Family Planning: 11 Tips for Kid-Friendly Events

Children and meetings don’t always mix. In theory, attending an off-site event at an interesting destination can be a wonderful opportunity for attendees to bring the spouse and kids, turning the business occasion into a quasi-family vacation. Certainly, planners can appreciate that time-stressed, overcommitted parents see the chance to bring the kids along as too good an opportunity to pass up. The reality from the planner’s perspective though can be a bit more complicated.

Some corporate or association cultures welcome and even encourage family participation. Planners here choose destinations accordingly. Cities such as Orlando, Anaheim and Hershey, Penn. as well as Paradise Island in The Bahamas and other Florida and Caribbean resorts, are well known for being kid-friendly.

On the other hand, major urban destinations like New York and Chicago are probably less well known in this regard. Though with attractions like Central Park, the Bronx Zoo and the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History, for example, New York holds its own distinct appeal to youngsters.

For every corporate/association culture that embraces kids’ participation with open arms, there’s probably one that takes the opposite tack, viewing kids as an unwelcome distraction.

When it comes to the pleasures and potential perils of hosting kids on site, planners will be smart to keep these 11 basic guidelines in mind:

  • Know the mindset you’re dealing with. If the culture communicates “no,” take that as a reality check. If it’s not clear, a good way to test the waters is to weigh whether the CEO and other C-suite executives are likely interested (and even enthusiastic) about bringing their young children (or conceivably grandchildren) along. If the answer is a resounding “yes,” you have your answer.
  • Choose your dates strategically. If children are welcome, look to book not only a kid friendly destination, but choose dates when youngsters are likely to be off from school. Needing childcare, parents will be even more inclined to bring the young ones along.
  • Welcome gesture. As you would for any attendee, put together a gift bag for these youngest members of the group and either have it available at check-in or delivered to the guest room. A stuffed animal, coloring book or small toy for young children, hopefully representative of the destination, are good choices. Remember that if the children have a successful stay, the parents are likely to be appreciative and as positive, if not more so. Consequently, a welcome gift is especially thoughtful.
  • Five is not 15. Some planners have a tendency to lump all children together when, in fact, the needs, interests and preferences of a preschooler are dramatically different from those of an adolescent entering high school. Seems obvious, but easy to overlook, given the 1,000 other details planners are juggling.
  • Check if there is an on-site kids club. Ditto organized teen programs. If so, what age children are eligible to attend each? What hours do these facilities operate? What activities do they offer? What are the charges?
  • Your role as intermediary. As a planner, it’s not your job to finalize these arrangements. Rather, you’re more the middle person, making sure the parents have accurate information, including timing for reservations, at their fingertips. Decisions are up to them.
  • Payment arrangement. Short of a very benevolent corporate/association culture, where charges for these arrangements are added to the master account, parents are responsible for any kid club/teen program fees. Be sure you’re clear on this point upfront, so there are no questions when a folio is presented at checkout.
  • Other facilities. At a resort, is there a kids only swimming pool? Casual dining restaurants where a children’s menu is available? You might, in fact, prepare a fact sheet detailing this information, hours of operation, location on the property, nearby sights of interest to children and teens off-site (the zoo, the museum, a surfing beach) and so on. You’ll want to email the fact sheet in advance as a courtesy and then provide a print copy in their registration kits as a reminder at check-in.
  • Babysitting services. Concierges (or conference services managers) can provide lists of approved babysitters for younger children available in the evening when the spouse may want to join the attendee at receptions and dinners. Here too these arrangements are best left to the parents and payment is their responsibility.
  • Setting boundaries. Rarely, if ever, are young children (or teens for that matter) welcome at receptions and dinners, no less business sessions. For as much as it’s nice to see families enjoy a special occasion together, it’s just not practical. Kids of all ages get bored easily and it’s not fair to the others seated around them. Likewise, the sight of young kids running around a dance floor unsupervised at a wedding has a certain charm, less so at an awards banquet.
  • There’s always an exception. This could mean kids are welcome at an informal dinner held in a theme park destination, for example, where entire families are clearly invited to attend together and the menu and program have been designed accordingly. In a case like this, of course, everyone (i.e. the CEO, attendees, you) understands and expects that the event will have its own more playful feel and energy.

Thomas-04[3]-copyLast week (August 1), the idea of kids on site was front and center in New York when the Hilton New York Midtown Hotel introduced an elaborate five-week “pop-up” geared to young children. The 1,932-room hotel has converted one of its executive suites into a special kid-friendly Thomas & Friends Suite, stuffed to the gills with toys, books and games (not to mention linen, bathrobes and a shower curtain) named for the iconic Thomas the Tank character popular with generations of young children.

The promotion, a partnership between the Hilton and children’s toy giant Mattel, is intended to appeal to families visiting the Big Apple this summer. But with more than 150,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space, the Hilton is also one of the city’s major convention hotels, planners couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the challenges outlined above.

Photos: Courtesy of  Thomas & Friends Suite courtesy of the Hilton New York Midtown Hotel.


Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen

Bruce Serlen is a veteran travel writer, based in New Jersey, who has written extensively on meetings management and hotel operations. Most recently, he was executive editor at Hotel Business.

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