Latest Planning Details For 55 Reunion Now
Available For Information And Comments
This is the latest 55
Reunion update from Gary Hyde...
Let me take a little of your
time and discuss where we have been over the past couple of years and what
we might conclude or learn from that journey.
During the past 24 months, among
many things, we have done four on-line surveys of the entire class,
coordinated many times with reunion POC’s at West Point, concluded where we
wanted to have the reunion, decided when we wanted to have it, communicated
with hotel sales reps at some 17 potential lodging venues, conducted
face-to-face meetings with the five short-list lodging venue reps, had
follow-up face-to-face meetings with the three finalists for lodging and
reunion HQ, and completed a final contract with the hotel chosen as base of
operations for the 55th.
As you can imagine and
probably observed I have learned a lot and come to many convictions about
the reunion during that period. Let me recap some of my thoughts,
convictions, and lessons learned here for your info and comment as you wish.
convinced that these surveys were invaluable in getting us to where we are
allowed us to gather unfiltered input from the entire class so that we could
be sure we were moving in the direction that the majority of the class
where the class wanted to go and when they wanted to go there. We know what
they liked about past reunions, what they did not like, and what they would
like to see for the 55th.
As far as I
know, no class planning committee has ever had the benefit of this level of
communication, and articulating our wish-lists were key factors in finding
the best hotel for our purposes.
We looked at
17 or so potential locations. Communicated with hotel reps, gave them our
top level wish-list, and obtained preliminary proposal info from the reps.
preliminary inputs, we down-selected to five hotels that met our initial
selection criteria. We refined our wish list, provided it to the hotel
reps, then met face-to-face with them to explain each item on the list. We
asked them to respond to the list and give us preliminary proposals.
some things from the meetings and the resulting updated props. From these
insights, we eliminated two of the hotels that did not meet our minimum
requirements and we refined our wish list.
We met again
with the three finalists to once again go item by item thru our wish list
and obtained final proposals from the three hotels.
We ended with
three offers that would work for us, but one was clearly better than the
other two. You saw the concessions the Marriott offered and the cost
benefits, including the comparison with the 50th costs –
potentially a $110k+ cost differential for the class as a whole.
So I learned
again the value of competition, working closely with your supplier/vendor,
and not being afraid to ask for what you would really like to have.
flexibility was an issue mentioned frequently in the surveys. Folks wanted
a more flexible schedule. They indicated that they felt rushed and herded
with little time to relax.
responding to these suggestions in several ways:
We have a
five-night/four-day stay, which opens up much more time to relax.
no mandatory formations. Every event is optional.
a lot of free time in the itinerary for folks to pick and choose what they
want to do.
numerous options for day trips, tours, or visits.
optional “Featured Activities” each day, which I will talk about later.
optional with POV car pools an option.
stagger bus departures based on what folks want to do.
move buses as they fill up rather than holding all until all are full. We
do not need all buses to travel in a big convoy.
events and attractions were mentioned by large numbers of folks. These, of
course, included alumni events at West Point . In addition, many indicated
an interest in a day trip to NYC and attractions at Hyde Park , particularly
the Culinary Institute. So we are offering each day what I call a “Featured
Activity.” This is an activity that I anticipate a fairly good sized group
will want to sign up for. Here is the lineup.
package is a visit to Hyde Park , which, although often only associated with
Franklin D. Roosevelt, in fact includes several interesting attractions.
Travel time is about 80 minutes and I expect the folks will want to car
pool. However, buses can be arranged if there is enough interest. Lunch
and or dinner at CIA are options. CIA usually hosts a dinner on Saturday
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
Roosevelt National Historic Site
Institute of America – Tour, lunch, and dinner options
Sunday – NYC
is a day-trip to visit New York City . I think folks will opt for Travel by
bus, but car pooling is an option. Preliminary outline is departure from
hotel at 0900 or so, drop off at the 9/11 Memorial between Rector and Thames
St (a standard bus drop off spot). Once in the city, participants can
choose tourist buses, subway, taxis, and/or walking, plus any combination of
these, as modes of travel between attractions. Attractions visited will be
at the option of participants in groups or as individuals. Return buses
will pick up at Bryant Park, 42nd & 6th Ave (near
Times Square ). Two return times, 1630 early departure and 2100 late
departure for those that want to have dinner in the city.
attractions in NYC. Mostly folks will be on their own.
I expect that
the 9/11 Memorial will be popular, so we will likely set up group visit for
attractions may warrant group visit also. This we will determine in future
– West Point Day 1
is a day-trip to West Point . There are scheduled alumni activities and
time for individual tours. I expect that there will be mix of bus travel
and POV car pools. We will have continuously running shuttle buses on post
moving between stops of interest. All events are optional and we have
options for travel times.
POV travel to and from WP
bus departure from hotel– drop off TBD
0930 – 1330
Optional lunch at hotel for those that did not catch the early bus
Optional lunch Eisenhower Hall for those that did catch the early bus
bus departure from hotel to Eisenhower Hall
Hell Cat Performance – Eisenhower Hall
Academy & AOG Update Briefings
Travel to Cadet Chapel
Memorial Service – Cadet Chapel
Organ Recital – Cadet Chapel
Buses depart Cadet Chapel for hotel
West Point Day 2
Monday, this package is a day-trip to West Point . Again, there are
scheduled alumni activities and time for individual tours. I expect that
there will be mix of bus travel and POV car pools. We will have
continuously running shuttle buses on post moving between stops of
interest. All events are optional and we have options for travel times.
POV travel to and from WP
departure from hotel– drop off Doubleday Field
Alumni Ceremony Eisenhower Statue
Cadet Review on the Plain
Alumni Luncheon in Cadet Mess
Bus departures to hotel – buses depart when full
bus to hotel
More Time to
Relax, Socialize, and Tour
surveys 80% agreed that we should have more time to relax and socialize.
complained about agendas being too full and having to rush from one event to
I have for sometime been puzzled about the fact that for mini-reunions we
often have five-night/four-day events, but for the big five year reunions we
jam everything into three-night/two day events.
For the 55th
we are responding to the comments with several initiatives, including:
five-night/four-day event. The old format had just a little time at
breakfast, before dinner, dinner, and a little time after dinner for social
time, say 12 hours or so over the entire period. Our 55th will
have more like 40 hours available for free time.
The new event
spans four days, providing two days for the alumni activities at West Point
and two days for any activity one chooses, including day trips to NYC and
Hyde Park, the two special activities in the master plan.
in the past we had no private room available to relax and meet. For the 55th
we will have four comfortable hospitality rooms, fully stocked, and
available 24 hours a day.
We can also
streamline the days at West Point, allowing us to leave at staggered times
from the hotel and return at staggered times to the hotel from West Point .
another hot button that a large number of folks commented on in the surveys
or agreed with as a hot button. We have done a lot to lower the costs
compared to past reunions and keep the costs down. I will just briefly list
some of the initiatives here and provide more detail on most of them
elsewhere in the document.
Package. The hotel package we selected and the concessions we obtained is a
very significant cost reduction item for the class. You have seen the cost
impacts in some of my past memos. Let me just repeat the comparison to the
If we used
the Westchester Marriott costs from the 50th and plugged them in
for the 55th.
per Couple per Day - Westchester Marriott prices would be $140 per day
per Day for Entire Class - Westchester Marriott prices would be $27,933 per
Cost for Entire Class - Westchester Marriott prices would be $111,733 higher
room cost is $139.00 and includes a buffet breakfast and free wifi.
cost was $149.00 and did not include breakfast or wifi.
Tax on Room
In the past
we had to pay sales tax on the room.
we do not.
are complimentary for 55th.
the average cost per person per day for breakfast was $25.00.
For the 55th
we can supply our own wines for cocktail hour and dinner with no corkage
This is large
savings for those that drink wine. For past reunions, we had to buy by the
glass or bottle at regular hotel bar prices.
expensive and always more costly than if one were just to go to the hotel
restaurant and eat.
we have a 15% discount on banquet food prices.
In the past
there were none. So folks had no private place to relax and visit. We had
only the hotel bars and lobbies where we had to pay bar prices for beverages
For the 55th,
we will have four hospitality rooms that we can stock with food and
beverages at our costs. All you can eat and drink available 24 hours a day.
Three of the rooms are comp’d by the hotel.
everyone had to pay for the buses, whether they used them or not.
buses are optional. If you want to use them you pay, if you do not want to
use them you do not pay.
professional photographers in the past.
I believe we
can use class volunteers for this, since we are taking thousands of our own
pics at these kinds of functions.
We had hard
copy welcome packages in the past. Getting them together was labor
intensive and costly.
I submit we
can streamline and eliminate the costs by transmitting the welcome packages
In the past
everyone had to pay for the items for the guys and gals, whether they wanted
them or not.
these should be optional. Folks that want them can buy them, those that do
not want them do not have to pay for something they do not want.
I am not sure
what we had in the past for a hotel shuttle, but I imagine it was limited if
available at all.
For the 55th
we have free hotel shuttle available all days for use within 3 miles of the
years the AOG has been a valuable resource for reunion planning and
support. Feedback I have gotten indicates that classes have been very
pleased with the support they received.
support now comes with a price. At some point in the not too distant past,
I believe, the AOG decided to create categories of support and charge fees
based on the level of support they provided. Here is their menu.
Here is my
take on the options:
Consulting. I have gotten some help in this area, but not much on hotels.
We had to dig that out on our own.
classmates. Ed Brown and Sam Weiss have all this.
Ed has the list and uses the AOG for distribution of our emails.
We may use
this. Will get prices and compare with other printers.
Package @ 5% of
all monies processed
website – we do not need it. We have a website.
Surveys – We are doing our own and these are much easier and convenient.
Registration. We are not using mail-in. Ours will be web-based using our
Registration. This would be convenient, however, past reunion committees
have recommended not using credit cards since there is substantial charge
for such service.
Cost of Black
Package for us could be around $9000. Not worth it to us since we would not
use much, if anything, of the services offered.
Package @ 12% of
all monies processed
items above plus:
Packets. Not needed if we go with my recommendation to do this
electronically and eliminate the paper packets at the hotel. I will discuss
Registration Table. This is helpful, but I am thinking we can streamline
this and essentially do away with the old sign-in table of the past. More
to follow on this.
Reunion Planning and Execution. As we have seen, hotel negotiations are
best done by the stakeholders. The AOG would not and could not have gotten
the many concessions we got – this confirmed by what the Class of 64 paid
for their 50th, some of which I had a chance to review. Other
things like stuffing packages we likely do not need. Staffing and support
during the reunion is valuable, but alone not worth the cost.
Cost of Gold
Package for us could be around $21,000. Again way too much for the value of
services we want or would use.
So my bottom
line on AOG support is that there are some nice things they do, but except
for some pay-as-you-go items it is way overpriced for the value the Class
Traditionally, there have been welcome packets distributed at the hotel.
These have contained paper copies of agendas, events, welcome letter from
class president, list of attendees, etc.
distributing these packets is costly, labor intensive, and of somewhat
limited value in my opinion.
replacing these paper copies with an electronic welcome package distributed
by email to attendees prior to their arrival. Attendees can decide what
they want in hard copy and print that for themselves.
all the latest information on events and tours will be posted in the
hospitality room (see below for info on the HR).
A few copies
of selected items can be made available in the hospitality room for those
that lose their copies or find they need a copy of something.
In the past
we had a registration table located somewhere in a hall or other space folks
could find. It had to manned for long hours the first two days. Folks
signed in here and picked up their welcome packets.
I think we
can do away with the registration table for the 55th. First, we
will not have welcome packets to hand out, at least if we go with my
recommendation. Second, we now have a main hospitality room that is
available 24 hours a day. In this room we will have all the admin and
logistics info published on the walls, so people arriving can get all the
hot skinny they need. Third, we do not need a list of who has arrived, we
can get this from the hotel each evening or first thing in the morning.
one item mentioned in the survey for things liked at the reunions was the
chance to socialize with their classmates. Unfortunately, past reunions did
not have hospitality rooms to provide a comfortable private location to
relax and meet with classmates. For the 55th we will have four
such hospitality rooms.
Hospitality Room. The main HR is one of the banquet rooms and is just
across the hall from the large banquet rooms where we will have the class
dinners. This will be the main room for informal social get-togethers,
coordination meetings, reunion information, and cocktail hours before
dinners. The room will be available 24 hours a day. The Class can stock
the room with soft drinks, tea, coffee, and dry snacks (a concession that
was somewhat difficult to obtain – a point I will discuss later). State
regulations and insurance restrictions prevent the hotel from allowing us to
supply our own alcoholic beverages in this room. It is a fairly large room
that can handle 100-150 with a foyer for additional space for cocktail hours
Hospitality Rooms. The Marriott is comp’ing two suites and we are reserving
another that will be used as auxiliary hospitality rooms for the class. The
suites are furnished with comfortable furniture and have bar areas with sink
and refrig. In these we are able to stock our own beverages, including
alcoholic beverages, and snacks. These suites will be available 24 hours a
day for smaller groups to use for informal social activities. What we do in
these rooms is not subject to the restrictions on the banquet rooms
Supply Own Food and Beverage for Hospitality Rooms
This is an
option we have been able to obtain for our mini’s and for golfing grads. So
I did not expect this to be a major issue.
I was wrong,
it was a significant issue for the Main Hospitality Room. It was not an
issue for suites or guest rooms – here the hotels use a don’t ask/don’t tell
hotels have a contract clause that says that any food or beverage consumed
in the hotel must be provided by the hotel. Further, we learned that
insurance requirements and state regulations require that all alcoholic
beverages be served by the hotel.
So when we
asked for a main hospitality room, all readily agreed, but all said their
policy was the hotel had to supply the food and beverages.
early on we were not going to change their minds about alcoholic beverages
and any perishable snacks. So we restated our request to be only
non-alcoholic drinks and dry snacks. We also made this a threshold
requirement – ie, a must-have for us. In the end all three finalists agreed
to our request to provide our own non-alcoholic beverages and snacks in the
main hospitality room. They all gave tacit approval for us to do anything
in our suites that we wished – don’t ask/don’t tell.
toured Israel this spring, Pete Gleichenhaus (our host) got us a tour of the
Israeli West Point. Pete’s friend who owns the tour company is a graduate
and arranged the visit. It was very interesting and occurred on their
Memorial Day, so we not only got to visit the school, but also were invited
to the evening Memorial Day ceremony.
In Israel ,
all young persons must go direct from high school into government service,
mostly to the IDF. So their West Point is a high school. The school is
small and graduates 65 or so each year. They go to college after their
required government service.
While we were
visiting the school, the hosts took us to a room that they used as a
memorial room for all the grads that had been killed in combat. It was a
simple room, but very meaningful. On the walls were single page tributes to
each of the fallen grads. Picture and short bio. The visit to the room
made a deep impression on me and I think on all of us.
As I thought
about the room, it occurred to me that the idea would be something that we
could have for our 55th. A Memorial Room at the hotel with a one
page tribute for each of our deceased classmates on the walls of the room.
I envision a standard format with picture from the Howitzer, some basic data
(DOB, POB, died xx, etc), maybe some short career history like is in the
register, awards and decorations, and then the obit/writeup. All sized to
fit the template. Most of the data are available at the class website. A
sample tribute page is attached. It shows the current template we are
currently 189 or so deceased classmates/ex-classmates. So pulling this
together and creating the one page tributes for the walls is a fairly large
job. In fact I am getting some push back from some classmates who are
saying that this sounds too hard. It is hard, but I think well worth the
effort. Besides that is why they pay the planning committee the big bucks.
Bob Hampton has agreed to help with this and has completed the first
drafts. He has done this kind of thing and is ideal to help draft the wall
room would be a quiet room, separate from the hospitality room, in which
folks could walk the walls and think about and remember guys they knew. I
reserved such a room at the Marriott. We think we could have post-it notes
or paper so that folks could write remembrances, eg “I remember xxxx………….”
We could also have some additional resources on the table, including copies
of the Howitzers, Registers, 50th Yearbook. Around the room
could be memorabilia, such as cadet uniforms, tar buckets, etc. We are also
thinking about west point music playing softly in the background.
Complimentary Buffet Breakfast
This is a
concession that evolved as we went thru the negotiations.
reviewed the costs from past reunions and looked at what the hotels charge
for private breakfast buffets, I initially decided that we would not plan on
private breakfasts and let everyone decide on their own what the wanted and
when. We did in our initial wish list indicate we would like to have
discounts of some sort for those that wished breakfasts.
Then I went
on some trips with classmates and saw that all enjoyed a breakfast as part
of their lodging package. So we changed our wish list to include a request
for a room package with breakfast included (B&B if you will). We asked the
hotels to include in their updated proposal a room breakfast combo. The
argument used was that while almost all of us would opt for breakfast, at
our age we would not be eating very much. Therefore, the hotels should
consider offering their buffet breakfast at a significantly reduced price
and that I felt they would still make out from a cost standpoint.
from the Marriott exceeded my expectations – they offered buffet breakfasts
included at no change in their prior room price. They even made it
applicable for three in a room. One more of the other hotels also included
breakfast (for two) at no cost and one did not.
lesson here – had we not asked for it we would not have gotten it.
for Banquet Meals
The costs for
banquet meals are very high in my opinion. So we requested some concession
on the costs.
that at our ages we eat less. So there must be someway that the chef can
size the portions for seniors and therefore charge less.
responded with a 15% discount for banquet dinners.
Again, had we
not asked we would not have gotten this concession.
that the hotels would not give us happy hour prices for dinner, but we asked
if they would feature a house red and house white wine at the dinners at
Marriott exceeded my expectations by offering the Class the option of
supplying its own wine with no corkage fee. This is an option that I had
not even thought of and is a very significant cost benefit to the Class.
Had we not
been conducting a dialogue with the folks and been in a known competitive
environment we would not have gotten this very attractive concession.
Change Room Commitment after Contract Date
these types of contracts, when you sign the contract you make a “Room
Commitment”, which is included in the contract as a room “block”. You then
are guaranteeing that you will fill a certain percentage of these rooms
(usually 80-90 percent). If you fail to meet the min level the Class then
has to pay for the unused rooms.
this is standard for all such contracts, as far as I know, I always felt it
was inequitable to the extent that the customers signed the contract months
or years in advance and had to take all the risk of meeting the original
room block. Further, I thought it was unfair because the hotels reservation
cycle is just weeks or maybe a couple of months ahead of a reservation
date. Thus they were probably going to fill any unused rooms anyway. In
essence, they would be getting paid double for a room.
our meetings with the hotel reps, we emphasized our concern about the age of
our class at the reunion time and the unfortunate fact that we will lose
attendees for emergency reasons right up to and even during the reunion.
Thus we asked for as much flexibility to change the block of rooms and the
corresponding guarantee to as late as possible and to something that was
equitable to both the hotel and the Class.
Park Ridge Marriott exceeded my expectations by supporting a 90 day
decision date prior to Event Date to release any unsold rooms in block
without group incurring any penalty. This is a very valuable and
important concession and one unique to the Marriott offer. In fact,
something that was beyond what I imagined we might achieve and one that I
have never heard offered by any other hotel.
Lesson – ask
for what you think is fair and justify why you believe it is equitable.
another issue that bothered me. Sometimes hotels put a cancellation
restriction in the group contracts that is more restrictive (ie, further in
advance of the check in time) than what they offer the regular customer.
requested that our folks have the same cut off as any other customer. The
Marriott agreed and will allow room reservations to be cancelled up to 1800
on day of arrival with no penalty.
Many of the
hotels offered some type of shuttle service for local travel. In the case
of the Marriott they offered complimentary shuttle service within a two mile
radius, Monday – Friday.
This did not
really meet our needs since the primary times we needed the shuttle was
likely to be on Saturday and Sunday. Further, when I studied the map, I saw
that two miles was just not large enough to get a large number of stores and
restaurants in range.
requested that the shuttle be made available on Saturday and Sunday and that
the radius be extended to three miles for the reasons stated above. The
Lesson – do
not accept standard policies if they do not meet your preferences. It does
not hurt to ask.
Too much time
on buses was the single largest complaint about past reunions. In the past
buses were mandatory (at least you had to pay for them whether you used them
We were able
to cut down travel time by 20-25%, but we could not reduce it as much as
people would want. The fact of life is that there are no large hotels close
to West Point .
however make using them optional. Folks will have the option to use the
buses or travel by POV. If they do not want the bus, they will not have to
pay for it.
We can make
using the buses more convenient. We can run them at different times both
from and to the hotel and move them as they fill up rather than waiting for
all to fill and moving in convoy.
We can also
provide shuttle buses/vans on post that will run a round-robin circuit
around the post. That way folks can get around to visit what they want
without having to be herded onto a convoy of buses.
we have had some sort of memento for everyone (like ball cap) and gift for
the ladies at the reunion.
surveys, several commented that these should be optional rather than
mandatory. In the end if we have these all have to pay whether they want
the item or not. No matter what we picked for these, there would be, I am
sure, many who would really not want the items.
I agree with
the comments and propose we make every such item optional. If you want a
memento, of which we will offer several choices, and/or if you want a
jewelry item for your wife, then you can order it. We can offer several
options by working with the AOG gift shop. This ensures that guys that do
not want an item do not have to pay for it, particularly important for our
classmates that are on very restricted budgets.
In the past
for group events and hospitality rooms we typically charged a standard
charge per person for the beverages, snacks, and or food. I have now
realized that having a flat rate is not fair to those that do not consume
alcoholic beverages. For the Orlando mini’s I now collect different amounts
depending on whether or not the person wants alcoholic beverages.
For the 55th,
I propose that charges for the hospitality room and dinner wine be based on
whether one wants alcoholic drinks or does not want alcoholic drinks. Easy
to collect this preference in the surveys as I do for the Orlando mini’s.
The class of
hotels we were considering sometimes have free wifi in the lobby and charge
for it in the rooms. Some even charge for wifi in the lobby. It bothered
me that in the hotel families, like Hilton and Marriott, the low end hotels
had free wifi and the high end charged for it.
So one of the
hot buttons we presented to the hotels was our negative feelings about them
charging for wifi. The Marriott agreed to provide free wifi in the rooms.
In the past,
each individual had to call the hotel and make their own reservation. This
is another process we can streamline.
For the 55th
I propose that we streamline the process by using a centralized reservation
Here is how
it works. In our registration survey, we collect all the data needed for
the hotel reservation (we normally do this anyway). Then our Reservation
Czar makes all the reservations from the master list by sending the
necessary info to the hotel POC. Once the reservations are confirmed we now
know in real-time who has reservations. We periodically send confirmed
lists out to the class.
I am using
this process with the golfing grads. Reservations for that event are much
more complex and there were major problems in the past when individuals were
required to make their own reservations.
reunions the class collected payments for many group reunion expenses,
including dinners, buses, admin and logistics costs, etc. and deposited
these collected funds into the class master account maintained by the AOG.
These expenses were then paid from the class master account direct to the
vendor. The class is a non-profit organization, therefore any payments from
the master account for goods or services that benefit the entire class are
On the other
hand, lodging expenses were paid individually by each attendee and
consequently were not tax exempt.
For the 55th
I propose that lodging expenses also be paid from the class master account
and will therefore be tax exempt. This will be a cost saving of 7% for all
lodging expenses. Each attendee will make payments for all group expenses
to the master account. Then we will distribute payments from the master
account for all the group expenses, including hotel rooms.
In the past
we have used pin-on buttons, usually with Howitzer picture and name.
The pin on
buttons received mixed reviews. Some liked them, some did not.
recommends and many classes now are going with lanyard name tags instead of
pin on buttons. Folks find these easier to deal with and more convenient to
lanyard name tags for the 55th.
photographers have been used for past reunions. This service has been a
fairly expensive item for the class in the past, and one I do not think is
needed for the 55th. Today, many if not most of the attendees
are taking pictures with cameras, phones, ipads, etc. Literally thousands
to choose from.
So for the 55th
I suggest we not hire professional photographers and instead get a few
volunteers to act as class photographers for us. We then can collect up
photos, create a digital album, burn DVD’s, and send them out to the class.
Maybe even make the album available on line, although download time might be
coordination visits to West Point will be in mid June.