Colorado Groups, Reunions, Meetings, Retreats & Conferences
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Planning Your Colorado Family Reunion or Group Retreat
Organizing a family reunion can be a daunting task. How are you going to house, feed and entertain dozens - or even hundreds - of relatives? Yet, every year, millions of Americans take on the challenge. To help you with the planning process, read through our guide to family reunions below. When you're finished, check out the Colorado Vacation Directory's Groups and Family Reunions Listings or fill out a Family Reunion request form to get more information.
Start planning your reunion as early as possible. Most experts recommend at least a year of planning time, but if your reunion will take place at a high-demand location, you might want to start even earlier. At the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, families begin planning reunions an average of two years in advance, said Bill Almond, the resort's director of group sales.
The Colorado Vacation Directory can help reunion planners find places to stay and fun things to do throughout the state of Colorado. Check out the Groups and Family Reunions Listings for more information.
Enlist the support of as many family members as possible.The more relatives that are pulling for a reunion, the more likely it will happen - and the more ways the work can be divided. Some tips for getting people interested:
- Get extra marketing materials from the site where the family reunion will be held. Pick up brochures and other materials from the town or state visitor's bureau, nearby fun places and the lodging you've chosen. Send them out to all your family members to get them excited about the trip. (Even easier - some businesses have e-postcards you can send out quickly and easily through email, or just send links to the companies' web sites.)
- Pass out emails. When you're contacting everyone about the reunion, get their email addresses. Make a big list of email addresses, phone numbers and names and send it out to the entire family. This way, family members can start connecting with each other before the reunion even starts - and they'll be more excited to go.
- Set up a group site. When families are spread out across the country, it can be hard to coordinate planning a reunion. Setting up a family web site on the Internet can be a tremendous help. Free sites such as blogspot.com or Yahoo Groups have easy templates that allow families to post pictures and chat with each other before - and after - the reunion.
When to Have It:
Many reunions run from Friday through Sunday. One-day reunions usually aren't worth the trouble for those traveling great distances, and anything longer than three or four days can be hard to manage.
Some reunions are held in conjunction with a milestone, such as the matriarch's birthday or the grandparents' anniversary - a great tactic to convince people to come. Who wouldn't feel bad missing Grandma Lou's 90th birthday celebration?
Try to avoid major holiday weekends. Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are popular reunion dates - but not recommended. Travel can be difficult and expensive over holidays...hotels are crowded...and half of the family is likely to attend their spouses' family gatherings instead.
Many reunion experts suggest planning an off-season reunion. Families will usually have an easier time booking accommodations and activities in early fall or late spring rather than at the height of summer. "Everyone wants to come in July, and if you're planning a family event - even two years out - it can be frustrating," says Bill Almond, director of group sales for YMCA of the Rockies.
Find a handful of dates that work for the majority of family members and then look around at what kind of accommodations and activities you can get during those time periods. Sarah Kleiber, a group sales manager with YMCA of the Rockies, suggests that families remain flexible and think outside the box when it comes to dates. "We're busy from mid-June to mid-August," she said. "So it's best to think outside that window. What about a long weekend in the fall? Or a winter retreat? There are so many options."
As soon as the days are selected, send a "save the date" note to each household. As details are worked out, send emails, flyers, etc. to remind everyone.
Where to Have It:
Family reunion destinations vary widely. Some families hold their reunions in the grandparents' town. Others rotate annual reunions among the hometowns of the various branches of the family. And some families just choose popular vacation destinations that have no real "family" connection.
Once you've picked your destination, it's important to find "reunion-friendly" businesses. Here are some tips for finding lodging and activities that work for your family:
- Contact the town or state visitor's bureau and tell them how big your group is and what you're interested in doing. They'll pass the info along to hotels, resorts, car-rental agencies, restaurants and attractions, which will in turn send you offers, coupons and brochures catered to your needs. Info on the convention and visitors bureaus for many Colorado towns and areas can be found on the Colorado Vacation Directory's web site.
- Resorts and guest ranches are great reunion sites. You don't have to cook or arrange catering, and larger properties often have a variety of lodging styles to fit everyone's needs.
- Campgrounds are a good choice for budget-conscious or outdoorsy families. Some family members may not like to camp, though, so make sure there is a hotel/motel nearby or that the campground also offers lodging.
Want more ideas? Various lodging options for Colorado towns and areas are listed in the print and online versions of the Colorado Vacation Directory.
It typically costs between $200 and $400 per person to attend a three-day family reunion, including travel, room and meals.
Keep cost in mind when planning the reunion. Organizers should not make the reunion too expensive for family members, even if that means selecting a property that seems a bit downscale to some.
Hotels and resorts are sometimes willing to give perks to big groups. Ask what dates will get you the most value and let owners know how much business you will be bringing to the hotel. Early bird specials for booking in advance and discounts for children can also save money.
Look for discount coupons and offers in brochures and travel guides. Several advertisers with the Colorado Vacation Directory offer discounts on lodging, rentals and fun activities when you mention their ad when booking.
Help those in need with tactful fundraisers. If there are significant differences in income levels between branches of the family, it might be possible to arrange fundraising activities that allow wealthier relatives to pay more without any hurt feelings. Some ideas:
- Start an anonymous scholarship fund. Family members can each send in an extra $10 or $20 to the reunion organizer, who can then distribute the money among families who are having a hard time with the cost.
- Have fundraising opportunities at the reunion. One large family holds a cake auction at their annual reunion. Family members bid on homemade cakes, with all proceeds going into a fund to help defray the cost of the reunion for other family members.
Request a deposit in advance. Most reunion organizers request some money in advance from each family member attending the reunion. The money can then be used to cover initial deposits for caterers, groups, activities, rooms and restaurants. Insisting on money in advance also helps to ensure that family members won't back out at the last minute.
Keep careful track of the money received and the expenses...If family members start to complain, you can show them how all of the funds were spent.
...but don't be afraid to overcharge. Family reunion experts suggest billing family members an extra $10 to $20 over the base cost of the reunion. The extra money comes in handy when unexpected expenses pop up, costs run over or even just when a late-night gab session demands a snack run. Most of the time, family members won't even notice you asked for extra, says Lori VanHorn, marketing director for YMCA of the Rockies." They're not going to notice an extra $7, but they are going to appreciate that you went to Safeway and got chips and salsa for everyone or something like that," she said.
Let the Fun Begin:
Break the ice. The first night of the reunion is perfect for icebreaker games - try well-known activities such as charades or find new ones on-line. Getting comfortable with each other right away will make the rest of the reunion a lot more enjoyable.
Schedule group activities. Plan to include a few activities that everyone can participate in. Common events include picnics, banquets and bonfires. Some families charter buses to go shopping or to an amusement park, zoo or casino. In Colorado, families can enjoy rafting, horseback riding and lots of other activities. The Colorado Vacation Directory's Groups and Family Reunions Index can help you find businesses that accommodate large groups.
Keep everyone's abilities in mind. A bike ride and a whitewater rafting trip might not be ideal for your 80-year-old grandpa, while young kids might get bored just sitting around talking. Include a mix of activities that will appeal to everyone.
Don't overload. Family members will get burnt out if they have to spend every waking minute together, and individual families usually like to have some time to explore on their own. Shoot for one planned activity a day and then let everyone do their own thing.
Incorporate "family" into all your activities. Display a family tree on icebreaker night; bring albums filled with old family photos; have a family trivia game (When did the family's first ancestor reach the U.S.?) and give out prizes.
Pass on traditions. Use the reunion as an opportunity to teach younger family members about the older generation. Did aunts and uncles hold board game tournaments when they were younger? Play some after lunch one day. Is Grandpa an expert on horses? Let him talk to the kids about what he knows.
Finally - RELAX. "Forget about a picture-perfect gathering," says Eileen Ogintz, an expert on reunions and traveling with children. "It's not going to happen, so make this your mantra - 'I am not responsible for everyone's happiness,' and then let it go." No matter what happens, Ogintz says, it's being together that counts the most. "It always ends up being worth it," she says. "Because it's better to catch up here than at a funeral."
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