Mapping out a serene scene for teens

Times Staff Writer

Kathleen Cochran, general manager of San Diego's Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa, learned a simple truth from her family about traveling: "When teenagers aren't happy, no one's happy."

"It's just really awful," said Cochran, whose three children are 11, 14 and 16. "I call it 'forced family fun.' "

Armed with her own experiences -- and with an assist from her kids -- Cochran set out to make her hotel teen-friendly, an emerging trend in vacation spots trying to cater to the family.

Four Seasons hotels hire teen concierges who specialize in providing tips on cool hangouts, stores and activities. Other hotels feature teen-focused spa treatments, such as makeup lessons and facials for acne-prone skin. And some, such as Loews Coronado, are setting aside space and staging events just for adolescents.

During the summer, that means movie nights -- flicks such as "Napoleon Dynamite" -- and concerts with local bands. Year-round, there's a teen lounge outfitted with iPod-ready chairs with built-in speakers, DVDs, a flat-screen TV, video games, a computer for Internet surfing and a stack of magazines, including Seventeen and Surfing.

A recent study showed that baby boomers and older members of Generation X were fueling a boom in family vacations, said Bjorn Hanson, hospitality consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international accounting company. Teens are showing more interest in family vacations than they did five or six years ago, Hanson said.

"Baby boomers are realizing that their kids are in the last years where family vacations are an opportunity and are recognizing that more than ever before, children in the family need to be involved in the planning of a vacation," Hanson said. "Teens specifically expect that."

Four Seasons hotels began hiring teenage concierges last year at their properties in Toronto, London, New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Whistler, Canada. The teens are locals who know the area, and most are in high school or college. Most of the hotels are staffed with the young concierges during the summer and major holidays.

Parents were getting frustrated because their teens didn't know what to do for fun and didn't like their parents' ideas, Four Seasons spokeswoman Leslie Lefkowitz said. "This is built-in credibility because [the concierge is] a teenager also," Lefkowitz said.

When the teen guests want to shop for clothes, for example, the teen concierge won't just send them to standby favorites such as Abercrombie & Fitch or H&M.;

A teen concierge at the New York hotel "would recommend a lot of vintage clothing stores in the [Greenwich] Village. That's something you can't find everywhere," Lefkowitz said.

Rollerblading spots in Central Park, jazz clubs that allow under-21 patrons and a dessert bar were all among the teen concierge's top recommendations, Lefkowitz said.

At the Whistler resort, 17-year-old concierge Adam Podborski said he most often fields the question, "What else is there to do besides skiing?" He recommends dog-sledding or zip-trekking across the Fitzsimmons Creek.

Not all his suggestions are original. The regular concierge makes some of the same recommendations, said Podborski, an aspiring Olympian in either skeleton or ski racing. But teens tend to be more willing to take his advice.

"It's really helpful to have another teen help find teens something to do," Podborski said. "Otherwise, it might be just dismissed as, 'Oh, that's just something they're telling me to do.' "

Julie Garrison, who organizes meetings for the International Assn. of Lighting Management Companies, said such amenities are important when she's deciding where to hold gatherings. "I won't consider a hotel anymore unless they have something for families so they can make a vacation out of it," Garrison said.

The average age of the organization's board of directors has fallen to 42 from 55, she said, with more parents of teens and tweens (children ages 8 to 12 years). She chose Loews Coronado for a recent board meeting after learning about the teen lounge and spa offerings as well as kid-friendly activities such as surfing lessons, Segway rentals and jet skiing.

"It's really comfortable," said William Frank, 12, hanging out in the Loews teen lounge with his brothers and friends. "You know no adults are going to come in there and ruin your time. There's a lot of freedom."

Dan Waller of Jensen Beach, Fla., brought his wife, two daughters and the teens' boyfriends to the meeting.

"We decided to make it a family-vacation, quasi-business meeting," Waller said. "The reason we brought them is because of the resort. The last meeting was in Virginia Beach, and we didn't take them there because we knew it would be boring."

But at Coronado Bay, the folks at Loews helped set up sailboat and jet-ski rentals, along with a gondola ride, which Waller's 14-year-old daughter, Danielle, declared "so much fun."

She gave high marks to the food and rooms but was less complimentary about the lounge. It could be "a little bigger," she said, then conceded, "I felt like they're trying." High praise from a teenager.

Feedback, particularly from parents, has been great, said Cochran, the general manager of Loews Coronado.

"Parents cannot believe it," Cochran said. "Some said, 'You've saved our vacation.' "


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