Kids Helping Kids

Author: David McMillin       

It’s not uncommon for annual conventions to include recreational options for significant others and children in their attendee-marketing campaigns. The thinking is simple: You make it more enticing for them to register if you help show them how they can turn a three-day business trip into a family vacation.

The organizers of Destinations International Annual Convention and the host city’s CVB, Visit Anaheim, took the idea to the next level, however, for participants who arrived in southern California with their children in mid-July. They designed a pre-conference program on Sunday, July 8 — before the Opening Reception officially kicked off the convention on Tuesday, July 10 — to give children a sense of the meaningful community-service component of many face-toface events. The giving-back initiative benefitted Families Forward, an Orange County–based organization that aims to help families maintain self-sufficiency through housing, food,counseling, education, and other support services. Participants — children and their parents — packed care kits that included stuffed animals, a T-shirt for the animal, and special messages of hope for the recipients.

“With our efforts to bring more kids to the convention, we wanted to do something so that our attendees’ children could create a real impact for other kids,” Colleen Phalen, CMP, CEM, executive vice president, program development and meetings, Destinations International, told Convene. “Visit Anaheim played a huge role in helping us make sure that we did something effective.”

Registration to the CSR activity was free, and children needed to be accompanied by an adult to participate. “My daughter was there,” said Visit Anaheim CEO Jay Burress. “In fact, I think she might hold the record for most kits assembled. I couldn’t tear her away from it.”

Burress’ daughter wasn’t the only enthusiastic contributor to the cause. Over the course of the two-hour afternoon activity held in the lobby of the Hilton Anaheim, the crowd — which included the entire class of destination marketing professionals studying to earn their CDME credentials — put together 125 kits. “We had 12 stations for assembling the kits, and they were continuously running,” Phalen said. “The families really loved it, and our members who didn’t bring their kids were also really happy to be part of it.”

Community Impact Continued
Efforts to give back to the community weren’t confined to one afternoon. When attendees received their in-room invitations for the convention’s VIP leadership reception the following evening, they noticed they came with a curious addition: a box of dry pasta. “Our room drop included instructions to bring the pasta to the dinner,” Phalen said. “I’m sure they wondered why they were carrying these boxes when they boarded the bus for the dinner.”

Shortly after they arrived, Sir Chef Bruno Serato connected the dots. Serato, a CNN Hero and owner of Anaheim’s famed White House Restaurant, runs a program that serves nearly 18,000 warm nutritional meals to underprivileged children each week in Orange County and around the world. “Bruno is one of the true stars of our community,” Burress said. “When his mother visited and saw local children in need eating potato chips, she inspired him to do something about it. So he founded Caterina’s Club, named after her. He does it out of love and the need to take care of people.” After his original restaurant location burned down — the Destinations International event was held at the newly built White House — one of Bruno’s first concerns, Burress said, “was how to make sure that he continued feeding the children.”

In addition to hearing Serato’s personal story, participants experienced a more tangible sense of contributing to the local community by physically donating the pasta boxes. Why pasta? It could have something to do with the title of Serato’s book, The Power of Pasta: A Celebrity Chef’s Mission to Feed America’s Hungry Children.

“It really made people feel like they were part of something bigger,” Phalen said. “Instead of handing over a check on stage, it helped create a thread of connection to Bruno’s organization.”

Delivering More Than Dollars
The community-service initiatives at Destinations International Annual Convention are one example
of Visit Anaheim’s bigger focus on weaving a thread between marketing a destination to visitors and making a real difference for the people who call that destination home. “We realized that the members
of our community kept hearing about the economic impact of conventions and tourism,” Burress said. “But the impact of our giving back is a really powerful message. We’ve been working to humanize our story to let people know that the industry is more than big dollar amounts. It’s an industry that employs your neighbor who works in a hotel or someone from your church who works at Disneyland.”

As conventions and destinations work to define the industry’s impact to policymakers, Burress believes that hotels and other venues, event organizers, and DMO leaders should work together to outline the difference they make for the residents outside the convention-center walls. “The number of hours donated to a community is a really important story,” Burress said. “As an industry, if we could do that around the country, it’s a big voice that can resonate on Capitol Hill.”

While Burress wants to get that message across to government leaders, for him it goes deeper than simply creating a good talking point for travel and tourism advocacy efforts. “It’s more than a feel-good story,” he said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

Learn more about Celebrity Chef Sir Bruno Serato’s philanthropic efforts at chefbrunoserato.com.