Cynthia Linder eagerly anticipated shopping, picnicking and celebrating kinship as more than 160 relatives gathered for this weekend's long-planned family reunion in Fort Lauderdale.
It's a joyous event for Linder, with family members traveling from New York, North Carolina, New Jersey, Illinois and Texas for the gathering. And for tourism officials, reunions like the Linder-Stevens-Hiers event are part of a growing economic trend.
Summer is a popular season for milestone celebrations such as family reunions, where people seek to renew wider family connections, often with long-lost or seldom-seen relatives.
South Florida hotels and attractions typically get their fair share of family reunions during the peak summer travel season, tourism officials say.
This month, a "record-breaking" number of family reunions — more than 30 — are in the area, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. Several more are expected this summer.
The area's cultural diversity is particularly a draw for reunions of people of color.
"Family reunions are huge in the African-American community," said Albert Tucker, the tourism agency's vice president for multicultural business development. "It's a way for families across the country to get together as one unit."
The CVB is able to estimate business generated by reunions when family members contact the agency for help. Each year Tucker and his team help dozens of families secure hotel rooms and venues for their reunions.
The agency last year helped 90 families plan reunions in the Fort Lauderdale area. With 2013 barely half gone, that number is already up to 105 groups.
"It's just incredible how the numbers are growing," Tucker said.
Linder's family is staying at the Embassy Suites Fort Lauderdale on Southeast 17th Street.
"It's family oriented and family friendly," Linder, the co-organizer of the event, said of the hotel. Its free breakfast and evening 'Happy Hours' are added benefits that will help family members save money, she added.
Group activities included a picnic Friday at Hollywood's T.Y. Park and a formal dinner at the hotel Saturday. The group also planned trips to popular area destinations such as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the Swap Shop and Sawgrass Mills, Linder said
This summer, the 360-room Embassy Suites has experienced a revolving door of family reunions on weekends — and the pace isn't letting up.
"Just this past weekend we had five family reunion groups in-house at one time and this upcoming weekend we have another four or five," said sales manager Donald Reilly.
While family reunions represent less than 1 percent of the hotel's business, that leisure segment has been growing over the years, Reilly said.
Embassy Suites discounted room rates for summer family reunions run from $129 to $144 per night, Reilly said. That's 10 percent to 12 percent below typical room rates, he said.
The facility is also popular because it's within walking distance of stores and restaurants and offers a free beach shuttle.
"Our hotel also has a lot of meeting space and the family reunion groups typically have at least one big catered event," for anywhere from 50 to 200 people, Reilly noted.
What's fueling the Fort Lauderdale area's growing family-reunion business? Tourism officials say its largely because the area is affordable compared, but also due to its balmy weather and the assistance the visitors bureau provides.