Increasingly, higher-end hotels across the region are finding that catering to business travelers means making sure their children and spouses feel welcome. Gone are the days, they say, of men in suits checking in for a conference and checking right back out. Instead, many are looking to add a bit of pleasure to their work trips, either by bringing along their families, or by extending their stays to include sightseeing, spa treatments or other vacation-like luxuries.
As a result, the Four Seasons in Georgetown now offers a third night free on all suite bookings (two nights for work, one night for fun). The Sofitel in Lafayette Square keeps toddler-sized robes, panda toys and snowglobes on hand for young visitors. And at the Ritz in Tysons Corner, where more than 25 percent of business travelers now incorporate leisure into work trips, new mommy-daughter spa packages, tea parties and cupcake decorating competitions are geared toward families looking to stay busy while a parent is at work.
“This isn’t just a trend, it’s a tidal wave,” said Rajesh Khubchandani, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner. “So many people are saying, ‘If my flight and hotel are paid for, why not stay longer or bring along my kids and family?’ The new normal is to indulge, but to indulge sensibly.”
Demand has become so high, he added, that the hotel has begun asking upfront whether corporate groups would like to provide special accommodations for accompanying partners and children. Staff have also become well-versed in booking Virginia wine tours, exclusive trunk shows and personal trainers for those looking to unwind after work. Special jazz dinners and childrens’ tea parties are now offered every Friday and Saturday for those extending their stays into the weekend.
Nearly half of business travelers now add personal travel days to most, if not all, of their work trips, according to a 2014 survey by Bridgestreet Global Hospitality, a Reston-based company that specializes in short-term apartment rentals. The majority of the 240 guests surveyed said they have taken ‘bleisure’ trips — that’s business plus leisure — while half of those travelers said they have brought along a significant other or family members on a work trip.
“There’s a lot more demand on our time as employees now, so people are trying to find little ways of adding personal time back in their lives,” said Kelly Murphy, vice president of marketing for Bridgestreet. “The line between business and leisure travel is blurring.”
Of course, families have been tagging along on business trips for decades. The difference now is that travelers, hotels and meeting planners alike are looking to make work travel more family-friendly.
“Our guests may be handling millions of dollars during the week, but on the weekends they’re in shorts and flip flops,” said Robert Watson, chief concierge at The Willard Washington D.C. “More and more, you see both sides of the business traveler.”
For its annual meeting in August, the National Council of University Research Administrators rented a moon bounce.
There were plenty of adults in line, but the inflatable funhouse was there for a very specific — and growing — demographic: The children of conference attendees. This year, there were 30.
In recent years, the group has begun encouraging members to bring along their families. The annual conference, which had been held in November for more than 50 years, was moved to August, in part to encourage more family travel during the summer.
“The first thing people said when we moved the conference was, ‘Oh wow, I can finally bring my kids to Washington,’ ” said Kathleen M. Larmett, executive director of NCURA. “We really saw a change in the members. Now they come in wearing shorts and rolling strollers. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed and the sessions are that much more effective because our members have less guilt about leaving their families.”
The group offers two programs for attendees’ children: Camp NCURA, aimed at those aged 2 to 11, and a teen program with organized outings to the National Zoo, Air and Space Museum and the Spy Museum. The Washington Hilton, where the conference is held, provides complimentary lunches and hosts outdoor movie nights in its courtyard.
It is a similar story at hotels throughout the region. At the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, a number of conferences now offer family-friendly activities during regular meeting times.
“It’s a newer development in the past 24 months,” said David Furnish, director of sales and marketing at the Gaylord. “Groups are beginning to offer tours before, during and after their meetings when they know significant others and family members are likely to come along.”
Other groups are switching up their schedules to make more room for leisure travel. The Ritz, for example, sees fewer meeting planners looking to book the traditional Sunday-night-to-Wednesday conferences, built around allowing allow participants to make it back home in time for the weekend.
“Now it’s quite the opposite, where people say, ‘Why don’t we start Wednesday, finish up on Friday and then families can join and make a weekend out of it?'” Khubchandani said. “We’ve noticed that more and more companies are doing this to provide balance to their employees.”
Aba Kwawu’s daughter went on her first business trip at the age of 2 months.
Kwawu had booked a room at her usual Miami haunt: A hotel on Ocean Drive, the strip of South Beach known more for its late-night party scene than for late-night feedings.
“It was a disaster,” said Kwawu, who owns TAA PR, a District-based public relations firm. “The baby couldn’t sleep. It was ‘boom, boom, boom’ at all hours.”
Since then, she has taken her children — now aged 5 and 7 — on dozens of business trips and has learned a thing or two about picking the right hotel. For starters, she looks for quieter properties on the outskirts of town. Large rooms are also a plus, as are swimming pools, particularly if they offer poolside meals and have a lifeguard on duty. She also looks for places that are willing to get creative when she has a deadline. A hotel in Los Angeles, for example, once arranged for a notary public to meet Kwawu in her room.
“For most of our trips, my husband is at work and I’m also there working with two wild children,” said Kwawu, whose clients include the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner. “This is the only way we can make it work.”