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Have Tots ... Will Travel: Business Opens to a New Era

While taking young children along on business trips may have been frowned on formerly, parental necessity and increasing opportunities have made the practice much more commonplace in recent years

JUST a few years ago, colleagues were surprised when Judy Myers-Walls brought her infant daughter with her to professional conferences. She rocked her baby during meetings and nursed the child back in her hotel room.

Mrs. Myers-Walls, an associate professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., says that times have changed.

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Over the years as she has continued to take her daughter along, attitudes toward children traveling on business have relaxed.

According to the United States Travel Data Center, 16 percent of business travelers in 1992 took a child along with them. That is five times the 1985 rate.

More and more working parents do not want to leave their children out of their lives. Spending ``quality time'' with children is difficult for parents with hectic schedules. Traveling with children can provide that time because there are few interruptions such as phone calls and television viewing routines. Parents can strengthen ties with their children. Kids reach a greater level of maturity and responsibility in dealing with their parents' professional responsibilities.

Although women are more likely to bring children along, some fathers are doing it as well. Many couples travel in teams, sharing the child-care responsibility during meetings if both are attending the same conference. ``But this may not work so well if you're both interested in a conference,'' says Leah Jamieson, professor of electrical engineering at Purdue University. She travels with her husband and four-and-a-half-year-old daughter to conferences overseas as well as in the US. She, too, has found her colleagues more receptive.

Myers-Walls says that what makes it work for kids, parents, and companies is a lot of advance planning.

``Ask yourself: Will there be something for the whole family to do together? Will there be something for the child to do while you're gone during the day? Why are you taking the business trip? Is it going to be a high-pressure conference? If so, it's best to leave the child behind so you can concentrate better.''

Some meeting planners are now organizing special tours of places of interest to kids and turning it into a mini-vacation for parents and children. Others offer cooperative arrangements for child care, where parents take turns watching children.

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Resorts, hotels respond

Hotels are accommodating this upsurge in business travelers and their children. ``We do see an increase and we see them extending their stay a few extra days,'' says Susan Simon, public relations director for Hilton Hotels Corporation, based in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Hotels mail information to parents in advance on day-care arrangements, special activities directors, and game rooms open to kids. Most offer standard amenities such as children's menus, books, and puzzles, and for infants - cribs, strollers, cots, and bottle warmers.

At the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, kids are greeted upon arrival with balloons, soda, potato chips, and cookies. Their children's menu includes brand name items: In the Garden Terrace, where afternoon tea is served, kids can order frozen Snickers bars and milkshakes instead of tea.

Special treatment

The Ritz Carlton in Boston offers a ``Junior Presidential Suite'' for kids that adjoins a standard hotel room for the parents. There is a circus tent around the tub, steps that lead up to the bed, and Nintendo games, Lego blocks, and puzzles in the room.

``It's proven to be very popular,'' says Patricia Cutler, director of public relations.

The Marriott, Sheraton, and Holiday Inn hotels are also accommodating greater numbers of business travelers with children.

Holiday Inn's two resort properties in Orlando, Fla., Lake Buena Vista and Sun Spree Resort, have day-care centers on site. For $5 a day, parents can rent beepers so their children or attendants can be in touch with them.

``These are some of the guidelines we've instituted in our hotels,'' says Louise Burke, director of leisure marketing programs for Holiday Inn Worldwide and the mother of three. ``There is a need for more of these.''

Children learn by seeing their parents deal with a variety of travel circumstances - from ordering meals to making transportation arrangements. ``My children have gained a better understanding of what I do in my profession,'' says Kathy England, executive director of the Tennessee Task Force Against Domestic Violence. She travels regionally and takes her children with her because she does not have extended family nearby. Her children are 11 and 14 years old and have been traveling weekends with her for the past seven years.

Ms. England makes most trips by automobile and says the long trips have ``bonded us closer together.'' ``It's given me the opportunity to just talk to them,'' she adds, ``something we don't have a great deal of time for during the week.''

``My daughter went into meetings with me when she was as young as five or six,'' England says. ``We packed a backpack with coloring books and crayons and she learned to entertain herself. People were surprised at her behaving so well.''

Although it is harder when your children are small, ``Don't be deterred from taking [children],'' Ms. Jamieson says. ``Just make sure there's plenty of things for entertainment.'' She also advises ordering ``a cheeseburger and fries through room service'' or spending ``an afternoon at the playground - it goes a long way to making them happy.''

Keeping activities interesting is the key, Jamieson says: ``Mix new things [with] ... familiar things. Go to tourist sites versus allowing your child to spend a morning in front of the TV.''

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