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Reunions benefit communities
CVB staff are an invaluable resource for reunion planners. The opposite side of the coin, and one you should use to your benefit, is the economic impact your reunion brings to their city.

A news release from the Omaha, Nebraska, CVB declared that over 25 military reunions held there in 2000 brought more than 5,000 people increasing the city’s revenue by $3 million. The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, CVB estimates that three July family reunions generated over $230 per day per member. The Hurley-Jackson-Taylor Family Reunion had 75, as did the Robinson-Clayborn Family Reunion while the Rountree Family Reunion expected 200.

With these positive impacts, selling your reunion to a CVB should be easy, particularly if you demonstrate a financial history.

CVB ABCs

Michelle Kaiser, Director of Marketing at the Fargo Moorhead CVB representing cities in North Dakota and Minnesota believes that people don't realize all the things CVBs can do and much, if not all of it, is complimentary. Kaiser offers these comprehensive CVB ABCs!

The CVB at your selected destination can be your consultant, Kaiser suggests, to make your reunion successful with much less stress. Follow the ABCs for ways the CVB can serve you:

A Advance Planning, CVBs are used to working years in advance
B Budget, discuss room rates and meal budgets
C Complimentary Proposals prepared by the CVB with available rooms, rates, menus, etc.
D Details, make for a better proposal and no surprises
E Entertainment and speakers are on file at the CVB
F Flexibility with your reunion dates and type of property can $ave
G Guides/Tours can be arranged for local attractions by the CVB
H Hospitality Services like banners and signs are often free or at a nominal cost
I Information brochures, maps, coupon offers and guides are available for pre- reunion mailings or can be displayed during your reunion
J Just ask about special needs like handicap access, dietary requirements
K Keep records from previous reunions as to room counts, attendance, location
L Live body, your own CVB salesperson is available by phone, fax or e-mail
M Maps are available to make getting there and getting around easy
N Name Badges are often complimentary
O Overhead Projector and other audio visual equipment requirements can be arranged in your proposal, sometimes complimentary from the hotel
P Promotional ideas and themes make your reunion more fun
Q Qualify possible sites by using checklists available in Reunions Workbook
R Registration support is available from some CVBs for larger groups free or at a nominal charge
S Site inspections of possible locations can be arranged by the CVB
T Transportation and shuttle bus arrangements can be made by the CVB
U Unique Attractions and Venues for meetings and fun can be suggested
V Videos and Visitors Guides are available before you visit
W Web Site is another way to visit and enter a RFP (Request for Proposal) to CVBs from any part of the
US. Go to http://www.iacvb.org and use their online RFP form
X Extra Services like florists, photographers, etc. can be suggested by the CVB
Z Zoos for a fun multigenerational outing, often have meeting/party spaces

How lots of CVBs help reunions

Centrally located Colorado Springs, Colorado, CVB has helped reunions such as the China Marines with nearly 1,000 people to the Snapp family with 39. Robert Konkol, coordinator for the USS Carmick (DD-493) reunion points out that over 50% of military reunions in Colorado Springs are Navy reunions even though there isn't a ship within 1,000 miles. Many of over 50 major attractions are free including the Air Force Academy, Garden of The Gods and the newly renovated Olympic Training Center.

An innovative program of reunion planning created by the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau, has helped them become an increasingly popular military reunion destination. There have been more than 250 military reunions since the "Join Forces With Northern Kentucky" program began in 1992. "Join Forces" provides assistance locating former or lost members, acquiring official greetings from the White House, a military welcome with a color guard, speakers list, media relations support and contact with the US Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in nearby Dayton, Ohio.

"Military reunion groups are very special to us, and we're more than willing to help repay an old debt to those thousands of men and women who served our country and fought to preserve our freedom," says Tom Caradonio, Northern Kentucky CVB president. Contact 800-447-8489; http://www.staynky.com.

A destination rich in variety and heritage makes Kissimmee-St. Cloud (FL) CVB a one-stop shop for reunions. In addition to being right next door to the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks, Kissimmee-St. Cloud is a stone's throw from Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Sea World Orlando, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and a bevy of unique attractions.

The Kissimmee-St. Cloud CVB team will work with you to develop personalized welcome letters, welcome bags, assistance with meeting and accommodation planning. Each January they invite reunion organizers to a three-day familiarization tour of Kissimmee-St. Cloud which includes seminars, site inspections, and most importantly, fun and games. Complimentary accommodations, meals and transportation during scheduled events are offered for the first reunion group representative. Call Debby Rivera, 800-831-1844, ext 417.

The Greater Des Moines CVB can arrange a complete tour of the city, its public meeting facilities and hotel properties based on your needs. They can compile a formal bid packet or presentation for your board or site selection committee. After you've selected Des Moines they provide assistance in securing speakers, entertainment, suggestions for tours, a list of local media contacts to promote your reunion and letters of welcome from the mayor and governor. They can also help develop a promotional piece to hand out and have a wide array of color slides for your reunion publication. Contact 800-451-2625; http://www.seedesmoines.com.

Minneapolis (MN) Metro North CVB researches attractions and prepares itinerary suggestions based on your reunion's interests. They provide a "welcome packet" of brochures, maps and a door prize. The recent USS Ajax reunion is an example of a very satisfied customer. Contact 800-541-4364.


Bogess-Bogus Family Reunion, Aug 4-6, 2006, Las Vegas NV

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is a popular destination for family and military reunions. The area's historic significance is particularly appealing for military reunions. Valley Forge National Historical Park symbolizes the soldier's determination and commitment in the face of adversity and is a beautiful setting for military groups. Another nearby site is the new American Helicopter Museum and Education Center.

The area attracts some extraordinary family reunions. There have been gatherings of the descendants of General "Mad Anthony" Wayne, George and Martha Washington, Governor Samuel Pennypacker, Aaron Burr, and John Bartram. These reunions generate excitement by revisiting sites which have both historic and personal significance for families and their ancestors. The Valley Forge CVB develops tours or events around your groups' interests. In the case of historic families that may include arranging special performances by actors who bring the period of history back to life or touring sites connected with their ancestors.

Valley Forge CVB put Washington's descendants in touch with tour operator Sue Habgood of American Heritage Landmark Tours, who arranged visits to Independence Hall, Congress Hall, Hanging Rock and Valley Forge.

When the Pennypacker family celebrated the 300th wedding anniversary of Eve Umstadt and Hendrick Pennebecker, Habgood worked with them on historical research and mapped out a route for a four-hour tour. She assigned two guides both of whom were Pennypackers. "We visited graveyards in Schwenksville areas where ancestors are buried. The Steuben House in Valley Forge Park was the birthplace of Galusha Pennypacker, the youngest general in American History who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his gallantry during the Civil War," Habgood said. CVB staff helped plan a picnic for 300 at Pennypacker Mills, the turn-of-the-century home of Pennsylvania Governor Samuel Pennypacker, now an historic site owned by Montgomery County.

The Valley Forge CVB offers free planning services to appropriate and affordable housing, transportation, party facilities, caterers and other services. Contact Valley Forge CVB at 610-834-7990; lriley@valleyforge.org.

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, and the Hot Springs CVB combine with the rich heritage, scenic beauty, natural thermal waters and exciting activities. CVB-arranged services include Bluecoat Ambassadors, volunteers who welcome you to Hot Springs and help contacting federal, state or local officials to appear on your program. Contact Hot Springs CVB, 134 Convention Blvd, PO Box K, Hot Springs AR 71902; 800-922-6478; http://www.hotsprings.org.

Kingsland, Georgia, CVB works with the Waycross Class Reunion's rotating golf tournament throughout the Southeast. They also regularly assist local high schools. The largest reunion in South Georgia is of the national WWII submarine veterans hosted annually in Kingsland by the St. Mary's Submarine Museum and the Georgia State Commander. They regularly help host family reunions including the Waye Family, a large annual four-day event. The CVB coordinates nightly entertainment and outdoor activities at nearby Crooked River State Park and provide registration bags, assist with catered meal functions and act as your reunion housing bureau.

Are you wondering what a convention and visitors bureau (CVB) can do for your reunion? Learn more at "What conventions and visitors bureaus can do for you." Then, contact the CVB in your city or away because they are there to help and most of their services are free.


Be a fan of FAMS
by Jacky Runice

Why should journalists and travel agents get all the perks of familiarization (FAM) tours and trips? After all, reunion organizers may bring hundreds of tourists who will sleep, eat, shop, visit attractions, buy souvenirs and possibly return for years to come. If you have a sizeable reunion in the offing, it’s time to learn about FAM trips ins and outs that mutually benefit your group and its meeting place.

According to Julie Windley, Convention Sales Manager for the Portsmouth, Virginia, Convention & Visitors Bureau, the reunion planner’s first step is to honestly determine whether a destination is suitable for the reunion and whether the group is interested in going there. “Research the size of available facilities to be sure your group can be accommodated and that the date or time of year you wish to hold a reunion is a good time to visit,” she explained. A call to the local CVB usually answers those questions quickly.

A FAM tour is not a free vacation for the reunion planner. “A FAM usually has a very full schedule,” Windley continued, “and you will be visiting a lot of conference facilities, hotels and attractions in a short time.”

Portsmouth, just a five-minute ferry ride from Norfolk (home of the world’s largest naval base), welcomed more than two dozen military reunion planners during a three-day conference and familiarization tour of the city and neighboring attractions. Hosted by the Holiday Inn Olde Towne, the reunion planners learned about Portsmouth history from a re-enactor portraying Colonel William Crawford, the city’s founder. They visited the Naval Shipyard Museum, the Lightship Museum, the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and Trinity Episcopal Church, and enjoyed an Olde Towne motorcoach tour along with local restaurants’ cuisine. At one of the country’s oldest working harbors, attendees viewed a range of ships passing by the famous Seawall. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum pays tribute to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the oldest shipyard in the country. Memorabilia includes uniforms, cannon balls, model ships and a piece of the CSS Virginia (the Merrimac). Old Towne, one of the nation’s most historic neighborhoods, houses museums, unique shopping and dining. The group also took a harbor cruise to learn more about the Norfolk Naval Base and visited the Battleship Wisconsin. Portsmouth is near some of Virginia’s most popular destinations such as Jamestown, Yorktown, Colonial Williamsburg and the Virginia Beach oceanfront.

Qualified military reunion planners, most with spouses or guests, became familiar with the area and its attractions, and many booked their reunions.

Who is qualified? “Invitations to attend a FAM are sent by Portsmouth CVB,” explained Windley, “and the planner is asked to provide specifications for an upcoming reunion that they are considering holding in Portsmouth. Up to two planners representing each reunion are invited to attend and each can bring one guest since most FAMs are held on weekends.” Airfare is usually not included but CVBs happily help find affordable flights.

How long do FAM tours last? “It has been my experience that FAMs usually last two to four days,” Windley explained. “Sometimes a FAM is a cooperative effort of several cities in a region. A typical schedule may begin with an evening reception the first night, a full day of touring the following day, beginning with breakfast and ending with an evening event or reception. The FAM would end the next day either after breakfast or lunch. The length of the FAM always depends on the number of sites, attractions and sponsors involved.”

Ray Kester, a military reunion planner who attended Portsmouth’s FAM, now understands how FAMs make reunion planning easier, and they are just plain good marketing. “This FAM trip to Portsmouth resulted in my establishing meaningful contact with representatives of the area CVBs, some hotels and transportation companies. It allowed me, with minimal effort, to get a ‘visitors view’ of available attractions — a great timesaver,” Kester said. He has good advice for all reunion planners. “Remember, the CVB and hospitality provider representatives are your first contacts — they want you to be pleased.” Len Gordon attended the FAM and even though his reunion group isn’t going back to the area, he’s praising Portsmouth to other groups. “I think Julie and the entire CVB did a great job with the hotel, dinners, trips and everything else,” Gordon said.

Ken Fisher, of the 551st SMS (Strategic Missile Squadron), was starting to plan the group’s initial reunion when he attended Portsmouth’s FAM. “Once the representatives realized we were newcomers, everybody helped us and we asked many questions,” he explained. “We told them our first reunion would be in Lincoln, Nebraska, where our base was. This didn’t bother anyone and the reps still helped us and shared information. Indeed, we learned much information we didn’t know before attending the FAM.”


USS Sellers Reunion 2012, Jacksonville, Florida. Click to enlarge.

Fisher gleaned a lot of reunion-planning information in just a few days. “The most important thing we learned is to take your time planning your event. These are some of the things he learned.

“Learn all you can about your membership. I have a four-foot map with pins where all the guys live. Two guys live on the same block and never knew until our association was started.
“Take your time planning, you can't rush into a reunion. If you do, you will be facing a disastrous event. It takes over a year to work out all the details.

“Take a trip to the reunion site and look around. Do inspections and meet people. Try to enlist local volunteers to help. Listen to people’s ideas, especially if they live in the area.

“Ask your members where they really want to hold the next reunion. Remember that retirees are on fixed incomes and can belong to several military organizations. If you want them to attend, listen to them. Contact the convention and visitors or tourism bureau and find out how they can help. Work with a hotel representative and stay in contact with that person.

“Contact the local media — they can help too. Press relations is important and can help connect you to local business people.

“Maintain a log. Record information from each e-mail or phone call when dealing with the hotel or any other contractor. Finally, say a prayer to make sure you did not forget anything.”
Visit www.portsva.com to learn more about group gatherings or call Julie Windley at 757-393-5327 or 800-PORTS-VA.

Daryl Whitworth of the Fredricksburg, Texas, CVB warns that reunion organizers must know their preferred dates. They need to know whether the group will gather during the week rather than the weekend to save with mid-week rates. They also need to know the projected number of attendees, type of gathering space needed and type of off-site events the group may wish to attend. “Most of this preparation for a FAM is often best handled with a pre-FAM phone conversation,” he explained. “This allows us to query the organizer about specific needs and match the best available properties and venues to the organizer’s expectations; i.e., proximity to Main Street, meeting/banquet space needed, playground, etc.” Unlike Portsmouth’s large reunion FAMs, Fredericksburg hosts reunion FAMs on an individual basis, visiting two to five properties a day. “We offer tours of off-site venues and attractions, too, and anyone who is a planner for the reunion may attend.”

Why consider Fredricksburg in Texas Hill country? Beyond the area’s sheer beauty, there are perfect group attractions and activities. “A common comment I receive from reunion planners who choose Fredericksburg is that we offer so much for everyone in the family to do while they're here,” Whitworth beamed. The Admiral Nimitz State Historical Park with its extensive World War II collection, and the History Walk of the Pacific War are magnets for veterans. You’ll tour the National Museum of the Pacific War, the Admiral Nimitz Museum, the George Bush Gallery, the Plaza of the Presidents, the Japanese Peace Garden, the Memorial Wall and the Pacific Combat Zone — all part of the park. For American history buffs there’s Fort Martin Scott Historic Site, a pre-Civil War military outpost showcasing Texas’ first frontier fort. Others may enjoy Wildseed Farms, Ltd., one of the nation's largest working wildflower farms; the Lady Bird Johnson Golf Course, a beautiful 18-hole championship course; five area wineries and numerous vineyards tours and tastings; and Gish's Old West Museum, a fine collection of Old West items. Everyone should stroll Fredericksburg’s Historic District’s 80 points of historic interest.

For the free Meeting and Reunion Planner, contact Daryl Whitworth at 888-997-3600, ext 29; salesmgr@fbg.net.

Don't be discouraged when someone like Mark Barnes, Director of Convention Development for the Greater Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, tells you how large a group is necessary for FAM opportunity consideration. "Generally a group must use a minimum of 1000 room nights to qualify for a FAM tour." In other words, if your reunion requires 250 rooms for four nights, you’re using 1000 room nights. In reunion planning, as in life, don't be afraid to ask. Barnes says usually one decision-maker is invited to a FAM, however, each request is reviewed individually. Is airfare included? "Sometimes. Again, this is considered on an individual basis." In addition, the convention bureaus generally produce a list of potential invitees, but planner requests are recorded for future FAMS — so ask! Whether or not you attend a FAM, expect the CVB to provide brochures and general information about local attractions and contacts for reliable hospitality providers. Ask about assistance during the reunion: will the CVB provide badges, handouts, maps, etc.?

Barnes notes that planners should be sure the site can handle the reunion with hotel rooms, airline flights and off-site attractions, but in this economy, also consider the destination's locale for the driveability factor. Louisville, smack dab in the center of the country, qualifies with unique attractions such as the Louisville Slugger Museum, Churchill Downs, Kentucky Derby Museum and Caesar's "Glory of Rome" floating casino. There is also Fort Knox, the home of Armor (where Armored Divisions did much of their training before going to World War II), rolling bluegrass hills, many antique shops, quaint arts and crafts galleries and Southern cuisine. At the center of three major interstates (I-65, I-64 and I-71) the city is an easy day's drive for much of the country's population; five hours from Chicago, two from Indianapolis and seven hours from Atlanta or Pittsburgh. Greater Louisville is one of the country’s most affordable cities, offering some of the best hotel rates.

For more information about a Louisville reunion, contact Mark Barnes at 502-584-2121; barnes@gotolouisville.com.

A FAM is a privilege

Complimentary familiarization tours (FAMs) or site inspections of hotels and attractions can be arranged by some CVBs. Many CVB's conduct several FAM tours annually with a wide variety of topics and are always looking for qualified invitees. Take advantage of the opportunity. They include family reunion organizers who meet criteria established for a designated FAM. Personalized site inspections are also available. Usually, the only cost is getting there. A site inspection is always recommended to make sure the facilities will meet your requirements. Some CVBs charge a deposit which is refunded to those who attend. Deposits ensure that those attending are seriously considering the city as a possible reunion site.

The purpose of the FAM is to sell you on a destination. On the surface, FAMs may seem like a vacation when, in reality, it's that oxymoron of the real world: a working vacation. FAMs encompass many attractions, hotels and restaurants. Schedules start early, go late and are constantly moving because there's much to see and do and many people to meet.

How good the FAM was will dictate how sold you were. How sold you were will reflect what your hosts expect from you: words of praise, your business and your reunion.

Ask lots of questions. Get lots of answers. You will have access to sales managers so you can discuss dates and rates. Be satisfied that you know everything you need to know about your destination.

Every reunion wants or needs something different. CVBs reduce the hassle of planning. The ultimate decision, however, on where to stay, go and do is up to you.

The CVB and reunion organizer share the same desire - to meet or exceed the goals and objectives of the reunion.

About the author
Journalist/Editor Jacky Runice has penned a weekly travel column for Chicago's Daily Herald since 1994 and writes about travel and dining for USAToday.com; CBS Local Chicago; and Examiner.com. She expands her repertoire at Kane, Lake and McHenry County (IL) Magazines with articles about everything from healthy living to technology. A former Chicago radio talk show host, Jacky has three grown children who have inherited her love of sampling new cultures, countries and cuisine.

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