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Executive Travel | ON THE MOVE / CAROL SMITH

Parents Mix Business and Pleasure by Putting Kids on the Ticket

July 17, 1996|CAROL SMITH

If you're a corporate road warrior who has noticed that your fellow travelers in business class seem to be getting shorter, it's not your imagination. A growing number of business travelers are taking not only their laptops and briefcases with them, but their kids as well.

Frequent traveler Gordon Lambourne is planning to take his 10-year-old son on a business trip for the first time in August, to a company meeting in Salt Lake City.

The meeting will be informal, Lambourne said, and his son is old enough to amuse himself in an office while he attends meetings. Afterward, the two are heading up to the mountains for some hiking.

"There are appropriate times to bring children on trips," said Lambourne, who travels frequently as national spokesman for Marriott Hotels. "A lot of it would depend on the type of meeting. If you're going on a business trip where you have to make three or four sales calls or manage a presentation, you're not going to want your child there. It's going to be so chaotic.

"But if you're an attendee at a meeting and not primarily responsible for any of the activities, taking a child along often makes sense," he said.

Statistics show that many business travelers agree with Lambourne. Of the 275 million business trips taken in 1995, about 15% included children, according to the Travel Industry Assn. of America, a Washington-based group of travel industry representatives that tracks travel trends. That's up from the previous year, when only 12% of 222 million trips included kids, said association spokeswoman Shawn Flaherty.

It's a trend that more and more convention and meeting planners are having to cope with, ready or not.

"Increasingly, meeting planners are concerned about being able to offer spousal and children's programs," said Joanie Flynn, director of leisure and resort marketing for Los Angeles-based Hilton Hotels Corp.

Hilton recently hosted two major sales group meetings for employees, and more than 1,000 children showed up, she said. "They weren't supposed to be there."

The demand overwhelmed the company's regular accommodations for entertaining children, forcing it to begin planning events for children as well as adults. Now Hilton works with San Diego-based KiddieCorp., a consulting firm that plans children's activities for hotels and convention centers.

Marriott's Meetings Network division is also fielding a growing number of requests for children's activities, according to Charlie Frankel, director of marketing at Marriott's Marco Island Resort and Golf Club on Florida's Gulf Coast.

The meeting planners say they try to choose activities that reflect the nature of the hotel property. At the Marriott in Maui, for example, observing humpback whales through a submarine is a popular activity. At the Camelback Inn Resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., children can listen to Native American storytellers and take desert walks.

In addition to kids accompanying their parents to conventions and corporate meetings, hotel operators say, they're also seeing more children tagging along on individual business trips, especially during the summer months. Most of these corporate kid travelers are 6 and older.

"We cater to the dual-income career family," Flynn said. "They don't get too much quality time as a family. They use summer travel as a way to be together. We see that increasing."

The group that combines business with family time is also conscious of how that time is spent. "They're very interested in 'edutainment,' " Flynn said.

In response to this trend, a growing number of business-class hotels have begun offering programs for kids that are designed to be both fun and educational.

At the Sheraton Maui hotel, the resort's "Keiki Aloha" children's program focuses on teaching children about the state. Activities include everything from Hawaiian storytelling to learning the hula to native crafts and shell collecting. In the summer, the program is free. At other times, it costs $35 for one child and $25 for each additional child.

Sheraton also has a children's program at the Phoenician in Scottsdale. The "Funician Club" is a daily supervised program of games and crafts that teaches kids about the history and ecology of the West.

At Hyatt Hotels, which has one of the oldest chainwide organized children's programs in the industry, Camp Hyatt is celebrating its seventh birthday this year. The program, which started as a way to give parents and kids some time apart while vacationing, is now incorporating more family activities. At the Hyatt Newporter in Newport Beach, for example, activities range from sandcastle building to creating a backward dinner (dessert first) to photography. Camp Hyatt is available for kids between the ages of 3 and 15. The cost is $25 per child per day, or $5 per hour.

Hilton also offers "Vacation Station" camps for kids at many of its resorts. Prices vary according to location and activities.

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