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Hotels have no reservations about catering to the growing family market TAKING THE KIDS


This is your lucky summer, parents. Hotels across America are rolling out the red carpet for you and the kids. At bargain rates, too.

Forget being embarrassed if the kids bicker in the hotel lobby. It's no problem if the baby trashes the hotel restaurant floor. Let them splash all they like in the hotel pool. The days of apologizing for traveling with sticky, messy, noisy kids are over . . . at most places, anyway.

This year, budget and upscale hoteliers alike -- from Howard Johnson to Holiday Inn, to Hilton, to Marriott, to Hyatt, to even the tonyStanhope in New York and high-ditch La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. -- are collectively spending millions on packages, promotions, giveaways and programs, trying to lure you and your kids to their door.

Some tout kid-friendly services such as Hilton's "Vacation Station," where children can find a welcome gift, there's a lending desk for toys, and parents can pick up information on nearby family activities (call 800-HILTONS). Others are dollars-and-cents bargains such as Marriott's deeply discounted, advance-purchase and/or kids-eat-free deals (call 800-527-7777). All are designed to make you and the kids feel more at home. Some hotels even offer special check-in desks for children. (Mine loved the bright pink check-in area at the Holiday Inn Lake Buena Vista in Florida.)

"Corporate travel is down," explained Eric Pfeffer, president of // the600-hotel Howard Johnson Franchise Systems Inc. "What does a good hotelier do? Get busy in the strong market. And nothing is stronger than the family market."

Howard Johnson is spending $3.5 million this summer pushing its Kids Go HoJo campaign that includes the lending of Sega portable video games at no charge. Summer sale rates range from $29 to $69 per room, per night at most locations -- call (800) 446-4656.

Meanwhile, Embassy Suites is pushing nearly 100 different packages for families that include everything from passes to Disney World in Lake Buena Vista ($1,142 for four nights) to free disposable cameras and film processing at Embassy Suites in New York City ($249 per night) to breakfast with a costumed "Shamu the Whale" in San Diego ($129 per night). (Call rTC 800-EMBASSY for a brochure.)

Holiday Inn Worldwide again is offering the enticements of kids-under-12-eat-free and all-kids-stay-free-in-rooms-with-their-parents at properties throughout North America -- call (800) 465-4329.

"Everybody is out there with some twist on the family message this year," said Julie Halpern, who directs the family programs for Hyatt Hotels. Ms. Halpern noted that last summer, 15,000 children participated in her company's Camp Hyatt activities, which include a seashell hunt at Hilton Head, S.C., horseback riding in Scottsdale, Ariz., and hula lessons in Hawaii. Last year, Hyatt sold 35,000 rooms at half-price for children, an option available at all Hyatts; call (800) 233-1234.

U.S. Travel Data Center research, commissioned by Better Homes and Gardens magazine, reveals that the family market accounts for 70 percent to 80 percent of all leisure vacation travel in this country: Nearly 50 million adults traveled with at least one child in the last 12 months. And half of those surveyed said they planned to spend more this year than in 1992.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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