NOV 2017

ConventionSouth magazine is the leading resource for meeting planners who book all types of events, conventions, conferences and group travel in the south.

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⎜ ConventionSouth ⎜ N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 7 w w w . c o n v e n t i o n s o u t h . c o m 36 mom, dad, grandma and grandpa with them." Pigeon Forge, with its 60 attractions, including Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has made a name for itself as a family-friendly destination, he added. One of the largest events held in Pigeon Forge is the annual Wilderness Wildlife Week, a free event designed to educate visitors about the Great Smoky Moun- tains. This year's event, in its 27th year, drew about 10,000 visitors who hiked and fished and learned more about the national park. Many of the visitors are homeschool families, Downey said, because the week-long event pro- vides great opportunities to go out with a park ranger and learn about wildlife. Many retirees take part as well, making it a truly family- friendly event. "There's so much to see and do here that you can't do it all in a week's time," Downey said. "Many families come early and stay late because there is so much to do." Pigeon Forge's 14,000 lodging units and 90 restaurants mean there are options for every bud- get. Many of the businesses are within walking distance of the city center which offers added convenience to visitors and the area's central lo- cation in the United States makes it an attractive option for travel from many parts of the country. Similarly, Ocean City, Md., also finds its loca- tion to be a major draw for planners of youth and faith-based events. "Our location is within good driving distance of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadel- phia," said Larry Noccolino, executive director of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center a k a the Ocean City Convention Center. "We're within two and a half hours of those major cities. There's not any flying or rail involved, which keeps costs down." As an added bonus, Ocean City boasts a Show Your Badge program that provides discounts to groups during their stays. "If you're with a group, you show your group's badge and you ride the bus for free from the time you arrive until the time you leave," said Regina Brittingham, regional sales manager for the con- vention center. "But it isn't only the busses. A lot of businesses in town will offer a discount or per- haps a free dessert or a free game of mini golf for our visiting groups as part of the program." Addressing A/V Needs For 24 years, the ROCK Youth Conference has called Ocean City home and Director Becki Price cites the city's flexibility and willingness to think creatively as reasons why the event returns. "We have unusual technical needs because we run our event simultaneously in two separate rooms," Price said. The event uses an overflow room to simulcast the main stage activity so there was a need to hardwire two rooms in the convention center. Not only did the city accommodate the group, but when the new Performing Arts Center was under construction, Ocean City allowed Price and her representatives to install cable as the walls were being built, making the new space usable for Rock as well. The decision benefits both parties. "Now if another organization asks for the same kind of technical capability, the convention center can provide it for them as well," Price said. Like Ocean City, Branson, Mo., has found that its unique audio/visual resources make it an attractive venue for groups seeking great visual production. "Many of these youth and faith-based groups want to record their events so they can share them with others later," said Yvonne Long, group sales manager for the Branson CVB. "Because we are such a theater-based destination, we offer amazing audio/visual resources for the groups that come here. We have extraordinarily talented people and excellent facilities for groups with those requirements." For Ryan Edberg of Kingdom Youth Con- ference, it was Branson's extensive experience hosting youth conferences as well as its broad entertainment offerings that attracted his event to the area. In its second year, his group was focused on large cities where there were plenty of volun- teers. And he wanted to be in the Midwest. "Branson has done large youth events before so they understand what is involved and they are willing to help with the marketing of our event," Edberg said. Deborah Cohen, director of meeting and con- vention sales for the CVB, described Branson as a budget-friendly destination. "We have a large range of hotel products here that make Branson an economical destination," she said. "We're also very easy to get to because we're in the middle of the county and many of our visitors choose to drive here, which keeps the costs lower." Long explained that Branson often has high- er-than-expected attendance at events held in the area. "It's quite unusual in this industry but very often the numbers that actually show up for our events exceed the initial numbers submitted with the event proposal," she said. "We attribute that to the fact that we have so many shows, attractions and outdoor recreation options. Many attendees want to bring their spouses and families to enjoy all the our destination has to offer." In the end, although youth and faith-based events vary widely in scope and nature, they all seek to make a lasting impression on partic- ipants. "Every event has a purpose, mission or goal," Cohen said. "If we have helped the planners meet their goal or accomplish their mission – whether that's to enlighten, educate or entertain – then we've done what we set out to do." n MARKET SEGMENT REPORT: YOUTH & FAITH BASED EVENTS Shark Lagoon at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

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