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.
"As a destination our [hotel] prices and the value [proposition] for families are incredible during the summer season and our airports have several low-cost carriers, which is conducive to budgeting," said the CVB's Tucker.
The bureau's Super Summer Savings promotion, which offers 2-for-1 discounts at more than 30 area attractions, is an extra bonus, Tucker said. The promotion runs through Sept. 30,
Next weekend, Fort Lauderdale City Commissioner Bobby B. DuBose will host nearly 100 family members in town for a reunion. The GalleryOne Fort Lauderdale, a DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel, will be the group's home base.
"I'm really excited about it," said Dubose of the reunion. "It's been a long-standing tradition in our family, but it's been a while since we've had one."
About 40 percent of the reunion group will be from out-of-town, some arriving from California, Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, South Carolina and Georgia, Dubose said.
"They love coming to Fort Lauderdale," said Dubose. "It's not only good for us to get together as family but it's also good for the local economy."
Key events Dubose has planned for the group include a poolside welcome reception at the hotel, beach barbecue, a gala dinner and a special church service.
Summer family reunions are also part of the tourism landscape in Palm Beach County.
Discounted rates and kid-friendly programs are offered by area hotels, according to Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau officials. Like their Broward counterparts, bureau representatives work closely with reunion planners on their hotel, attractions and other group needs.
"We see a lot of family reunions here in Palm Beach County, especially during the summer when hotels have more rooms available and at more affordable rates," said Connie Hunter, the bureau's senior director of sales, affinity markets. "Many of these groups are attracted to the destination's diversity and rich cultural history."
Two of the county's most popular multicultural and historical sites are the Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens and the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach.
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