Toting Laptops and Little Ones
By Iyna Bort Caruso
At the Four Seasons Hotel in Mexico City, babies are as welcome as business executives. Perhaps even more so. Make a reservation for the family and your room will be filled with enough kid-pampering toys and accessories to make everyone feel at home. Strollers, teddy bears, bilingual baby-sitters; think of it as a playroom away from home. Hotel officials say that families are a fast-growing segment of their client base. And statistics back that up.
A survey by the Travel Industry Association of America says that two out of every ten business travelers combined work with vacation on their last business trip. It's not surprising. With the prevalence of dual-income families and single-mom households, many women traveling for work look at it these trips as a way to carve out quality time with their kids.
"I treasure the time my son and I spend together traveling," says Laurie Hobbs, 40, of Minneapolis. Hobbs manages marketing and communications for a medical technical company and travels at least once a month for her job. She frequently brings along her 2-year-old son, Will. "He gains added confidence and social skills. I get terrific, concentrated one-on-one time—more than I would if we were home."
Emily Kaufman makes a living crisscrossing America with her two children, ages 10 and 8. She's a television reporter known as "The Travel Mom," seen regularly on shows like Lifetime Live on Lifetime, Home Page on MSNBC, and The Parent Table on Fox Family Network.
"I'm quite fortunate to have found a way to marry a career with the opportunity to show my kids the world. It's a win-win situation for me when I take my kids along on a business trip. I'm able to take care of what I need and they get the opportunity to explore a new place."
These days, hotels are more than happy to help make the experience easier for working moms like Kaufman and Hobbs. With good reason. As women make up a growing percentage of the American workforce, they're racking up frequent flier miles like never before. Many hotel chains have created programs geared to this emerging market. Holiday Inn's KidSuites allows children under 18 to eat and stay free. Inter-Continental boasts a Kids in Tow program and provides their junior guests with custom guidebooks of children's activities, discounts, and value-added amenities. Omni Hotel's kid-friendly initiative lets children check out a rolling suitcase of toys, books, and games to occupy themselves during their stay. Omni even has a dedicated web site, OmniKidsRule.com.
One of the longest-running programs is Hilton's Vacation Station offered at 125 Hilton, Doubletree, and Red Lion properties. The corporation reports the incidence of Hilton HHonors members bringing families on business trips has increased more than 300 percent last year.
"In my experience, moms in higher income brackets are more likely to bring their kids along on a trip, especially if the kids are very young and the parents don't want to leave them for long periods of time," says Joanie Flynn, Hilton Hotel's director of leisure and resort marketing. "Moms are also more likely to bring the kids along once they've hit the age of 10. When the kids are older, there's a greater benefit to the mother-child relationship. It's easier to do a few hours of work, then pursue activities at the destination." Hilton's Vacation Station program includes welcome gifts, supervised activities at participating properties, and a toy-lending desk.
"For the business traveler who is already overloaded with files, briefcase, and laptop, the toy lending desk means kids' toys are one less thing that needs to be packed up and brought along on the trip," notes Flynn.
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is the industry leader in the female travel market. In their latest research, female travelers represented more than 35 percent of their clientele, and all signs indicate the figure will soon grow to 50 percent. In response, the corporation launched a program called Women on Their Way. It features a web site, women's business travelers' advisory board, and research initiatives. According to Carey Jehl Broussard, the program's vice president of marketing, women are apt to bring their families along and extend their business trips into long weekends when it's a destination that appeals to children, such as a beach resort or historic site. "With upscale hotels like Wyndham, the staff is service-oriented and pretty much ready for anything," she says, including "wine for mommy."
Road warriors and hospitality industry insiders agree preparation helps busy moms balance business with pleasure. Here are a few tips:
- Call the hotel beforehand or check their web site to see what amenities or special packages are available for children. The fewer toys and necessities you need to bring, the lighter your load.
- Verify whether the hotel provides child-safety features. Omni Hotels, for instance, offer electrical outlet covers.
- Determine the extent of baby-sitting services available. Some offer in-house care; others can recommend drop-in day care centers. Broussard suggests bringing a baby-sitter along on the trip. Gorham Hotel in Manhattan features suites with adjoining nanny rooms.
- When selecting a hotel, make sure you're centrally located and close to plenty of kid-friendly activities.
Sometimes success comes by way of trial and error. Hobbs admits her first trip with her son was exploratory, "a process of learning what works and doesn't work." She now seeks out hotels that offer free breakfasts for kids and insists on a pool. "They're a great energy release for children." She's less stressed knowing her son is in good hands when he's with her. "Traveling has broadened Will's horizons and given him an added sense of adventure. He absolutely loves it."
Those words are echoed by Pat Harbour, owner of Adobe Abode, a bed and breakfast in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When she was a fashion director for large shoe manufacturer, Harbour was on the road every week both in the United States and abroad.
"I took my daughter with me on many of those trips. She grew up to be a vice president of Backroads, the largest active travel company in the U.S., so I would say traveling with your children can be very beneficial."
Beneficial? Yes. Workable? Absolutely. As Travel Mom Emily Kaufman says, "I always remind parents that the key to success when traveling with kids is to be realistic, be prepared, and be flexible."
Also see: Check out our list of activities and places to stay when traveling with the kids
Must-have items for road warriors
Tips for traveling with children
What business travelers do for the kids
Iyna Bort Caruso is a freelance writer based in New York. She's been published in The New York Times, Country Living, Newsday, and Christian Science Monitor, among others.