The Family Business

It was a very good year for the hotel business. In 2006, demand for hotel rooms far outpaced the growth in supply. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was expecting RevPAR to record the second-highest rate of growth since 1984—a performance outdone only by 2005. And the trend is set to continue: PwC forecasts record hotel profits for 2007.

Hotels can thank, at least in part, the recent rebound in business travel for their continued good fortune. A recent National Business Travel Association (NBTA) found that more than 67 percent of surveyed travel manager members expect their companies' travelers to take more trips in 2007 than in 2006.

And as those travelers hit the road again, they're headed to hotels that, in many cases, now cater to a different demographic. When business travel was down, many business-oriented hotels reached out to family and leisure guests. And now, as business travel recovers, hotels report that more business travelers are bringing their families along—either for the duration of the trip or for pre- or post-conference sojourns when they attend meetings. As a result, many hotels are finding new ways to cater to both family and business travelers at the same time.

The More the Merrier
Helen Shope, who plans meetings for the Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany, GA, says she intentionally selects properties based on their ability to appeal to the families of her members. "Our executive committee meetings typically start on Thursday evening and end after lunch on Sunday, so we look for locations that have family-friendly facilities so the members don't mind giving up their weekends as much," she says. For the last several years, Shope has brought her meetings to The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens, in Pine Mountain, GA. Shope says that the property, which includes several cottages, an inn, a lodge, and a conference center, all on 13,000 acres, is particularly conducive to hosting both family and business guests. "The facilities are laid out in a way that the two groups can separate and come back together again easily and effectively," she says. "Even though the families are there, we've had good attendance at the meetings and a good response about accomplishing the meeting's goals."

"We are seeing more families coming in [with meeting groups]," says Anne Hamilton, director of group sales for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. "There's a lot more piggybacking of business and vacation trips." That's why hotels that cater to the business traveler are eager to highlight—not downplay—their family-friendliness. John Lee, vice president of brand marketing for Hilton Hotels' Embassy brand, says that business travelers account for the lion's share of the chain's business. "In 2006, we had probably the best year ever for our brand," he said, citing 74 percent occupancy for the entire chain, of which 60 percent comes from business travel. Lee says Embassy's average length of stay is 2.6 nights, and attributes that length to the tendency of his business-travel guests to bring their families in to join them for the weekend, either after or before the meeting.

To encourage this market, Lee says, Embassy introduced a print-advertising campaign designed to promote its family-friendly facilities to its business-travel guests. The ad features a woman sitting by the pool with a baby in her lap, with a caption that reads, "This is our idea of a laptop."

Something For Everyone
Other properties that cater to both family-oriented and business-travel guests address the different needs of each group separately. "We're seeing more kids at the hotel, and that's why we have done some of what we've done as we continue to evolve the property," says Michelle Wilde, director of conference services at The Breakers in Palm Beach, FL. Such developments include creating two different swimming pools, one that encourages a quiet poolside experience and one that allows a livelier environment; and a 6,160-square-foot family entertainment center that has age-appropriate activities and supervision, and where parents can drop off their kids during meetings and other business functions.

As a result, The Breakers was ranked the number-one family resort in the country by Child magazine in May 2006, even though it hosts approximately 550 meeting groups per year that use an average 50 rooms per night.

Elsewhere in Palm Beach, the Ritz-Carlton will complete an extensive renovation and expansion this month that also incorporates the two-pool approach. The "tranquility pool" offers a more serene environment while the "resort pool" is near the kids' and teens' facilities and the playground. Ahead of its renovation, the Ritz-Carlton held focus groups with business travelers and meeting planners to find out what amenities were most important, says Crissy Poorman, director of public relations for the property. "We found that business travelers want rooms that offer flexibility for when they bring their kids with them," she says. As a result, "We now have oversized, oval desks so that, instead of having a desk for the computer, you have a table where people can sit on either side and work or dine. We also introduced a new suite concept in which the two rooms are separated by French doors, so that a child could be napping, for example, in one room while an adult works in the other."

Keeping Everybody Happy
Of course, business and leisure guests don't always coexist so well. Business travelers are known to complain about noisy or unruly kids. But hotels with the right infrastructure can avoid these problems, says Disney's Hamilton. "We identified that we would have two types of guests before the actual construction of our resorts, so because of the layout, there's no reason for, say, a leisure guest to walk through the convention center," she says.

Still, it takes a little common sense to help the two groups get along, says Perry Grice, director of sales for Callaway Gardens. "It's very important that you know who's in the hotel, to avoid a situation where you've got a group coming in, and kids are running up and down the hallways. But by paying attention to timing and schedule and layout, and recommending who should stay in what part of the resort, it's very easy to keep these groups separate." Disney's Hamilton agrees: "We pre-block the groups' sleeping rooms in an area where they're together," she says. "Groups normally like that anyway, and it limits the concerns of being disturbed by, or disturbing, other guests."