They may not be wearing name tags, but children are making their presence felt in ever-growing numbers at conventions and meetings across the nation.
More than 32 million business trips in 1998 included children, up an incredible 32 percent over 1997, according to data recently released by the Travel Industry Association of America. These business trips that included children account for 16 percent of all business trips taken last year, up 4 percent from 1996.
This growing trend is part of an overall surge in family travel nationwide, propelled by a variety of factors , the most compelling of which has been termed “time poverty” by industry analysts. With dual-income and single-parent families now in the majority, “time poverty” leads to frustration and a growing sense of guilt among parents who just can’t find enough time to spend with their young children and teen-agers.
According to TIA research, many families like to tack on vacation time to business trips because they want to spend time together as a family , something that has become increasingly rarer in their daily lives. In addition, today’s families are busier than ever. Parents work longer hours and kids are often spending their free time working part time jobs or participating in extracurricular activities.
Families are finding it harder to spend quality time together and many find that a family vacation added to a business trip has a real appeal.
“Needless to say, San Diego is in a prime position to attract convention delegates who wish to extend their meetings into a fun-filled family vacation,” said Reint Reinders, president and CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau.
& #711; Always Big Draw
For Family Travel
“With our base of major attractions, which now includes Legoland California, San Diego has always been a big draw for family travel. Add the variety of other family activities , our sandy beaches, a variety of sports options on Mission Bay, our water parks, backcountry adventures, train and trolley rides, the Downtown Children’s Museum, hand-on exhibits and the IMAX Theatre at the Reuben Fleet Space & Science Center, special exhibits in Balboa Park museums such as “Star Wars” and “Jurassic Park,” etc. , and it’s not hard to see that San Diego certainly is hard to beat as an exciting family destination,” Reinders added.
The 6,500 delegates attending the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting this past August certainly proved the fact that San Diego has a stellar reputation as a family vacation destination. ASAE is comprised of meeting and association executives from around the nation who make the decision as to where their organization’s future conventions will be held.
Not only did the ASAE convention attract the highest delegate attendance ever, but a record number of delegates brought family members to the San Diego convention. In fact, ASAE used the San Diego venue to premiere its innovative new “Kiddie Cam” technology, a system designed to monitor children in ASAE daycare while their parents attended meetings and seminars throughout the day.
Delegates carrying laptop computers could call up the “Kiddie Cam” Web site at any time to get a virtual tour of the day-care center and zoom in on their offspring’s activities.
& #711; Incentive To
ASAE delegates were also given an incentive to extend their stay in San Diego after the convention ended. San Diego’s major attractions pulled together to offer the delegates a special ASAE family attractions pass, allowing them complimentary entry to the Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego, Wild Animal Park and Legoland for the weekend following the convention.
“This was a golden opportunity for us to give these association decision-makers a first-hand look at what an outstanding destination we are for business travelers with families in tow,” said Reinders. “The response to this promotion was overwhelming; we’ve heard nothing but glowing comments from the delegates about every aspect of their stay here, including our industry’s hospitality and family-friendly attitude.”
Two association executives who attended the ASAE convention have already made definite bookings for their organizations. The international computer company EXPLOR and the American Society for Training and Development will each bring 15,000 delegates to San Diego in 2004 and 2008, resulting in $27 million in positive economic impact for the region. And it’s a safe bet that many of these delegates will bring their families along for the ride.
San Diego’s hospitality industry has long noted this growing trend and stands equipped with a variety of special programs designed to entertain the kids while their folks are in the meeting rooms. For example, Loews Coronado Bay Resort features the “Loews Loves Kids” program which offers parents everything from cribs and car seats to supervised programs for children of all ages.
& #711; Full-Day
In summer, delegates’ children staying at the Hotel del Coronado can take part in the half to full-day camp program, “Tent City Kids.”
The San Diego Paradise Point hotel features a variety of child-oriented beach and water-sport activities.
According to Chris Tempesta, San Diego president of Kiddie Corp, Inc., a national provider of group children’s programs and youth tours for conventions, business has grown at a dramatic pace since the company opened in San Diego 13 years ago.
“There are several reasons why more and more delegates are bringing their families along on convention and business meetings,” said Tempesta. “One of the most significant is the fact that people are having children much later in life. These older parents have already reached a high level in their professional careers where attendance at conventions, meetings, trade shows and professional development seminars is a must.
“But they are no longer willing to leave their children at home.”
Kiddie Corp accommodates family members from 6 weeks to 17 years of age, providing services such as on-site infant care, children’s activity programs, and off-site teen tours.
& #711; Marketing Tool
To Increase Attendance
“Meeting planners look at our services as a marketing tool to increase attendance at the convention,” said Tempesta. “In many cases, you might have a husband and wife doctor team, or two married engineers, who need to attend the same professional meeting. The obvious solution to this dilemma is to bring the kids along.”
Family travel has also made its mark felt in the vacation travel market. According to TIA, nearly one-fourth of the trips taken by Americans in 1998 included children, up 15 percent from 1997 figures. The percentage for San Diego visitors is even higher. According to ConVis research, 34 percent of all overnight pleasure visitors to San Diego bring children with them on their trip.
DiBona is directors of communications for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau