Children can be good investment on business trips


Michael Capizzi woke up in a Newport Beach, Calif., hotel one morning to a parent's nightmare: He had taken his 6-year-old son along on a business trip, and the boy had come down with chicken pox.

"I freaked out," admits Mr. Capizzi, an executive from Boston. "All of these people were waiting for me at the office."

Mr. Capizzi called his wife. Then he called his office. The consensus: Take Mikie, who wasn't feeling the least bit sick, along.

"We isolated him in a certain area of the office, and it all worked out fine," says Mr. Capizzi, stressing that not even the chicken pox dimmed his enthusiasm for taking each of his children -- he has four -- on business trips several times a year.

Hollywood director Stuart Gordon is just as enthusiastic about mixing business and family. He has arranged to take his wife, Carolyn, and three daughters on location all over the world, from Australia to Italy.

"The good part is that I've been to a lot of the places we're learning about in school," says 15-year-old Suzanna Gordon, who still corresponds with friends overseas.

Whether it's for a few days or, in the Gordons' case, weeks or months at a stretch, growing numbers of working parents are on occasion toting a backpack or diaper bag along with a briefcase on business trips. A national survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Data Center revealed that 16 percent of business trips last year -- more than 17 million -- included a child.

Dr. Bennett Leventhal, a child psychiatrist and chief of psychiatry at the University of Chicago, doesn't understand why more parents don't try it. "People think kids will be bored, but they're not. This helps them learn to be comfortable and adept in different situations and different places," says Dr. Leventhal, who takes each of his three children on at least one business trip a year.

Added 15-year-old Matthew Leventhal, who particularly enjoyed a trip to Hawaii with his father: "My dad is away so much, I like being with him and having him all to myself."

Not only do the children clearly benefit from the experience, some parents suggest the presence of youngsters can enhance business relations. "It sets a tone," explains Michael Capizzi. "They see I'm a guy who really cares about my family."

That's provided parents have chosen an appropriate business situation -- tense negotiating sessions probably wouldn't be a good time -- and make sure business colleagues are told in advance and voice no objections. The children should be prepared, too. Will they have to sit quietly for a long stretch of time? Are they willing -- and old enough -- to stay alone in a hotel room for a few hours? Do they understand that the parent-child fun will not come until the work is done?

"These days, people are much more accepting of children being around," says Terry Henson, a member of Holiday Inn's international board of directors. Her tip: Do your homework ahead of time to make sure you've got sitters or activities for when you must work. Ms. Henson, managing director of two Orlando, Fla., Holiday Inns, offers free licensed day care at her hotels.

In New York, Times Square Embassy Suites now has a staffed recreational play center open seven days a week for children ages 3 and up. Parents may check out free cellular phones so they can keep in touch. (Cost for the play center service: $5 an hour.)

And at the new Embassy Suites Center City in Philadelphia, there is a children's museum-designed playroom where older children may play -- unsupervised -- while parents are working elsewhere in the hotel.

Steve Porter, marketing director for Embassy Suites, says the company already is exploring ways to expand these programs at other locations. Business travelers with children account for 10 percent of the company's business.

At the same time, Hyatt Hotels is developing a program geared for convention-goers' children.

Two New Orleans-based companies -- Accents on Arrangements and Dependable Kid Care -- have sprung up to serve this market, offering children's programs and baby-sitting at conventions around the country. "When I first started two years ago, people said, 'You're doing what?' Now they all want my card," says Diane Lyons. A former teacher, Ms. Lyons has seen her Accents on Arrangements business jump 25 percent this year. Her company organizes day-camp-like activities ranging from arts and crafts to games and even city tours for older children.

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