Business Trips With Tots In Tow

When Chicago Mercantile Exchange Chairman Jack Sandner gets done with a long day of seminars and networking at an annual Boca Raton (Fla.) industry meeting, he tiptoes through his suite, undresses in the dark, and quietly climbs into bed. He's trying not to wake a child. At various times, each of Sandner's seven kids, ages 5 to 27, has been his companion on business trips. Michael has accompanied Dad to China, Christopher toured Japan, and Angela explored Britain. "It broadens their horizons and brings us closer," he says.

A growing number of hardworking parents feels the same way. In 1994, 43.4 million, or 15%, of all business trips included a child, a 63% increase from 1990, says the Travel Industry Assn. in Washington. The average business traveler is 41, a professional, married, and a parent. Such folks are trying to balance work demands with spending more time with their offspring. "People are desperate for time with their kids. They'll squeeze in family time whenever they can," says Eileen Ogintz, author of the syndicated column "Taking the Kids," which appears in 50 newspapers.

Bringing a youngster along is often a bargain. Many hotels don't charge for kids who stay in their parent's room, and frequent-flier miles often take care of kiddie airfare. Unlike the past, when trips had to coincide with summer vacations and spring breaks, many parents today seem comfortable pulling their children out of school. Kids take along homework and teachers tailor projects around the destination, whether it's Europe or the Southwest.

NATURE WALKS. The kid-travel trend is a gold mine for hotel chains, meeting planners, and day-care specialists. Camp Hyatt, the Hyatt Hotels chain's seven-year-old national program to attract repeat child visitors, has seen dramatic growth in the number of kids on business trips, says director Ann Lane. For $18 to $62 a day, Camp Hyatt provides fun activities for the children of any guest. But it also offers special programs for kids who accompany their parents to corporate meetings. When executives from Fort Dearborn Life Insurance held an awards party in March at the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Hyatt, children were kept busy in an arts and crafts room nearby. Because parents pushed for educational activities, Camp Hyatt offers language classes in many locations as well as horticulture tours and nature hikes.

Among the American Hotel & Motel Assn.'s 12,000 members, about 18% offer kids' programs. They include Holiday Inn Sun Spree Resorts and selected Marriott and Hilton resort hotels. Hotels at ski areas such as Vail in Colorado are also good bets. Many offer ski lessons and summer camps.

Some astute entrepreneurs are cashing in, too. Diane Lyons left a 20-year career in the convention industry to start Accent on Children's Arrangements five years ago. Her New Orleans company provides on-site child care and youth tours at conventions for groups as diverse as McDonald's franchisees, Piggly Wiggly grocery store owners, and the American College of Surgeons. Her biggest job to date: caring for 500 children who accompanied their parents to a medical meeting.

Parents say their kids love the trips and get a better understanding of what mom or dad does for a living. Parents of small children often bring along a nanny or relative or take advantage of a hotel day-care program. Older children get to hang out by the pool, order from room service, and watch TV or movies.

TELL THE BOSS. Naturally, if you're going on a job interview or know you'll be locked in negotiations for 12 hours a day, leave the kids at home. Also, run the idea of your trailing kiddies by your boss and colleagues to test for any resentment. And make sure you've got child care lined up in advance.

Lynn Hiestand, a Chicago attorney and single mother, says she feels less guilty about her 40 trips each year when she takes along her 12-year-old son, Christian. Most of the time he stays in the room, doing homework and watching movies, while Hiestand attends meetings. But when her colleagues hit the links, she and Christian spend time together. So while it won't help your golf game, taking the kids on your next trip might be just the thing for reducing parental anxiety in the 1990s.

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