Theme Park MeetingsDecember 1, 2013

Using Family-Friendly Venues to Boost Attendance By
December 1, 2013

Theme Park Meetings

Using Family-Friendly Venues to Boost Attendance
The California Transit Association's Public and Community Transportation Conference & Expo featured a Disneyland-inspired theme: "Imagineering Transit." Attendees and their families posed for photos with Mickey and Minnie. Credit: Tom Kawashima

The California Transit Association’s Public and Community Transportation Conference & Expo featured a Disneyland-inspired theme: “Imagineering Transit.” Attendees and their families posed for photos with Mickey and Minnie. Credit: Tom Kawashima

Maurice Foster, Esq., CMP, and executive director of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), clearly sees the attendance-boosting advantages of making an annual meeting a family-friendly event.

“Meetings are more than just a professional development opportunity,” he says. “Some families take the opportunity to turn it into a summer vacation, a family gathering, and that’s being done in the interest of economics.” He adds that members may have to make a choice between attending a meeting or taking the kids to a Disney theme park or another fun place in the summer. “You don’t want to be in a position where you’re competing against the family. So how do you create an atmosphere that allows a lot to be accomplished and allows a family to maximize on its resources? One way to do that is to create a family-friendly convention environment.”

“They were really happy to have their families with them and that their families could share in a portion of the conference. I think they felt like we cared about their families and we cared about them.”

Amy Lai,  Association Services Director, Shaw/Yoder/Antwih Inc. for the California Transit Association, Sacramento, CA

To accomplish that goal, NABJ, which is headquartered in College Park, MD, held its 2013 Convention & Career Fair in Orlando at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center. For the first time, the organization offered a youth enrichment program that included workshops on health, fitness and performing arts; visits to Disney theme parks and Downtown Disney; a pool party; and other fun activities. Foster describes what made Orlando a good choice for NABJ’s annual event. “Orlando is a very difficult place to say no to. It’s a very family-friendly environment.”

Mentoring Opportunities

Foster says that another advantage of making conferences family-friendly is the opportunity that they offer for mentoring. “Sometimes, the best mentorship programs you can have are in the family, with the children,” he notes. “Doctors’ children tend to look toward becoming doctors, lawyers’ children tend to become lawyers, and so forth. A lot of groups have internship programs or some youth mentoring aspect. What better place to begin that than at home and to create a training atmosphere where the children can be exposed to what their parents are doing for a career?”

Foster made sure that NABJ’s youth enrichment program appealed to kids of all ages. But, he says, the success of the program all depends on how many kids register. “This is the difficulty about it. You have to make sure you get enough kids in each age category to participate. I developed a similar program with a bar association several years ago. I would say they’ve been doing it for 15 years now, and that program is very similar to what we are doing here.”

He described his next goal for the program. “We want to get high school kids doing more, doing a college tour to take advantage of the location and allow them to go around and see the campuses. This year, we didn’t get enough of the high school-age kids to participate, but the vision has got to be there because you never know (who is going to attend).”

He says that having a youth program makes it possible for parents to turn their attention to attending the workshops and the other things that they need to do for professional development. “Our program is very cost-effective,” he adds. “In fact, it’s very inexpensive, comparatively. It allows you to drop the kids off in the morning and they’re under care all day long in programs and activities. In the evening time, we did a few things to allow the parents to make it to some of the receptions, particularly the night of the banquet. In the future, we may look at having a miniature banquet for the kids. There are a lot of options to create an award program, award contest or have a talent show to allow them to engage.”

Foster received a positive response from parents who registered their kids for the program. “The coordinators of the program actually created a site, a chat group, where parents could stay in contact with the kids throughout the day. It worked great when they were out at Disney. They were sending photos back and forth to their parents about that. I think that (visiting Disney attractions) is something that parents intended to do with their kids, but just couldn’t figure out how to fit it in. It gave them the opportunity to connect and be there, but not be there.”

Destination Disneyland

The Disneyland Hotel was the site of the California Transit Association’s (CTA) Public and Community Transportation Conference & Expo. Amy Lai, association services director for Shaw/Yoder/Antwih Inc., which manages 11 trade associations including CTA, planned the conference in partnership with the California Association for Coordinated Transportation. The iconic hotel, which opened in 1955, is conveniently located near Disneyland and the Disney California Adventure Park, and the Downtown Disney shopping, dining and entertainment complex. The event had a Disney-inspired theme:  “Imagineering Transit.”

“When you have a venue such as Disneyland, it just lends itself to inviting families,” Lai says. “We thought it would help our attendance by saying, ‘Come for the education, however, (also) come for fun and bring your families.’ I think it really did help with boosting our attendance. When you have it at a place where you want to take your family, people will kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.”

The conference’s organizers made a decision that proved to be popular. “We rented Cars Land,” Lai explains. “It was mostly older children, but there were some younger ones. It was late. It was when the park closed, so we had it from 9 to 11 p.m. We obtained a few sponsors, and we had a dessert reception there and had three rides available. It was a real highlight of the conference.”

The conference also included another event for the kids. “On the last day of our conference, we ended around noon,” Lai explains. “In the morning, we had just a short business meeting and then we had photos with Mickey and Minnie, and then we set up some Halloween carnival games. It was just some simple games for the younger kids with some prizes and some Halloween treats.

“Disneyland is great if the group can afford to rent a portion of the park to do a ride or you can have a family dinner event,” she continues. “This is the first time that we’ve really gone to this extent to say families are welcome. It’s Disneyland — you just can’t ignore the family factor there.”

Lai says the attendees were happy with the outcome. “They loved it. They were really happy to have their families with them and that their families could share in a portion of the conference. I think they felt like we cared about their families and we cared about them.” She added that the idea for making the event family-friendly came from her executive director. “It started from the top down because he really wanted to do a family event and he was excited about bringing his son, so he said, ‘why don’t we make sure we do something for the families on Friday at our conference?’ ”

The Disneyland Hotel has revamped its 975 guest rooms and 65 suites through what it calls a “modern makeover with a magical twist.” The rooms now have a contemporary look and feature classic Disney artwork and memorabilia. “They’ve renovated the rooms to make them more corporate-feeling,” Lai notes. “They’re trying to cater a little bit more to the convention market.”

The property has 136,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space, including the 18,000-sf Disney Grand Ballroom that features a built-in stage, full lighting and sound capabilities and a private prefunction area. The hotel also recently unveiled the Blue Sky Suite, a 3,000-sf purpose-built meetings suite designed to encourage “blue sky thinking.” It can accommodate meetings for up to 15 people.

“(The Disneyland Hotel) is very convenient, right outside Downtown Disney,” she continues. “They bring in that ‘happiest place on earth’ feeling into the hotel, so I would say it is a fun venue to have a conference at. Everyone was very friendly. Some of the rooms there are very large and then they’ve got some rooms that are kind of small. The thing that I learned — get a double/double room. You’re going to get a bigger room.

“I think anywhere you promote family-type activities will boost your attendance. It gives them another reason to go. We would probably go back to Disneyland Hotel and do another conference there,” Lai says. But she faces the same dilemma many other planners face. “After Cars Land, it’s going to be a hard act to follow to do another special event because we rented that side of the park and it was just amazing. I’m telling you that was fantastic.”

Sweet Success

Jessica Winger, meeting manager for the Pennsylvania Society of Gastroenterology (PSG) recently planned the organization’s annual scientific meeting at The Hotel Hershey in Hershey, PA. A member of Historic Hotels of America, the Forbes Four Star, AAA Four Diamond property offers 276 guest rooms and 23,500 sf of meeting space.

The town of Hershey is known as “The Sweetest Place on Earth” and is home to a wide array of family-friendly venues, including the Hersheypark theme park, Hershey’s Chocolate World, ZooAmerica and Dutch Wonderland. Hershey is located in central Pennsylvania, just 90 minutes from Baltimore and Philadelphia, two hours form Washington, DC, and three hours from New York City.

PSG’s group primarily included physicians, but there also were nurses and physicians’ assistants in attendance. “With this group, some of the families attend,” Winger explains. “The meeting is to get their CME (continuing medical education) credits.

“They like Hershey because of the whole Hersheypark (complex), so we had the afternoon open for the families to take the time to go to Hersheypark and Chocolate World and do that,” she adds. “With The Hotel Hershey, you can get discounted tickets through the concierge. They enjoyed it. Between the Boardwalk, which is the water park area, and having the actual rides, it’s nice and convenient having both of those options all in one at one park.

“It’s a beautiful hotel,” she continues. “They have the spa there, too, which is nice for the spouses to do while their husbands or wives are in meetings.” Known as “the Chocolate Spa,” it offers such tasty-sounding treatments as the whipped cocoa bath, chocolate bean polish and the chocolate fondue wrap. And if that’s not enough to keep spouses busy, they can head over to the Tanger Outlet mall nearby.

Winger also liked the layout of the meeting space at The Hotel Hershey. “We were all in one area of the ballroom. I had posters for my residents, which we utilized the foyer areas for, and then we had a general session and hands-on sessions for our docs. The space worked out great. It was all close by, all on one floor.”

She also lauded the long tenure of the hotel’s staff. “The service was great. My convention service manager has been there, I think, 20-plus years. That’s always nice, especially in the hotel industry. (Sometimes, at other hotels) I start planning a year out, and halfway through I have a different convention service manager.

“I think that my group would definitely look into going back again in the future,” she concludes.

Winning Them Over in Williamsburg

As a family-friendly destination, Williamsburg, VA, offers a wealth of attractions for spouses and kids to explore while attendees are taking care of business. The 425-room Kingsmill Resort is conveniently located near historic Colonial Williamsburg as well as the European-themed adventure park Busch Gardens and Water Country USA, the largest water park in the mid-Atlantic region.

Kingsmill Resort occupies 2,900 protected acres along the James River, and includes three golf courses, 15 tennis courts, three pools and a lazy river. Five restaurants and the Spa at Kingsmill are also located onsite. For meetings, the resort offers a 16,000-sf conference center, which has been certified by the International Association of Conference Centers (IACC) and offers 16 meeting rooms that are soundproofed and feature adjustable lighting, individual climate controls and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment.

In June, the resort will debut the first four cottages in a new community named The Cottages on The James. As the name implies, they will be situated on the James River, and will include three to four en suite bedrooms and a gourmet kitchen. Two of the resort’s golf courses are located just steps away, making the cottages ideal for VIPs or an executive retreat.

Theme Park News

Attendees with children who are fans of the movie “Despicable Me” will likely appreciate staying in one of the 18 new two-room suites inspired by the movie that are now available at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. The kids’ room in each suite is minion-themed and contains custom-designed “missile” beds, while the adults’ room features the hotel’s new Italian luxury design. The Italian Riviera-themed Loews Portofino Bay Hotel contains 750 recently renovated guest rooms and 42,000 sf of event space. Guests staying at the hotel are entitled to special benefits that include “skip the regular lines” and “early park admission” at both of Universal’s theme parks with paid admission.

Opening in 2014 at Universal Orlando Resort will be Universal’s largest hotel — the economical and family-friendly Cabana Bay Beach Resort — and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. And Universal recently announced that in 2014 Universal CityWalk will add eight new “culinary concept” venues. The 30-acre CityWalk complex currently features a collection of nightclubs, restaurants and shops. CityWalk also is home to the karaoke club Rising Star, Hollywood Drive-In Golf, and the renowned live show Blue Man Group.

Earlier this year, Walt Disney World Resort announced plans to transform Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, an expanded shopping, dining and entertainment destination. New areas will be opened in phases, and when the new complex is completed in 2016 it will have twice the number of shops, restaurants and other venues that Downtown Disney had.

Themed-Cruise News

After undergoing a “reimagineering” transformation in Cadiz, Spain, the Disney Magic cruise ship is now offering new experiences for meeting attendees, including a new grand atrium and the Senses spa. Of course, there are plenty of ways for attendees’ kids to have fun, not the least of which is AquaDunk, a three-story slide. The 2,700-passenger ship contains 11 decks, and planners arranging onboard meetings are assisted by a Group Services Manager.

From May to August of 2014, the Disney Magic will sail the Mediterranean, using Venice, Italy and Barcelona, Spain as its home ports. Then, from September to October, the ship will sail a series of seven-night cruises to the southern Caribbean from San Juan.

All in the Family

Foster was pleased with the outcome of NAJB’s first family-friendly program. “It was good to start it and launch it, and we hope that it will pick up and continue year after year. There is a segment of folks that are opting out (of meetings) because they have kids. You have to have a summer vacation, and sometimes the meetings can take a back seat. One way to get those folks back involved is to create a family-friendly environment.”  AC&F

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