An increasing number of Americans are combining business and pleasure by bringing their families with them when they travel for work. Done right, it’s a win-win for companies, who get relaxed and productive employees, and families, who get quality time together at a reduced cost.
Kyle McCarthy travels a lot on business. She’s the CEO of FamilyTravelForum.com, an independent site that was recently praised by both Forbes magazine and Conde Nast Traveler. The site provides its members with practical travel tips and advice. So it’s McCarthy’s business to know all about travel and families.
Although she’s accepted that time away from home is part of her job, she doesn’t much like it.
"It can get lonely out there," McCarthy says. Many people think business trips are exciting, a chance to get away from the stress of the office or home. But that’s not how it really is. "You miss your family," she says.
The facts seem to support her assessment.
A 1999 study of employees by the World Bank reported that business travelers filed 80 percent more medical claims than their office-bound colleagues, with "psychological disorders" being the most frequent complaint.
"It’s obvious," McCarthy says, "missing your teen’s soccer game or your first-grader’s ballet recital can be as stressful as any tropical disease."
So What’s the Solution?
For more and more parents today, the answer is to bring the family with them. In the last 10 years, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), business trips that include children have jumped a whopping 250 percent – from 9.1 million such trips in 1990 to more than 32.3 million such trips in 2000 – and the numbers continue to increase.
The research team at Pepperdine & Brown/Yankelovich, considered by many industry-watchers as the final word in travel trends, reported that in 2001, 18 percent of business travelers said they would be "extremely or very likely" to take a combined business and pleasure trip – up from 12 percent the previous year.
The Quest for Quality Time
What’s going on in the usually conservative world of business travel?
"There are a number of reasons why more and more business trips include families," says TIA CEO William Norman. "Research shows that families combine vacation time with business trips because they are so busy during the year that they’re finding it harder and harder to spend quality time together. Adding a family vacation to a business trip has real appeal."
A manager of a major communications company revealed that he recently took his older son along to Las Vegas on a business trip.
"He hung out playing some of the games, while I was in meetings, and at night," the manager says, "we went to dinner together and took in a show. It made a big difference to my mood!"
Some travel industry insiders, like publicist Mara Begley of KWE PR Associates in New York, suggest that the trauma of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may be a factor in the increased tendency to combine business and family travel.
"People want to be together, especially with their families these days," Begley says. She also believes that the ability to drive to a destination, rather than fly, has boosted business in this growing market niche.
Begley’s client, Homewood Suites by Hilton (www.homewoodsuites.com; 800-CALL-HOME), is one of the businesses capitalizing on this development. It has a hundred family-friendly hotels around the country that focus on accommodating family and business travel combos.
Homewood has even gone so far as to hire sociologist Christina Nippert-Eng to help it create a better business trip/family vacation offering.
Be Realistic and Disciplined
Nippert-Eng strongly advises that all parties set realistic expectations to avoid conflict when combining business with family time.
She offers these suggestions:
• "No sneaking!" Work is work; family time is family time. Do not sneak in work through things like cell phone calls in the museum or at the beach or restaurant.
• Allow time for transitions. "Take a moment to mentally transition between work and play. Little acts that signal to yourself and your family that it’s time to shift gears are helpful," she says. These could be something as simple as coming into the hotel room with a bag of cookies or ice cream, or making a "show" of putting the laptop away. This says, "I’m finished with work. Now, it’s my time with my family."
Hotels Responding to Trend
If the business of America is business, you can bet the hotel industry will continue to respond aggressively to this growing market niche.
Calvin Stovall, senior director of brand marketing for Homewood Suites, is very aware of the trend toward combining business with family travel. At least 20 percent of Homewood’s guests are combining the working trip with family time, he says. To foster the chain’s growth in this area, Homewood has partnered with educational toy company Zainy Brainy to provide a unique package of toys and games for children who are accompanying their working parents.
FONT size=2>Including a spouse and children on a business trip makes good sense all around, especially in a slowing economy, says Doug Smith, the director of sales and marketing for Celebration Hotel in Orlando, Fla. (888-GRAND-123; www.grandthemehotels.com).
FONT size=2>"There’s the additional airfare cost, sure," Smith says, "but you’re not paying extra for the room or enjoyment of the amenities, so actually it’s a perfect way to stretch the business travel dollar."
FONT size=2>And some employers are even encouraging families to tag along on business trips. For example, Celebration just hosted a business session for Orlando’s Health First Health Plans, which underwrote much of the family-oriented parts of the business trip.
FONT size=2>"We had happy parents, children – and true professionalism," says Health First’s Ann Lynch.
FONT size=2>And Karen Jackman, a meeting planner for Cranwell Resort and Golf Club in Lenox, Mass. (800-572-8938; www.cranwell.com) boasts an impressive roster of companies that come to her for business meetings and family fun time. Both Fidelity Investments and Tudor Investments have successfully blended the two agendas, Jackman says.
FONT size=2>"We had 50 families here with Tudor. There were full days of productive meetings, but also plenty of fun activities for spouses and children – hay rides, comedy theater presentations and bowling contests," she says. "It all worked perfectly."
FONT size=2>This is music to the ears of Kathryn Creedy, a former employee of the Federal Aviation Administration. Her recent business trip to Anchorage, Alaska, to introduce new aviation technology was a mother’s nightmare.
FONT size=2>Creedy is one of 12 million single parents in the United States. She was unable to find any hotel in Anchorage that provided baby-sitting services.
FONT size=2>"I was scheduled to work three out of the 10 days I would be there, then I wanted to explore Alaska with my kids. I was in a panic," she recalls. "If I couldn’t find a babysitter, they couldn’t come."
FONT size=2>When the hotels were not able to accommodate her request, Creedy fell back on the generosity of her friends and colleagues in Anchorage, who helped her arrange care for the kids.
FONT size=2>"Coverage of this part of travel is sadly lacking," she says.
FONT size=2>The corporations that actively welcome the addition of family members reason that a happy employee is a more productive one. While some companies have yet to figure out where they stand on this issue, one thing is sure: combining the business meeting with a family vacation is an idea whose time has come for many Americans. With working parents and "time-starved" families, this may be the only effective way to marry quality family life with quality work.
To Do or Not to Do
Based on her firsthand travel experience as both a mom and a CEO, FamilyTravelForum.com’s Kyle McCarthy offers these suggestions:
• Ask yourself if the trip is predictable enough to bring your kids or spouse.
• How will your colleagues react if your family comes along?
• Will you be in a culture where having children along is controversial or problematic?
• Will you be able to turn off your business mind-set when the business day is done – or will you bring the business mentality into your family vacation time?