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When Trips Mean Business

Joanie Flynn had been traveling so much on business that when the Hawaii meeting came up, her husband--tired of solo parenting chores--put his foot down. “We’re all going,” he announced.

“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,” said Flynn, a Los Angeles-based executive for Hilton Hotels.

Besides, having her two young children along “helps me keep my life (in balance) on the road. And it helps the kids to see what I do.”

Flynn’s daughter and son, ages 4 and 6, have traveled with her across the country, frequently splashing in the hotel pool or attending a day camp with other kids whose parents were also traveling on business.

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Like Flynn, other working parents are combining working trips with family time and are sometimes saving a little money in the bargain. They have begun taking their children along to meetings or conventions in increasing numbers--so many, in fact, that the U.S. Travel Data Center reports 15% of all business trips, or 42 million trips a year, now include a child.

“Having Meagan along was a great ice breaker,” said Brad Schade, a financial writer who recently took his nearly 2-year-old daughter and wife to a Florida convention. “People would come up to us and tell stories about their kids.” But the real plus, Schade said, was not having to be away from his family for several days. He recommends making sure there will be plenty of activities for both a spouse and the children. His daughter, Meagan, for example, took swimming lessons during their Florida trip.

Other parents, though, have no choice but to take the kids along. Bob and Lisa McClure are both tourism industry executives who must frequently 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,” McClure said. Other times, obliging colleagues serve as baby sitters.

“It takes a lot to work out the logistics, but it makes the work a lot more fun,” said McClure, who recommends setting up baby sitters in advance to ensure their availability.

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Many devoted parents agree that the hassles are worth the rewards of having the family along. Meeting planners say they are fielding more requests for children’s programs and companies are springing up to provide just that service. Savvy convention bureaus and hotels tout their desirability as family destinations.

“It’s not that the meeting planners want to do this. They’ve been forced into it,” said Nancy Foy, whose Monterey-based company, Adventures by the Sea, organizes convention activities and is being asked to do more for children. She recommends not taking the kids to convention events such as black-tie dinners that are clearly for adults.

“It’s an industry trend to see convention travel combined with family vacations,” said Gary Grimmer, executive director of the Portland, Ore., Visitors Assn. “Destinations are aware they have to respond.”

Grimmer took his two daughters to a convention in New York last summer. The only drawback, he said, was that he had to work while his family had a wonderful time touring the city.

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“Meeting planners are finding that if they offer children’s programs, it increases attendance at meetings,” said 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--with eight years in the business, a pioneer in the field--to provide supervised activities for children at select Hilton hotels during meetings and conventions.

KiddieCorp spokesman Tersh Raybold claims his company is growing 20% a year, caring for the children of doctors, teachers, lawyers, car dealers and even the University of Miami football coaches during the Orange Bowl.

“The people who told me children’s programs would never be part of their meetings are calling me now,” said former teacher Diane Lyons, whose New Orleans-based company Accents on Arrangements, is making arrangements for children’s programs across the country.

The programs offer a lot more than baby-sitting. Children might fly kites in a San Francisco park or head off to the San Diego Zoo, learn etiquette at a posh New Orleans restaurant or do an art project at Chicago’s Art Institute. The downside is that they may be expensive, costing parents more than $50 a day, depending on how much is underwritten by meeting sponsors.

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Resorts that cater to the convention crowd, such as 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,” said Boca spokesman Bonnie Reuben. “It’s so different now, it’s unbelievable.”

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.


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