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Meeting Destinations with Multigenerational Appeal

It’s becoming a familiar scene in the convention world: Meeting attendees show up at an event ready to work but with family members in tow.

It’s the new norm in the busy lives we lead and is especially popular for faith-based meetings. Work, play and family time must often be squeezed together, and around the country, destinations that host faith-based meetings and other events are expanding their range of offerings for the spouses, children, grandchildren, parents and grandparents of attendees.


Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Wisconsin Dells, a city in south-central Wisconsin, derives its name from the dells, deep gorges that punctuate parts of the Wisconsin River. The area is popular with tourists and ripe for meetings with family members tagging along.

Until she began work in the Dells, Tifany Jones, director of sales for the local visitor and convention bureau, didn’t realize how often adults bring kids to meetings.

“We find it happens often and may even include Grandma and Grandpa,” she said. “That’s going to happen more with the sporting events we have for kids but also in markets where you can build a vacation around the meeting.”

Year-round activities abound at the Dells. Boat companies offer scenic trips on duck or jet boats, which excite passengers of all ages. “The Tommy Bartlett Show” has pleased families with its ski, sky and stage show for 60 years. Water skiers do flips, jumps and spins and build three-tier human pyramids. The stage show features comedy, jugglers, acrobats and a motorcycle stunt act inside a giant cage called the Globe of Thunder.

Kalahari Resort has 100,000 square feet of family fun, offering a six-story Ferris wheel, bowling, games and much more. The same can be said for Knuckleheads Bowling and Indoor Amusement Park, with fun activities such as go-karts, a ropes course and 4-D theater.

The family-goes-to-meeting trend appears even in hotel accommodations.

“Many rooms aren’t standard with a full or queen-size bed,” said Jones. “They have two beds and a sofa sleeper, or are condos, villas and such. People make the meetings do double-duty for them.”


Columbus, Ohio

Expect family members to tag along at church meetings: It’s a natural. Recently, the Church of the Brethren visited Columbus, Ohio, with 3,000 delegates for its 88th convention.

“It’s part family reunion, part business meeting and part community service,” said Bill Behrens, director of convention services for Experience Columbus. “That’s really multigenerational.”

Next summer, Columbus will host the Southern Baptist Convention.

“When we booked them, it was our largest convention by room nights ever. Some people stay six or seven days,” said Behrens. The CVB has a national sales manager working primarily with church markets.

Behrens encourages families to get out and see downtown. It’s clean, safe and interesting. “But we don’t encourage anyone to skip a session,” he said jokingly.

Experience Columbus staff members ask meeting planners if they expect family members to accompany delegates. If they answer yes, the crew offers event calendars and discounted group passes to events and attractions.

Among the appealing activities for families during or after meetings is taking in the Center of Science and Industry (COSI). It’s in a large, modern building with 300 fun, educational, interactive exhibits. Parents Magazine rated COSI the nation’s No. 1 science museum for families. The popular television show “MythBusters” filmed there. A Titanic exhibit traveled there, too.

The Columbus Zoo, made famous by popular adventurer Jack Hanna, is a must-see for families, as is Zoombezi Bay waterpark, right next door.

“It’s a great combination, a density of attractions,” said Behrens. “Park once and get two great things together.”

Dan Dickson

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