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Reunions require a special touch

Reunions have different needs than conventional meetings and events. Reunions are all about socializing, sometimes with a touch of business thrown in, whereas most corporate meetings or events are all business and maybe include a bit of fun, if attendees are lucky.

Destinations around the country offer a variety of planning and hosting services for reunion groups.


Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia is a hub of military bases and organizations, and although Virginia Beach is known for its beach and boardwalk, it also attracts many military reunions, said Rachel Weiss, convention sales and research manager for the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Family reunions typically go through the city’s Visitors Center rather than the CVB because family reunions’ needs tend to mirror those of traditional tourists, whereas military reunions are, in some ways, more similar to small meetings, Weiss said.

For example, family reunions generally want a limited-service hotel and perhaps a park for a picnic. Military reunions, however, are more likely to want a hotel with a banquet room and to want to take group tours.

“We don’t consider them another small meeting,” Weiss said of military reunions. “They have specific needs … and there are a lot of things we try to do to help with military reunions.”

For military reunions, the CVB’s services tend to be “more robust,” Weiss said. The agency sends out leads to area hotels. Reunion attendees usually want to be all under the same roof — a roof that includes a hospitality room — and don’t want to deal with off-site venues, she said.

The CVB helps find properties with sufficient American Disabilities Act facilities for aging veterans and helps apply for the proper license so the group can bring in its own alcohol and snacks to the hotel’s hospitality room, she said.

The CVB provides “do-it-yourself” kits for its incoming reunions that have brochures, coupons, and general information about the area and attractions. The kits also include saltwater taffy, a beach town staple, and Virginia Beach lapel pins for the veterans’ hats or lanyards.


Colorado Springs, Colorado

With five different military institutions in the city, including the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs does a brisk business in the military reunion market. Although the city sees its fair share of family and fraternal reunions, military events are the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau’s largest piece of the reunion pie.

“They don’t know this about each other, but they’re all almost identical,” said Natalie Hirsch, sales manager at the bureau.

Although a few military groups go with limited-service hotels because of budget constraints, more often than not, military reunions opt for a full-service hotel that can provide both communal areas for the groups to spend leisure time together as well as a formal banquet hall or ballroom for a group dinner, Hirsch said.

The people in charge of planning military reunions are not professional event planners, so they sometimes need a little more guidance, she said. However, they all know what they want and what they can afford, and they’re straightforward about both, Hirsch said. Another tricky aspect of military reunions, she said, is the size; depending on the era and the branch, events can vary widely from 10 to 300 attendees.

No matter the size, the CVB first helps find and choose the hotel that will fit the group’s needs. Once the hotel is pinned down, Hirsch then helps the group figure out which tours and attractions they want to do. Air Force Academy tours are particularly popular, as is the Peterson Air and Space Museum, located on Peterson Air Force Base, she said.

Family reunions also receive plenty of free CVB help, which always surprises planners, said Chelsy Murphy, director of communications. The agency puts out leads to find a hotel for the group, helps build itineraries and arranges custom souvenirs.

CVB staff have also noticed that family reunions are trending toward lodges and cabins, and the group tends to do one large family event, then go their separate ways, Murphy said.


Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham’s big reunion business is family and class reunions — so much so that the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau has started a workshop to teach people how to plan theirs.

Although volunteers generally plan family and class reunions, there’s ultimately little difference in working with volunteers or professional planners, said Sara Hamlin, vice president of tourism for the CVB. They all want to plan early, get their hotels booked and stick to the budget, she said.

“They may not know the actual language, but the needs are the same,” Hamlin said.

The Birmingham CVB helps reunions coordinate site visits and sends out leads to area hotels. The CVB also helps with ideas for themes for the event and provides suggested itineraries, tours and attractions, Hamlin said. The CVB also tells planners how to reach out to state and local officials to get welcome letters for their attendees.

The CVB’s partner database allows the agency to reach out to a wide range of vendors and venues but also narrow down the options for the group’s specific needs, Hamlin said.

“Of course, our primary goal is to ensure they have a memorable reunion in Birmingham and are excited about it and want to return,” Hamlin said.

Seven years ago, the Birmingham CVB started its annual reunion workshop that includes speakers and information about how to select a host committee and create a budget. The workshop also features a calendar-coordinated checklist that shows planners what they need to do every month leading up to the event, Hamlin said. Area vendors — photographers, caterers, hotels and attractions — also set up tables with information for the attendees. This year’s workshop is June 21.

Most people are interested in the city’s prominent role in the civil rights movement, so groups often tour the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Hamlin said. Because family reunions usually include a lot of kids, the Birmingham Zoo, McWane Science Center, Vulcan Park and Museum, and Splash Adventure are also popular attractions for family reunion groups, she said.

This year, the Birmingham CVB also launched a reunion giveaway promotion. The winner will receive complimentary rooms, Coca-Cola products and a barbecue meal, Hamlin said. To be eligible, planners must book at least 50 room nights in Birmingham or Jefferson County this year, although they have until July 2015 to hold their reunion. Planners can enter on the Birmingham CVB’s website or at


Lisle, Illinois

More often than not, the people in charge of planning reunions are new to event planning, so they tend to have more questions and need more guidance; the Lisle Convention and Visitors Bureau is more than happy to help them, sales manager Jay Allen said.

Reunion planners lean toward hotel properties for their venue simply to have everything under one roof, and the events are more about free time, social activities and tourist attractions, whereas corporate meetings are all, or mostly, business, Allen said.

Although Lisle handles only a handful of military reunions each year, that market is easier for the CVB to promote, attract and track, whereas family and class reunions tend to be an “incoming business,” he said. But no matter what type of reunion is coming to town, the CVB will send out leads to local hotels based on the group’s needs, and the hotels will either contact the planner directly, or the CVB will gather the proposals, Allen said.

Reunions usually need a hotel with one or two communal rooms, one in which to dine and one in which to gather, and the events tend to be more cost-conscious, he said.

The CVB also helps with name tags and registration, provides visitor bags and works with area attractions to line up groups tours and group discounts, he said. One of the area’s most popular group attractions is the Morton Arboretum in spring and fall, and military groups enjoy the military museum at Cantigny Park, Allen said.