Destination Reunions — A Growing Trend

by Country Inns & Suites
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remember the family reunion in the park, including the potluck picnic? Getting soaked in a water balloon toss … stumbling across the ball field with your cousin in a three-legged-race … and spitting watermelon seeds at each other …. Well, a lot has changed since you were a kid, including family reunions. With many families scattered across the country and the world, the trend in reunions these days is gathering for destination vacations.

An afternoon with your relatives in a local public park has morphed into multi-day or even week-long trips. Destinations range from a convenient central location to places with special family significance or a vacation hot spot, such as Washington, D.C., Orlando, Fla. or Phoenix, Ariz.

With the average reunion populated by 50 relatives, according to Reunions Magazine, a destination reunion can become a huge undertaking and quite expensive if you don’t plan ahead. Ask anyone who has done it; it’s a real labor of love. Fortunately, some hotels and other destinations provide reunion planning assistance and offer group discounts. For example, the moderately-priced lodging chain Country Inns & Suites By Carlson provides “virtual concierge” resources on their web site at www.countryinns.com to help reunion planners select a destination and plan their events. The site also profiles area attractions, restaurants, events, shopping and maps for many top destinations. “The ‘Your Event By Country’ feature on our web site makes it simple for people to share all of the relevant information with their entire family,” said Steve Mogck, EVP and Brand Leader for Select Service Hotels.

If you book your reunion lodging at a Country Inns & Suites location, they will create a customized web page for you and provide you with a link to send to your reunion attendees. Attendees can visit the customized web page at their convenience to preview event details and area information, get driving directions, as well as make room reservations. Since there is so much planning to do outside of lodging accommodations, this feature really helps to streamline the process and let the reunion planner focus on making sure there are enough activities and events to please the entire group. More information about booking rooms for large groups is available by calling toll-free 1-800-964-7905 or visiting the www.countryinns.com web site.

In addition to planning support, the hotel chain offers many other amenities that a planner would want for their family reunion. They offer a homey atmosphere, complimentary hot breakfast, swimming pools, exercise equipment and even a “Read It & Return” Lending Library with an expanded assortment of books for all ages.

Agreeing on the location, date and accommodations are just the beginning. In most families a planning committee works together, sharing responsibility for planning and executing this large-scale event. Web sites and books on the subject recommend dividing and conquering in handling the details, research, communications and financial responsibilities of a large group event like a destination reunion. The good news is that once a family has its first reunion under its belt, it becomes much easier to plan the next get together.

Reunion Planning Tips

Because planning destination family reunions is not easy, it has become the subject of many how-to books, web sites, magazines, newsletters and even big screen comedies. Longer distances and stays require more planning, activities and funds. To survive planning a family reunion, organization, checklists and plenty of help are needed. Country Inns & Suites offers tips on how to get started:

—Start at least a few months to a year in advance, depending upon popularity of the destination and time of year for the reunion.

—Recruit a planning committee.

—Assign small groups or individuals to handle:

—Dates, destination and lodging research and making reservations.

—Communications to build contact address, phone and e-mail lists; survey attendees regarding date and destination preferences; send out reunion invitation packets and tally responses.

—Finances to create a budget and manage a special checking account.

—Activities to plan the itinerary and arrange for keepsakes like special T-shirts.

—Meal planning.

—Photo and information collection to display and hand out to attendees.

—When choosing a destination, consider the time of year and potential conflicts. For instance, spring break means big crowds, increased rates and long lead times to make reservations.

—When choosing a hotel, look for one that has a variety of family-friendly amenities — like a pool and fitness area — to ensure that everyone is entertained when the day’s official activities are over.

Collecting Memories

Keep those family reunion memories alive with a scrapbook. It’s a fun and relaxing way to create a collective memory. Creating a reunion scrapbook could even be one of the group activities planned for the last day of the reunion.

Here are a few tips to get started on a family reunion scrapbook:

—Save items of interest like ticket stubs, brochures and maps.

—Sort your memorabilia and photos by days, activities and other logical categories.

—Add a few old photographs to represent family history.

—Keep a journal of daily activities, funny moments and highlights of your activities. Even jotting down a few notes on a scrap of paper will make transferring the story to your scrapbook easier.

—Keep it simple. Let the pictures and the written memories tell the story.

—One of the bonuses of scrapbooking is that it helps photos last longer if the correct materials are used. Look for albums and paper that are photo safe, acid- and lignin- free. Also, use pens and adhesives that are tested for photo safety and archival quality.

Since scrapbooking is such a popular hobby, there are many resources available in stores and online. Digital or online scrapbooking is an easy way to share the reunion scrapbook with all attendees. You can download free digital scrapbooking software by visiting www.creativememories.com and clicking on StoryBook.

Breaking the Ice

Haven’t seen your 15 cousins for a decade, and now you’ll be together for 72 hours? Here are a few ideas for breaking the ice:

—Dress up. Don’t forget the matching shirts. Cheesy? Maybe. But outfitting everybody in brightly colored Johnson Family Reunion T-shirts promotes a united front and makes for a great photo op.

—Book it. Collect photos, info, contact numbers and e-mails, and have everything bound inexpensively at a copy center — a great memento. Or put together a cookbook of family recipes or memories. Ask for them in advance, bind them and voilà! A keepsake with everybody’s favorite dishes or stories.

—Plan a “meet and greet” welcome event at your hotel and play family trivia. Reserve a hospitality suite or small meeting room for the event, and then collect stories, fun facts and obscure history to create family trivia questions, and give prizes to the winners. Or select the couples who have been married the longest and play “the oldlywed game.” The couples who are best at guessing their spouse’s answers will be winners.

—Set up a pool party. Aside from the other scheduled activities, pick an afternoon to have everyone meet at the hotel’s pool so both the kids and adults can relax and get refreshed for more family fun.