Finding ways to combine business and family travel


January 15, 1995|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Joanie Flynn had been traveling so much on business that when the Hawaii meeting came up, her husband said, "We're all going."

"Taking the kids to a meeting or convention is a way to pay back the family for some of the inconveniences business travel can cause," explained Ms. Flynn, a Los Angeles-based executive for Hilton Hotels.

Like Ms. Flynn, many working parents -- anxious to piggyback a little family time onto a work trip and maybe save a little money in the bargain -- have begun taking their children along to meetings or conventions -- so many that the U.S. Travel Data Center reports 15 percent of all business trips now include a child. That's 42 million trips a year.

"Having Meagan along was a great icebreaker," said Brad Schade, a financial writer who recently took his almost-2-year-old daughter and wife along to a Florida convention. "People would come up to us and tell stories about their kids." But the real plus, said Mr. Schade, was not having to be away from his family for several days at a stretch. His suggestion: Make sure there will be plenty of activities for your spouse and the kids. His daughter Meagan, for example, took some swimming lessons.

Other parents, though, have no choice but to take the kids along. Bob and Lisa McClure both are tourism industry executives who frequently must attend the same meetings. Sometimes, they bring a sitter for their daughter Missy, or they may take turns caring for her themselves. "My wife would go to the reception for a while, and then I'd go," Mr. McClure said. Other times, obliging colleagues have baby-sat.

"It takes a lot to work out the logistics, but it makes the work a lot more fun," said Mr. McClure. His tip: Line up sitters ahead of time.

Many parents agree that the hassles are worth the rewards of having the kids along: Meeting planners are fielding more requests for children's programs, and companies are springing up to provide that service. Savvy convention bureaus and hotels tout their desirability as a family destination.

"It's not that the meeting planners want to do this. They've been forced into it," observes Nancy Foy, whose Monterey, Calif.-based company, Adventures by the Sea, organizes convention activities and is being asked to do more for children.

"Meeting planners are finding if they offer children's programs, it increases attendance at meetings," explains Joanie Flynn, who is Hilton's director of leisure marketing programs. Hilton, for one, has just announced that it has joined forces with San Diego-based KiddieCorp to provide supervised activities for kids selected Hilton hotels during meetings and conventions.

KiddieCorp spokesman Tersh Raybold said his company is growing 20 percent a year. Mr. Raybold notes that one boost to his business is the growing number of professional couples in the same field who are asking for children's programs so they can attend the same meetings.

Resorts that cater to the convention crowd, like Florida's Boca Raton Resort and Club, have beefed up both their children's programs and family offerings. Some offer parent-child tennis and golf tournaments for when the work is done.

"Ten years ago, all we did were spouse programs," observed Boca spokesman Bonnie Reuben. "It's so different now, it's unbelievable."

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