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Where in the World Will Your Reunion Be?

by Edith Wagner
Where and when are both crucial questions when most people plan reunions. Both are fairly simple for some families, but typically a challenge for many more.

Let's discuss first the people who don't need to answer these questions. They are families whose date is a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary, or families who have a permanent reunion site which almost always has (or has gained) special meaning. The "old family homestead" is a common reunion place...if, of course, there is a homestead and a family member still owns it.

If your reunion place is set and you have many people attending, you'll probably still need to arrange for accommodations for the out-of-towners. The Seideman Family Reunion is a large annual event that has always been at the site of the first homestead of settlers Friedrich and Marie Seidemann in 1853. It is also where the almost 99-year-old founder and patriarch, Ray Seideman, started the reunion 67 years ago near Newburg, Wisconsin. Annual reunion announcements include a list of area hotels because average attendance can easily exceed 400 members and many need a place to stay.

On the other hand, families who are looking for reunion places have countless choices, some of which will never be appropriate, but any of which could be. For example, you can consider a hotel or motel, resort, ranch, bed and breakfast, inn, condominium, vacation home or villa, campground, dormitory, or for people who want to be not just close to but ON water, there are houseboats and cruise ships. There are also many historic places with period accommodations, including some old army forts.

Where to Begin Deciding Where? CVB ASAP!

Convention and Visitor's Bureaus (CVBs) are a GREAT resource! They have the best information about places that conventions, visitors and, yes, reunions want to go. Someone in Hawaii can contact a CVB in Wisconsin and get information about Wisconsin accommodations, restaurants, attractions, leisure activities, historic or special interests, maps and transportation.

A perfect member of the reunion family, CVBs want to share a passion for their area with you and your reunion. Let them sell their destinations to your reunion. They are hosts, historians, cheerleaders, fans, experts and invaluable sources of information and destination management services. Working with a CVB is said to be like telephoning savvy relatives who can tell you what's best about their city.

CVBs are the answer to a question from Ivan R. Scott of Columbus, Ohio, who asked if it's possible to plan a reunion in Reno, Nevada, without ever going there beforehand. Ask the CVB if they can arrange a site visit because while you can organize a reunion without visiting a place, it is much wiser, if you can, to confirm for yourself that it is right for your reunion. More and more, CVBs also offer free videotapes showcasing their areas and attractions.

Brenda Donald of Stone Mountain, Georgia, and the organizer of the 71st Donald Family Reunion, reported that the DeKalb, Georgia CVB found hotel rates, planned a welcome dinner, special reception, African-American Heritage Tour and picnic all within her budget. The Kissimmee-St. Cloud, Florida, CVB was instrumental in managing details for the Haeberlin Family Reunion.

Here's the good news: many CVB services are provided at little or no cost, because they are service organizations funded by grants from departments of tourism, membership dues from hotels, motels, and attractions, or a portion of hotel taxes. The purpose of most CVBs is to encourage you to visit their area. The CVB does the legwork, gathers information and sends it to you, saving you the time for calling or writing for prices, dates and availability. They provide services to help you make your choice, but final decisions about where to stay, what to do, and where to eat are yours.

Preparation Is Very Important

Prepare for your first contact with a CVB. Be ready to introduce the history and purpose of your reunion, anticipated reunion dates, the number and age range of members, your budget, the number and type of rooms required (approximate, if exact number is unknown) and special needs (handicapped access, no smoking space, special diets or recreational requirements). Also, ask for references from groups or reunions who have recently met in the city. Testimonials from previous reunion organizers are often available because if there is a problem, CVBs want to know about them to solve them immediately.

Be sure to ask for the reunion specialist so you get someone who is familiar with your needs. They can help you compare costs and amenities at several hotels, locate tour companies, attractions, restaurants and convention facilities. CVBs make confidential inquiries for groups that have yet to make a commitment.

CVBs can also help with:

  • Publications. They can provide brochures, guides and directories highlighting area restaurants, attractions, events and facilities. Ask what promotional items (mugs, t-shirts, tote bags or key chains) they have available for visitors.
  • Registration assistance and supplies. CVBs arrange assistance before, during and after your reunion, as well as supply such items as typewriters, name badges and program covers.
  • Tours and entertainment. CVBs arrange tours and entertainment for an entire reunion.
  • Contacting dignitaries. City officials may be available to make welcome speeches, present keys to the city, give proclamations.
  • Membership referrals. CVB staffers can alert reunion organizers to businesses catering to visitors.

Best to Check It Out in Person

Your reunion, in travel parlance, is a "group" and thus subject to some added special consideration. Complimentary familiarization tours (FAMs) or site inspections of hotels and attractions can be arranged by some CVBs. Many CVBs conduct several FAM tours annually and are always looking for qualified invitees, including family reunion organizers who meet criteria established for a designated FAM. Take advantage of the opportunity. Usually, your only cost is getting there. A site inspection is always a good idea so you can make sure the facilities will meet your requirements. Some CVBs charge a deposit for the FAM, but it is is refunded to those who attend the FAM. Deposits ensure that members attending are seriously considering the city as a possible reunion site.

Admittedly, a FAM may seem, on the surface, like a vacation when, in reality, it's an oxymoron: a working vacation. You are being sold, so shop. Ask lots of questions. Get lots of answers. Be satisfied that you know everything you need to know about your destination. Familiarization tours encompass numerous attractions, hotels and restaurants. Be sure to speak with sales managers about dates and rates and see the area.

Reunion planning is not as cumbersome as it sounds. Once you know your destination, the rest is fairly easy. The CVB is a local contact in the city of your choice. CVBs take the hassle out of planning. The ultimate decision, however, on where to stay is up to you. Call the Convention and Visitors Bureau in your destination city or call several CVBs to help you decide upon a city.


About the Author
Edith Wagner is the editor of Reunions magazine, author of Reunions Workbook and Catalog and The Family Reunion Sourcebook (Lowell House, Los Angeles) in bookstores now. She collects material for this column and Reunions magazine from family reunions and invites you to share your reunion ideas, concerns or questions. You can e-mail Wagner at reunions@execpc.com or visit the Reunions magazine Web site.

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