How One Meeting Planner Prioritizes Convenience and Inclusivity for her Diverse Constituency

The event has a packed agenda—and a goal to reach as many of its 20,000 members as possible.

Selene Serrano oversees the annual springtime conference for the Spanish Eastern District of the Assemblies of God. The membership of the religious organization comprises women’s ministries from Maine to Tennessee—that’s about 20,000 women and 700 churches overall. And with such a diverse membership, Serrano’s top goal is inclusivity.

As many as about 3,500 women make their way to the conference held each year on the third weekend of April. The destination rotates in an effort to make attendance feasible for as many constituents as possible, whose ages and ability to travel comfortably range as widely as their home states. “We try to go to different places within our district to make sure that people that are farthest away are included,” Serrano says. “We want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to go.”

In addition to geographically inclusive destinations, Serrano explains that her group requires a family-friendly environment: It is a religious organization with family values at its core. “Because of the nature of our event, it brings people who prefer peace and quiet,” she says. This rules out destinations known above all for casinos or a wild bar scene, in favor of places like Virginia Beach — with its all-ages-friendly atmosphere and beautiful natural environment—from where attendees’ feedback was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

The conference also operates a kids camp, although the group of children who attend is generally small compared with the total adult delegation. This accommodation exists for families, but Serrano finds the women tend to attend without their children so they can focus on their own experience in a desirable destination with thought-provoking content and face-to-face interactions. “They know the kids are welcome, and the kids [who come] have fun,” she says. “But the majority of the women are just so excited to go away for the weekend.”

With the action confined to a single weekend, there’s a lot to pack in. And that means convenience and practicality are key in the planning and execution. “We don’t really have a lot of time to wander around and do many different things [off the schedule],” she says. “We are pretty packed from Friday to Sunday afternoon, so there’s really not a lot of wiggle room.”

That’s why, “having a convention center close to the hotels is important,” Serrano explains, noting her event blocks about 1,000 rooms across about 12 different hotels. Virginia Beach has an abundance of options, with excellent walkability.

Her attendees are also looking for quick options such as grab-and go eateries that allow them to spend less time sitting in restaurants and more time connecting and exploring—she relishes seeing the group running through the sand at springtime.”

Having the beach, the beautiful views, was definitely a big motivation for our women, because some really don’t go away much during the year,” she says. “For them, the convention is the time when they get to enjoy themselves.”

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