unforgettable family friendly meeting.”

Linda Casey, senior sales manager for Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California, shares that meeting trends for indoor boardrooms have dropped significantly, and a rising 85% of meeting attendees will now consider a short drive to the destination with outdoor venues, and strict sanitation procedures and safe outdoor activities. This is key when looking to attract families to the conferences. “Family friendly outdoor activities include the Forest Walk in the lush Monterey pine forest that teaches guests about the ecology, where native plants and wildlife have adapted to a mild climate and sandy soils,” she says. “Other ranger-led tours include the Asilomar Ramble and the Living Dunes Tour. There are also bicycle rentals, and miles and miles of coastal walking trails starting right from the hotel’s boardwalk.”

Jenkins notes some of the feedback Bravo Productions has received from guests and their families attending family friendly meetings and venues deal with the activities, and that any attractions need to hold a kid’s attention span for almost the entire day, or at least a half-day. “Additionally, allowing adequate time for the attendee to spend quality family time together is probably foremost in being successful in this segment,” he says. The environment should be safe and clean, and staff should be well trained, provide white-glove customer service, and have the ability to communicate well with kids. “Adequate, experienced and professional staff who can put together packages that appeal to family friendly groups is important,” Jenkins says. “They can make recommendations about what will appeal to different groups and audience demographics.”

Another thing that brings positive feedback is when a venue allows families to socialize with others, as the ability to meet other families has typically been an asset for these types of meetings — especially when people may already know each other from other business functions. “Venues that offer discounts for family vacations, attractions and have special meeting packages for family friendly activities also do well,” Jenkins says. “Venues that make events more inclusive for families, especially if attendees want to pair a family vacation with a conference trip is also extremely important. Hotels that have family suites are perfect for these sorts of meetings.”

To keep the memory of the trip alive, associations should include a take-home element so attendees and their families leave the event with a gift that serves as a reminder about what a fun experience they had at the company event. That will keep them coming back, and future conferences will be well attended.   | AC&F |

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