"Mom has a meeting," my four- year-old cheerfully informed the front desk clerk as he smiled down from the children's check in desk at the Delta Chelsea in Toronto. Usually those four words would have my five daughters groaning "not again," but this time, Mom's business travel had translated into a weekend in Toronto for the six of us.
I was able to enjoy a guilt free meeting while the kids played in the children's centre under the watchful eyes of the centre staff, then we all enjoyed a weekend of seeing the sights.
According to several recently released studies, the number of travelers who are combining their business trips with a family vacation has increased significantly. A 2000 Crowne Plaza Survey shows that 23 per cent of business travelers are adding leisure time to their business trips and bringing family along.
Hotels are taking notice
Hotels are responding by making these trips as carefree as possible for their guests. They are installing child care centres and bed time story lines and stocking board games, video games and child proofing kits. Children's room service menus, babysitting services and pool toys are becoming standard amenities at many business hotels.
At the Four Seasons in Toronto, kids are greeted with pint-sized bathrobes, grab bags, iced bottles of milk and a collection of cookies, with their names engraved in caramel on the side of the plate. The concierge desk will assist with babysitters and can provide a stock of board games, play stations and other entertainments. Forgotten essentials are not a problem, says hotel Media Relations Manager, Meryl Witkin, "you could arrive at the hotel with just your baby and we could provide virtually everything you need from diapers to child- sized furniture."
In Montreal, at the Hotel Intercontinental, parents can take advantage of the Kids in Tow program that offers meal discounts, a tote bag with toys and safety items as well as free use of a pager. The program, designed for business travelers and their children, also provides parents with a city guide that includes everything from where to find the best ice cream to the location of 24-hour pharmacies.
Advantages of travelling "en famille"
Bringing your kids along on a business trip is a wonderful way to help them understand what it is that you do as well as introduce them to new people and new cultures. It can also be a surprisingly inexpensive way to travel. There are reduced airfares for a Saturday lay over and frequent flyer programs can often be relied upon to provide your child's airfare. Most hotels don't charge for kids who stay with their parents and many offer discounts on children's meals as well.
When is it appropriate?
There are a few caveats. It's not a good idea to bring the kids along if you're expected to attend marathon-planning sessions or if you'll be concentrating on a crucial sales pitch to a new client. You'll also want to run the idea past your boss and colleagues to ensure that there will be no resentment. Even if everyone thinks it's a good idea, combining your business travel with family time requires a delicate balancing act. But with a little planning, the business trips that usually separate your family can bring them closer together.
Jennifer Crump travels frequently with her husband and five daughters. She is the author of Frommer's Toronto with Kids, published by CDG books in September 2001.