For several years, the meetings industry went through what Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester (Minnesota) Convention and Visitors Bureau, calls “the no-fun period.” Companies and organizations were scrutinizing their meetings and conventions and de-emphasizing family and spousal programs.
“But I think we’re through that,” he said. “They’re seeing the value of travel and loosening up on [family services].”
Destinations that offer family services often score more attendees as a result, and meeting planners can take advantage of these programs to attract bigger attendance for their events.
In Rochester, spousal and family services are important because they’re vital to the type of experience people have when they visit, Jones said.
“We take a different approach; we don’t just have a sheet of paper that we hand out to people,” he said, adding, “We certainly have that, but we take greater pride in customization.”
The CVB talks with planners to understand what their people are interested in and match them up with area activities, and the CVB can use its in-house system to make bookings and reservations for incoming groups.
“It takes a lot of discussion and a lot of effort, but the end result is they always get a better experience out of it,” said Jones.
Service managers have noticed two growing trends for family services: Although people always enjoy tours and sightseeing, there’s less emphasis on entertainment and more interest in volunteer opportunities and health and wellness activities, Jones said.
The CVB can arrange for attendees and their family members to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House or a local food bank, for example; usually, the conference attendees work for an hour or two while the family volunteers half a day.
Family members are also becoming more interested in health and wellness. Rochester is the home of the Mayo Clinic, where the CVB can arrange daylong or even two-day health and wellness experiences, Jones said. Families can do yoga or take a healthy cooking class with a dietician at the Mayo Clinic’s Dan Abrams Healthy Living Center.
The Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau staff understands that when convention attendees come to town for an event and bring their families with them, it’s because they want to spend time together.
“We try to keep [the families] involved with the attendees,” said Catlin Hopson, CVB convention services coordinator. “You don’t want the convention attendee to come and be siloed from their family.”
The CVB keeps that in mind when planning meeting and conference events. That could mean reserving a private room at Dave and Buster’s for a quick breakout session or team-building event, then letting attendees join their families for games and lunch, Hopson said.
The city is home to Six Flags Over Texas, Hurricane Harbor, AT&T Stadium, the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame and, on a smaller scale, places like Alley Cats Family Entertainment Center and K1 Speed, an indoor go-kart track.
From March through September, families receive vouchers for the trolley, which runs on a loop between participating hotels and the city’s major amusement parks and attractions. Custom trolley routes are also available year-round for conference attendees, said Decima Cooper, senior director of public relations and marketing.
About 80 percent of groups also use the CVB’s coupon program, which now has a dozen participating restaurants, “all local and unique to Arlington,” she said.
This past summer, the CVB worked with a fullservice hotel to provide a child care center for meeting attendees who had young children, Hopson said. Having the on-site daycare in some of the hotel’s meeting space allowed attendees to spend time with their kids between sessions or during lunch, she added.
Green Bay, Wisconsin
When a group books Green Bay for its event, the CVB reaches out to let the planner know about available family services and to “find out what their plan is for the families,” said Patti Drabes, group services manager for the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Some planners want tours and group activities, and they want the CVB’s help in putting those together; for other groups, the CVB provides welcome packets and visitors guides, and the families entertain themselves, Drabes said.
Whether a group takes advantage of the CVB’s family services is pretty evenly split, depending on the organization and the time of year, but families are never bored.
“There’s far more entertainment here, in a small community, in a small destination, than one would ever expect,” said Brenda Krainik, director of marketing.
Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, is always a hit, even for those who aren’t football fans. Bay Beach Amusement Park offers free admission and inexpensive rides. Across the street, the free Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is a 700-acre municipal park and nature refuge that is home to a wildlife rehabilitation program.
Because it’s a smaller destination, the CVB has relationships with area attractions, hotels and restaurants and can easily make arrangements for any group, including spouses, partners and children of convention attendees, Krainik said.
Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts
Just 30 minutes north of Boston, the Merrimack Valley is home to more than 20 towns and communities. So the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau “can put together a four-hour trip or a four-day trip” for families of meeting attendees, said executive director Deb Belanger.
The valley is the birthplace of the Revolutionary War and the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, so “one of the biggest things we offer is a lot of history,” she said.
The CVB can work with planners to give them information to pass along to their attendees, or they can work with receptive tour operators and the area’s two national parks to put together activities for families, she said.
“We can customize based on what their interests are; customizing is what we do,” Belanger said.
People can board a hop-on/hop-off trolley tour along Battle Road, with stops in Lexington and Concord, and costumed guides will talk about the first battles of the Revolutionary War, which took place on April 19, 1775.
The valley is also home to two national parks: Minute Man National Park and Lowell National Park. In Lowell, visitors will find a town where many historic factories and mills from the Industrial Revolution era have been preserved. There, guests can take a boat ride on the city’s canals or visit the American Textile History Museum. Through its ambassador program, the CVB also trains volunteers who are available to help groups and families with a hospitality table at events.