Where does the average employed American parent
spend more of his or her time - at work or with the kids?
According to the "2011 American Time Use Survey" conducted by
the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employed adults spent an average of 7.6
hours a day working. By comparison, adults living in households
with children under the age of six spent an average of just two
hours per day providing primary childcare. Those with children
between the ages of six and 17 spent only an average of 47
minutes per day providing primary care. That's a big
No wonder, then, that many workers might welcome any
opportunity to spend more time with their families. Smart
associations and companies, eager to boost attendance numbers,
are catching on, and family-inclusive meetings are becoming
more popular than ever.
"We are definitely seeing more requests and have more
conversations these days about adding more family components to
our clients' incentive and meeting programs," says Megan Barry, lead travel buyer for Maritz Travel.
"Allowing people to bring their families is helping them drive
attendance and achieve their business objectives and sales
goals at the same time."
More meeting planners are also incorporating family-friendly
events into the actual meeting agendas. "It's not necessarily
just about bringing your family and negotiating special hotel
packages and pre- and post-stays," says Tammi Runzler, senior
vice president of convention sales and services for Visit
The belief that you shouldn't mix business with family time is
also fading away.
"In the past, [a family-friendly meeting] might have seemed a
little bit more taboo," says Runzler. "But people understand
that that's no longer true; having families present simply adds
a level of quality."
What's the ROI?
Many associations and companies are finding that including
families is a win-win all around.
"Having a family-friendly meeting makes employees more apt to
go the extra mile for me," says Bruce J. Newman, chairman of
the Business Direct Group, an industry trade group for B2B
direct-marketing companies. Newman has organized a variety of
different meetings for his own companies. He adds, "In meetings
where my kids have attended, I think they've created more
relationships for me, professionally, over networking, than I
might have created for myself. We're competing for talent and
whatever we can do to add high-value benefits for the
employees, we're looking to do. It's a great trade-off."
Newman's philosophy is shared by recognition expert Roy Saunderson, author of Giving the Real
Recognition Way and president of the Recognition Management
Institute. "Having the family at a meeting shows that the
company values the employee's time and they value the family,"
Saunderson says. "Greater employee appreciation just naturally
builds better employee satisfaction and engagement. Recognizing
employees' families will only increase their loyalty, and will give employees greater peace
of mind to focus on the event by having their families there."
Barry says that one of her client's attendees personally told
her that he worked all year to meet his sales goals, just so he
could bring his family to the company's annual meeting and
treat his family to a vacation.
Dr. Mel Borins, a practicing family physician and author of Go
Away - Just for the Health of It, says vacations have the power
to relieve stress and motivate employees. "Research shows that
burnout decreases during a vacation and that people are more
interested in their jobs when they return after a vacation," he
says. "Absenteeism goes down after workers return from a
The concept of holding a family-friendly meeting ties in
perfectly with achieving a better work-life balance. "People
are looking for an overall healthy experience - physical,
mental, spiritual, and what have you," says Runzler. They're
looking for somewhat of a richer experience over the course of the meeting and that often
includes having family there."
For some families, these meetings substitute for annual family
vacations, and many opt for pre- and post-stays.
"With us being in a down economy where people don't always have
the money to take several vacations a year, this allows our attendees to have a family vacation experience in some way," says Tina Mannices, manager of continuing medical
education at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Every year,
Mannices plans a five-day pediatric cardiovascular medicine
meeting for more than 1,300 medical professionals and their
family members. This year's meeting was held at Universal
"[The attendees] think, 'I know we can have a nice family
vacation in February and I can obtain credits for my license at the same time,'" she says.
"People are trying to save money and they know they need to do
this for their career, so it's great that they can combine the
Just as employees are minding their pocketbooks, so too are
employers and associations. While most organizations are less
concerned about families being a distraction, they are more
concerned about one thing: the bottom line.
"There's definitely a cost factor," says Michael Murray, vice
president of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau's
corporate meetings and incentives division. "From the planner's perspective, it's
case by case, and it depends on how much you want to involve
At the American Pet Products Association's (APPA) Global Pet
Expo in Orlando, Tracey Wilson, trade show manager for special
events and meetings, contains costs by limiting family programming to childcare services for show days. The
APPA started providing childcare services four years ago and,
while it does not actively promote the service, Wilson says the
number of children in the program has grown over the years. She
says that cost and liability concerns have prevented APPA from
adding additional off-site children's programming in the past, but
adds, "I don't rule [adding more activities] out at all. We're taking baby steps."
Newman says that including families in his meetings doesn't put
him in the red. "I don't pay for families to come," he
explains. "I pay for the attendees to come. During the meeting, I'm already
paying for the hotel room, so what difference does it make to
have an attendee's family members in the same room?"
He says that picking the right location can make all the
difference, which is why he's hosted four global meetings at
Walt Disney World Resort, in years past. "The room
configurations and the dining options at Disney allow me to
design something creative and economic so that when I add up
the total bill, that extra cost is actually very small in the
Barry, like Newman, seeks out locations and venues that offer family-friendly accommodations such as double-double guest rooms or
condominiums, as well as on-site kid's programs. She even saved
money at a recent meeting in Sea Island, GA, by having separate
adult and children buffet lines. "The lighter kid's menu was
actually less expensive," she explains.
Traditional family destinations like Orlando and Hawaii, and
major attractions like theme parks, also add value to a
planner's bottom line.
"That's our mission every day - to cater to families," says
Eric Marshall, vice president of park sales at Universal
Orlando Resort. At Six Flags Great America, Special Events
Representative Krystal Bern says that, because Six Flags offers
so many family options, it's not a challenge for organizations
of all budgets to host an event. "We have the space. We have
the activities and attractions. We are really creative."
At the Conference of Western Attorney Generals (CWAG) Annual
Meeting, families are always included in the agenda. CWAG
Meeting Manager and Event Coordinator Janine Knudsen attributes
this year's record attendance of 850 attendees and family
members to the venue: Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA.
Hosting the event at Disneyland also helped Knudsen with
planning special activities. "I don't really need to plan
anything else for off-site activities because it's all there,"
she says. While morning sessions were only for attendees,
families were invited to nightly events, including a private barbecue at Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree and
a preferred viewing area for the "World of Color"
Something for Everyone
A planner's biggest challenge in hosting a family-friendly
meeting might be trying to find activities that appeal to every
age group. But, as with every meeting, customization and doing
your research are the keys to ensuring success.
"Understand what the client's goal is for the event, and how
much time they want to spend with the meeting, and how much
free time is available for families," Barry advises. "Find out the approximate number of kids before sourcing. Ask where that client has been before.
Consider the budget; ask if every meal is included. No matter
what, sit down and make sure your clients' expectations are
Newman says even the smallest touches can leave a lasting
impression. "There's nothing funnier than seeing Mickey show up and watching all the adults
pushing the kids out of the way to get their photo taken with
him," he says. "The impression you leave on an employee by doing a good job on
planning the family part of a meeting is very powerful. Don't
be shortsighted or short on effort."
Many planners and industry experts believe the family-friendly
meetings trend will only grow. Anne Hamilton, vice president of
resort sales and services for Disney Destinations, even noted
that she's seen some groups inviting grandparents. Barry says
that more family-friendly meeting groups are beginning to consider national parks, as well as exotic locales as far flung
as Costa Rica and Beijing.
"I hope [this meeting trend] becomes more of a norm, and that's
exactly what I'm hearing from so many planners and exhibitors,"
says Runzler. "I hope it becomes more of a way of life, and
more of a way of conducting business."
Runzler is not alone. After reflecting on some of the special
family meeting activities she's arranged for her clients, Barry
exclaims, "I wish I were a kid these days!"