Family reunions a lucrative niche

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MILWAUKEE -- One in three adults has traveled to a family reunion in the past three years, according to a study by the Travel Industry Association (TIA).

That's 72 million adults hitting the road to see Uncle Joe play horseshoes with cousin Alice and swap stories with long-lost relatives.

The TIA reports that traveling to family reunions has "never been stronger," and the motivation, it seems, is the trend for consumers to evaluate what's important to them.

"It's about creating memories," said Edith Wagner, editor in chief of the Milwaukee-based publication Reunions magazine (www.reunionsmag.com).

Because 49% of family reunions are annual events, Wagner said travel agents capable of helping organize and plan a family reunion will generate an expanding, loyal market base.

And because many family reunions pull together members from around the country, someone has to book the flights or plan the cruise or make the reservations at the hotel or resort.

For years, family reunions took place in a family member's back yard, but those days seem gone forever.

A 2003 study by East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University's 2003 Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management Department reports that 64% of families said they plan to use a hotel, resort "or similar accommodation for their next reunion."

Of the 400-plus ASTA and Vacation.com travel agents polled in 2002, two-thirds (66.9%) reported booking travel accommodations for family reunions within the past year.

And almost as many (64.5%) reported an increase in requests to book family reunion trips over the past five years.

One of them is ASTA Vice President Kathy Sudeikis of All About Travel in Mission, Kan. For her, tapping into the family reunion market was easy.

"I came from a family travel background, so all I did was comb through my client list and ask who might be interested in having a family reunion," she said.

Sudeikis also notes the birthdays and anniversaries of her clients, and when a milestone rolls around, such as a 50th anniversary, she calls and asks if they would like to celebrate the event with other family members.

"My family reunion business is substantial," Sudeikis said, "but I definitely have to be proactive."

Sudeikis recently booked an intergenerational family reunion in New York. Through "creative planning," she said, she booked the flights, negotiated prices at hotels, arranged dinner reservations and purchased tickets for Broadway shows for everyone.

"My client was very happy to turn the planning over to someone else and enjoy her family reunion," she said.

Cruises are a favorite reunion venue because they have "something for everyone," Sudeikis said, and they reduce the stress involved in planning meals and activities.

Kaleel Sakakeeny covers the family travel market for TravelWeekly.com. He can be reached at [email protected].

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