Monday, May 26, 2003

N.Ky. attracts military reunions

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Northern Kentucky passes muster when it comes to the booming military reunion business.

In 1993, the area hosted three or four military reunions, said Barb Dozier, vice president of sales and marketing for the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Today, thanks to the bureau's 10-year-old "Join Forces With Northern Kentucky" promotion, Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties host 50 to 75 annual military reunions.

Military reunions have been an economic boon to Northern Kentucky. Based on figures from 1993, the inaugural year of the "Join Forces with Northern Kentucky" promotion, through 2005, the latest year that military groups have booked a reunion, they account for:
• 60,589 visitors
• 107,774 hotel rooms sold
• $26.7 million economic impact
Source: Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau
Including the military groups hosted north of the river, Greater Cincinnati was the 11th busiest site in the nation for military reunions, according to The Reunion Network Inc., a Hollywood, Fla.-based group that helps military reunion planners.

Military groups have become an increasingly important segment of the local tourism market since 9-11, said Tom Cardonio, president and CEO of the Northern Kentucky bureau. "There is a new surge of patriotism in our country, and many of our armed forces members are reconnecting with each other.

Last year, the Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau shifted its sales strategy from a geographic focus to one that targeted specific groups, such as military units, said Julie Calvert, a bureau vice president.

Calvert said the area's accessibility, moderate prices and attractions such as the Cincinnati Museum Center's "Cincinnati Goes to War" diorama make it attractive.

"These are not corporate people with deep pockets," Paul Spiewak, CEO of The Reunion Network Inc., said of the military groups. "Even if some of the group can afford luxurious accommodations, they worry about the guy at the bottom of the scale. Generally, they like the mid-range hotel that offers full services, including banquet facilities."

Although veterans from World War II and Korea still constitute most of Northern Kentucky's reunion business, the wars in Vietnam, Grenada and Iraq guarantee business, Cardonio said.

The focus on military reunions began by accident 10 years ago, Dozier said. A committee researching untapped markets hit upon military reunions.

"We talked to a number of military planners, including a retired Marine who'd written a book on military reunions," Dozier said. "We found out they were a market that a lot of people didn't know how to deal with. They didn't know how to deliver the services that these groups required."

The bureau developed its "Join Forces" marketing program highlighting local shopping, dining and military-related attractions.


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