by Rachel Juarez-Carr | April 01, 2016

Combining an association meeting with a family vacation can be an unhappy marriage. Attendees might find it hard to focus on the message of a keynote speaker knowing that the family feels stuck at a hotel in a destination they would not pick for leisure travel. Or, perhaps it’s the attendee who feels left out of all the fun: stuck in the conference room while the kids are out having the time of their lives in a holiday hotspot. It’s hard to please everyone. That said, standout destinations, meeting sites and even just special amenities offer options that can more than satisfy association attendees and the family members they’ve brought along. Combining an association meeting with a family vacation can be an unhappy marriage. Attendees might find it hard to focus on the message of a keynote speaker knowing that the family feels stuck at a hotel in a destination they would not pick for leisure travel. Or, perhaps it’s the attendee who feels left out of all the fun: stuck in the conference room while the kids are out having the time of their lives in a holiday hotspot. It’s hard to please everyone. That said, standout destinations, meeting sites and even just special amenities offer options that can more than satisfy association attendees and the family members they’ve brought along.

 

A first-class vacation and a top-notch meeting are very different things, but these days they needn’t be mutually exclusive. And that mentality starts with associations first. Among the groups making an effort to be more family friendly is the International Council of Shopping Centers—the global trade association for the mall industry­—which has taken the innovative step of introducing its own “Mother’s Lounge” at its RECon, a four-day industry event to be held in May at the Las Vegas Convention Center and expected to attract more than 36,000 attendees from around the world.

Sarah Malcolm, the ICSC’s director of digital strategy and a new mother herself, first created a designated area for mothers in the group’s New York City office. Group leaders liked the concept so much that they decided to offer the amenity at the conference, so Malcolm was tasked with reproducing a suitable setting. Using additional input from other employees with young children, the stylish space will be kitted out with fridges, storage and, most importantly, room to relax and take a break from the intensity of the trade-show floor.

“Being a new mother, Sarah Malcolm recognized some of the complications that can arise in the workplace,” said Jesse Tron, the ICSC’s vice-president of communications. “At our Manhattan headquarters, ICSC alleviates some of these strains by providing a wellness room that new and seasoned mothers can use. Malcolm wanted to make sure moms had the same luxury at RECon and will be as comfortable as possible. The Mother’s Lounge fuses functionality and style and is fully equipped.”

Tron said he thinks the new addition is important and reflects a push toward inclusiveness in the workplace. “One of the most important components of running a successful association is keeping members happy, and the same holds true for event planning. At a conference like RECon, where a year’s worth of deals is conducted in days, a space like the Mother’s Lounge is invaluable to new moms,” he said. “We hope the Mother’s Lounge produces peace of mind for new parents so that they don’t have to prioritize work over home life or vice versa. We want to provide the convenience and comfort that mothers-on-the-go desire but often cannot attain. It’s imperative to really know your audience and provide the appropriate accommodations to fulfill their needs. I think moving forward offering meaningful incentives for new parents will become common practice.”

But it’s not enough for the conference itself to take a family-focused stance. To really impress attendees and their gang, the destination needs to be suitable, too. Some cities marketed as grown-up destinations shouldn’t necessarily be considered off the table, however, as they generally offer some child- or teen-centric attractions. For example, event delegates likely know the party-hearty reputation of Las Vegas (where casino-floor areas are off limits for children), but the city’s new and popular attractions can be equally fun for the younger set: Exploring Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage or the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay are good, wholesome fun for all ages, while kids under 12 ride the High Roller at the LINQ Promenade for free with the purchase of an adult ticket, and at the Discovery Children’s Museum, interactive exhibits engage budding scientists, inventors and artists. In addition, city options include zip lines, water parks, bowling and ice cream parlors, and the amazing, sand-filled pool areas at many properties may be enough entertainment for the entire family, especially in the hotter months.

Of course, Las Vegas’s event credentials have never been in question. The Las Vegas Convention Center, RECon’s home for 2016, has more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space, and more than 100,000 hotel rooms are located within three miles. Organizations whose members encompass the interests of children and adults and plan to bring their events to town this year include the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Taekwondo Association and Roller Skating Association International.

Another grown-up city that knows how to keep kids happy is Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world. Many meetings tend to congregate downtown, which is hip and home to the world-class accommodations and myriad event spaces of the L.A. Live complex, not to mention various entertaining locales; depending on the season, families and groups can take in a baseball game, a basketball game, a fine arts performance or go ice skating downtown. Organizations that find all of this appealing and are planning events in Los Angeles this year include the United Spirit Association, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs and the Emergency Nurses Association.

“Los Angeles is a tremendous place to host family-friendly meetings because there are so many exciting things to see and do that appeal to all ages,” said Kristine Cather, director of marketing and promotions for the United Spirit Association. She recommends Lucky Strike bowling, historic Olvera Street or Chinatown for those meeting downtown, and in the greater metro area, she likes Universal Studios/Hollywood (which is opening the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this month), Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. “Those who want to enjoy the gorgeous California weather can also spend time at the beach,” she suggested. “One of my personal favorite things to do is renting bikes and going from Venice to Santa Monica. The cultural diversity is a huge plus, too. We can’t wait for our attendees to experience all the great things L.A. has to offer!”

For many, no visit to Los Angeles with children would be complete without a visit to one of the theme parks or a studio where TV and movie magic is made. Alternate options for day trips in the area include Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, with a wading area, calmer waters and lifeguards; the traditional seaside rides of the Santa Monica Pier; and the Los Angeles Zoo, which is located within Griffith Park, also home to the Griffith Observatory and the landmark Hollywood sign (an easy hike from the observatory parking lot).

If Southern California isn’t quite the beachy paradise you had in mind, your members might opt for the tropical clime of Costa Rica, where recognized hideouts are ready to welcome associations with top-of-the-line meeting facilities and near-endless adventures. Los Suenos Marriott Ocean & Golf Resort is one such example. Recognized by Travel + Leisure as one of the world’s best hotels for families, the property offers cultural immersion opportunities for kids and adults (think team building) that range from Spanish lessons to Costa Rican cooking classes to eco-initiatives that will foster a sense of appreciation for the area’s beach and rainforest landscapes (home to sloths). There’s even free GoPro rental for guests, ensuring that their video footage will adequately document the great time had by all. For business, Los Suenos features nearly 12,000 square feet of conference space as well as additional outdoor space.

Back in the day, families following meeting-goers off to conventions may have been something of an afterthought, and booking a headquarters hotel with a pool was an easy bone to throw time-strapped attendees. But today’s attendees expect more—for themselves and their families—and as a result, meeting planners are tasked with thinking of ways to please all ages. Putting in the extra effort to research destinations, event sites or amenities that are family friendly often awards groups with a return on investment, even if it’s just in attendee happiness. And who knows? You might even be winning over your next generation of members.

If instilling a sense of adventure and wonder of the world is something your group would like to do for members and their families at your next destination, there’s a new list for that: InterContinental Hotels & Resorts have, with curation assistance from National Geographic Emerging Explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison, collated a top-50 list of children’s ultimate travel experiences in conjunction with the rollout of their Planet Trekkers app, a resource for children heading to properties in new and perhaps strangely foreign places. What better to guide planners with a family-friendly destination dilemma? Some suggestions might be more exotic than you’re envisioning (walking over an inactive volcano, catching a train between countries and crossing the equator), but others are decidedly doable—and likely will appeal to adult attendees as well. Camping in the mountains, creating beach art and floating in a lagoon are fun for all and can serve, at the very least, as team-building fodder.

Engaging Emerging Explorers