Amanda J Dennis | Business Trip = Guilt Trip…Not Anymore. Family-Friendly Meetings Are Becoming More Commonplace; 5 Tips to Help You Compete
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Business Trip = Guilt Trip…Not Anymore. Family-Friendly Meetings Are Becoming More Commonplace; 5 Tips to Help You Compete

Over the summer, I noticed a change in the business travel landscape. Not only were travelers rushing through airports with a briefcase in one hand and a Starbucks in the other. Some had traded in their Starbucks for a small child. And many times, there was a spouse and additional children following in their wake.  

In today’s world of single parents, dual-incomes and women executives, it’s not just daddy that’s packing a suitcase, kissing the kids good-bye and hitting the road. Moms are traveling, too.

A report released in January by Travel Leaders, North America’s largest travel agency franchisor, found that 65.7% of business travelers combine at least one business trip with a leisure or family trip. Time-starved, multi-tasking parents are constantly searching for ways to keep the family together without sacrificing their job duties. Savvy organizations are realizing that attending a business meeting doesn’t have to mean more time on the job and less time with family members.  I asked Mike Lyons, Executive Vice President of AMR Meetings & Incentives, if family-friendly meetings are a viable option. “Absolutely!” said Lyons. He considers it a natural part of the conversation with his clients. “We have an obligation as a company who puts on these events to point out these opportunities to the decision maker. It’s interesting to see their reaction,” Lyons added. “They quickly recognize that family-friendly meetings are a win-win for everyone: the company, the hotel, the attendees and the children.”

What are the benefits of having the family tag along? There’s the bonus of family time at the end of the work day…in some cases more of a treat than an expectation. It’s a terrific opportunity to spend some time reconnecting. Many road warriors say that bringing their families along erases the guilt that they experience when leaving their biggest supporters behind once again.  They need some time to relax and recharge, and the upshot is a more alert, enthusiastic and productive meeting participant. Then there are the potential cost savings. Many young families can’t afford a family vacation these days. Having part (or all) of the trip reimbursed can benefit both the employer and employee. And in some cases, including the family can actually be more cost effective for an employer.  Yes, there are naysayers who are concerned about family distractions or attendees cutting out early. But those things can happen with or without a family in tow. Marketing manager April Thompson has been planning meetings for one of IBM’s software portfolios for the last five years. She sees a lot of family vacations combined with meetings held in Orlando. “Lots of people bring their kids along,” said Thompson. “It’s been a consistent trend over the last five years and now families are extending their visits beyond the meeting dates. Having part of the trip paid for by the company is a great benefit.”

So, now that you know the value of family-friendly meetings, how do you compete for this lucrative market? Here are five tips to get you started.

  1. Target the right market segments. And the right companies and organizations within those segments. Although SMERF and association market segments are the first to come to mind, don’t automatically write off others. Look for businesses and organizations where family is an integral part of their culture. That commitment can bring the corporate and government segments back into play. When qualifying, don’t forget about the elusive “unrealized need.” Maybe a family-friendly meeting has crossed their minds but they haven’t fully explored the idea.
  2. Determine your best positioning. Once you have determined that your hotel is a viable candidate for the family-friendly market, the next step is to set yourself apart from the competition. Which of the family-friendly markets is the best fit for your hotel? Where can you be the best choice for your point-of difference: All inclusive packages? Beach resort? Budget-friendly? Ski resort? Kids programs? Multi-generational? Choose a niche and start marketing your “best of” features and benefits.
  3. Create a family-friendly meetings package (and market it). Start with the destination city and move on to your hotel. Incorporate interesting, creative, educational and fun activities that appeal to families with kids of all ages. The objective is to keep the family busy and happy. Menus are an important component and should include themes that appeal to both children and adults. When developing your pricing model stick with a per person/per day structure for both adults and children. This helps the meeting planners with their budgeting. And remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Leverage relationships with your local tourist board and area attractions when putting your package together. There’s something in it for them, too.  
  4. Include versatile activities for all age groups. Hotels like Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando have on-site staff that develop and manage programs for kids of all ages (even adults). If you don’t have the resources to handle activities on your own, outsource it.  Some hotels show their family-friendly side by offering programs developed by companies such as KiddieCorp, founded in 1986 and now managing 175 child care programs a year.
  5. Know when to say no. Be aware of your limitations. If you can’t fully commit to this labor-intensive market, look at alternatives. Perhaps pre/post meeting mini vacations are your best fit.

With work days extending way beyond 9-5 and technology connecting us to the workplace 24/7, people are finding it hard to take time off even on the weekends. There’s always a deadline to meet, an appointment to keep, expectations to be managed. And families are suffering. One prescription to alleviate the pain is to pack up the spouse and kids and bring them along. And whether you are ready for it or not, they’ve set the GPS and pointed the car in your direction.

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