Carol Moody is not surprised more children are accompanying their parents on business trips--a stunning 134 percent increase from 1989 to 1999, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. Moody, vice president offor the St. Louis Convention and Visitor's Commission, sees lots more kids tagging along with suitcase-toting moms and dads in her city.
In St. Louis' case, a major reason for the spike in children's attendance is a jump in the number of religious groups meeting there: This year the city will host 29 religious conventions, a 61 percent increase in the past three years. "We feel strongly we're attracting more children because of the family appeal of our destination," says Moody.
Fair enough. But observers suggest other compelling reasons why more parents, many of them association members, are bringing kids to meetings and conventions, especially in second- and third-tier cities. For one, many two-income working parents these days are pressed for time, so they're hoping to snatch quality time with their children on the road.
Another reason is that parents, combining work with pleasure, are extending their stay at appealing meeting destinations and vacationing with their families. Some associations accommodate and encourage this experience by offering member's on-site child care and stimulating activities and off-site tours and field trips for their children. The increasing number of working mothers who are often unwilling to leave their children at home for an extended time may be another factor behind the trend. For instance, female membership in the American Academy of Pediatricians is now about 40 percent, but that number is expected to surge to 60 percent in the next few years.
"Because my husband is also a busy physician, it would have been hard to leave my child at home," says Sally Wright, an Atlanta pediatrician who took her then-17-month-old son to the AAP's annual conference last fall in Washington, D.C. "Since there was child care [at the conference], I could go to the seminars that I needed to go to, and take comfort that my son was in good hands. Besides, if he wasn't there, I would have missed him."
Many second- and third-tier cities are especially benefiting from this trend because of their inherent family friendliness. Often, associations favor these cities for annual meetings because of their relative safety, inexpensiveness, family-oriented attractions, reduced traffic, and slower pace.
Putting Safety First Perhaps chief among parental concerns when it comes to onsite childcare programs is the background of persons supervising their kids. For that reason, KiddieCorp, a San Diego-based national provider of children's programs at conventions and meetings, does exhaustive background checks on applicants, says Christine Tempesta, KiddieCorp president. KiddieCorp, hired by many meeting planners during its 13-year existence, even has an entire department to recruit and train staffers. The company policy requires that the same manager oversee a group's childcare activities from year to year, wherever the annual meeting is conducted, Tempesta says.
At the conferences of Nashville-based Free Will Baptist, primarily highschool students supervise children. And while some might question the wisdom of that, director Dean Jones says these teens are carefully selected and trained, and they must be in pairs whenever they're with a child. As a further security measure, Free Will staffers don name tags and picture IDs, and parents and children must bear matching tags.
Another safety-related concern of parents is training, including whether staffers are certified lifeguards and can administer CPR and medications. KiddieCorp takes things a step further on health matters by requiring an on-site nurse at. Meanwhile, Donna Karl, AAP director of convention and meeting services, is especially diligent about ensuring hotel rooms, equipment, furnishings and supplies used for children's activities at AAP's annual meetings meet stringent requirements. Fortunately, AAP's published safety guidelines on those matters are a big help.
"We do a lot more than just make sure all the electrical plugs are covered in a room," says Karl. "For instance, we make sure there's running water right next to a changing table and that we have step-only garbage cans, because that's what our safety guidelines call for."
Figuring Cost Factors A big draw for second- and third-tier cities is their generally lower costs. Aware of this appeal, especially to family-oriented associations, many cities market their affordability. For instance, the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau publishes a coupon booklet promising $2,700 in savings on attractions, hotels, and restaurants.
John Oros, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau senior vice president, proudly proclaims his city's inexpensiveness: "Our average hotel rate is half what you'd find in a first-tier city." Meanwhile, St. Louis promotes a plethora of free family attractions: A zoo, science center, and art and history museums, among other venues.
Savvy planners are leveraging inducements like these by taking additional measures to shrink costs, both for members and their associations. At KiddieCorp, it costs about $12 per hour to oversee smaller groups of infants and about $4 per hour to supervise a larger group of teens. But that's not what's often charged to individuals. KiddieCorp's Tempesta says that much of the time associations pay 50 percent of the cost of child care with members contributing the balance.
A growing trend is for corporate sponsors to help defray childcare costs. For instance, a Columbus, Ohio producer of infant formula was not only a general sponsor at the AAP annual convention but a special sponsor of the childcare program as well. The company, which provided attendees free formula samples, was featured in AAP convention literature, in recognition announcements, and in signage at the childcare facilities and elsewhere. That sponsorship helped reduce costs to AAP members to as little as $15 per day.
Adds John Lyons, sales manager for Accent on Children's Arrangements, a national event planner for children based in New Orleans: "We're finding more corporations willing to become sponsors, because parents seem to remember their involvement." Lyons' company will even help associations locate sponsors.
Another savings measure: cutting back costly off-site tours or field trips for children. Some planners take these savings in off-site transportation and supervisory and insurance expenses and apply the money toward a variety of activities at the convention hotel. For instance, a musician or magician might be brought in, or professionals like firefighters or police might drop by for free talks.
Some associations stress education opportunities. Children accompanying their parents at the National Speakers Association's annual conference may engage in a skills fair or hear talks about improving self-esteem or study habits.
"There are some pretty high-level speakers that address the children," says Ann Maasen, NSA manager of meetings. "A lot of adults would probably like to sit in."
Don't Skimp on Liability and Insurance Coverage As Free Will Baptist's Dean Jones says, "Even though we've got good kids and a track record to prove it, one of the biggest challenges I face is convincing a hotel we won't destroy their property while we're there. Many of them give me this look like, 'We've been there before and don't want to do it again.' Hotels are in business to make money and they have to wonder whether, after a repair bill for replacing furniture or holes in the hall, they have made money."
Disciplining children is another obvious challenge at annual meetings and conventions. At the Autism Society of America's annual meetings, parents are asked to remove disruptive children. To help assuage matters, these parents are given a refund for any costs incurred for children's activities, says Vernell Henry, the society's director of conferences.
Moreover, there are many logistical considerations in setting up a children's program. (Accent on Children's Arrangements and other childcare providers prefer having up to a year's notice so proper preparations can be made, says Accent's John Lyons.) This includes scheduling a proper staff-to-child ratio, as infants require a far lower ratio than older children (at KiddieCorp, it's one staffer for every two infants up to a year old).
When children are transported off-site for tours or other attractions, the logistical complexity--and added liability--are reasons why some planners hire destination management companies that specialize in such off-site outings. If your association is hiring a childcare organization or, you must check references carefully and use an outfit that's insured, offers staff and manager training, and follows tried-and-true policies.
Since children have high liability potential, planners should be careful an activity is appropriate for the right age level, reports Jonathan Howe, a partner in Howe & Hutton, a Chicago law firm. Age-appropriate activities and a comprehensive list of potentially liable issues should be covered in a form, signed by a parent or custodian/guardian releasing your organization from legal responsibility. Howe suggests consulting with an attorney beforehand to ensure that wide-ranging liability issues are considered. At NSA meetings, parents must attend an orientation session thoroughly explaining children's activities before signing a release form.
Liability insurance covering children should be comprehensive, including, if possible, protecting your organization from substantiated allegations of child abuse. If it isn't clear whether an activity is covered, consider adding a rider to the policy. "If you're going to do a program with races and picnics, you're probably going to be able to get a rider at no cost," notes Howe. "But if you're doing hot-air balloon racing, I guarantee you'll have substantial additional costs."
Consider paying a little more for insurance for additional coverage. "Insurance is one area you don't want to skimp on," says NSA's Maasen. "If there's a problem, you want to be covered."
* Christina Tempesta
* 10455 Sorrento
* Valley Road
* San Diego, CA 92121
* Phone: (858) 455-1718
* Fax: (858) 455-5841
* Accent on Children's Arrangements * John Lyons
* 938 Lafayette St., #201
* New Orleans, 70113
* Phone: (407) 855-5262
* Fax: (504) 524-1229
* American ChildCare Service * Rebecca Igra
* 445 E. Ohio St.
* Chicago, IL 60611
* Phone: (312) 644-7300
* Fax: (312) 744-1914
Another attraction of second-tier cities is their variety of family-oriented entertainment and educational locales. Anaheim, Calif., for example, is a natural draw with venues such as Disneyland, nearby Knott's Berry Farm, and Universal Studios. The Twin Cities in Minnesota are also alluring, featuring the gargantuan 520-store Mall of America, which includes Camp Snoopy Amusement Park and Underwater World. The area also offers quick access to two zoos and hundreds of lakes and parks.
San Antonio offers attractions such as Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park, Sea World of Texas, and The Alamo. Additionally, there is the River Walk, a 2.5-mile flagstone and cobblestone path along the San Antonio River. For outdoors-minded families, Boise, Idaho, offers engaging activities venues, including mountains, whitewater rapids, and sand dunes.
From hockey games and rib feasts to museums and theaters, Sioux Falls, S. D., offers much to attract family-friendly meetings. There is the newly remodeled Sioux Falls Baseball Stadium, among other sports venues, plus a historic downtown district that includes the new Washington Pavilion's IMAX theater and science center. Ten miles away are the cascading waterfalls of Falls Park.
Memphis is another second-tier city with an abundance of family enticements. Besides Graceland, the city offers a children's museum, zoo, nature center and several Mississippi River paddlewheelers. Daytona Beach, Fla., provides a 23-mile beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean. Other draws include the Daytona Speedway and Adventure Landing, a combination water park, mini-golf, game arcade, and go-carting venue. Additionally, several Daytona Beach hotels encourage children's play with full-time activities directors.