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msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/13/2010 12:39:40 PM ET 2010-09-13T16:39:40

When Gary E. Hayes goes on business trips, he often encourages his wife and 13-year-old daughter to join him.

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“Any opportunity to maximize family time together as well as to do something interesting, that’s the goal,” said Hayes, managing partner of Hayes, Brunswick & Partners, a leadership consulting firm in Bronxville, N.Y. He recently spent time in London, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston with his family after doing business.

“For us, it’s more about sharing time and sharing experiences together,” he said. “I think it is very helpful for a family to see something of each other’s world.”

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Combining business and leisure trips, or “blended travel” in which business travelers bring along a friend or family members, has gained momentum in recent years, some industry experts say.

A survey conducted earlier this year by the Meredith Corporation, the publisher of Family Circle magazine, found that of readers who travel for work, 77 percent took along a family member or significant other on their last business trip, and 47 percent do so the majority of the time.

“To me, it was a startling result,” said Bjorn Hanson, dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University, and a consultant for the survey.

In addition, 64 percent of readers added one or more extra days to their last trip.

More money, less time
Earlier studies indicate a consistent trend. A 2008 survey by Egencia, the corporate travel arm of Expedia, found that 59 percent of business travelers were joined by friends or family on work trips. A 2004 National Business Travel Association survey drew similar results.

Hanson said research beginning more than 10 years ago revealed that the trend to combine business and leisure travel began when the number of dual career families increased. “All of a sudden, there was more money but less time,” he said. Blended travel became a “way for families to spend time together.”

Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president of Valerie Wilson Travel, based in New York, said she’s seen an increased focus on planning family time in recent years. “When it’s gone, it is not renewable,” she said, adding that more people are creating five-year travel plans, in much the same way they do financial planning.

Nancy London, Global Brand Leader for Westin Hotels & Resorts, said “as companies scale back, and there are less people, some business travelers need to do more travel.” As a result, it is increasingly important to spend family time. “Blended travel is an easy way for making it happen,” she said, noting Westin recently launched a free night promotion.

A new “Wellness in Travel” survey commissioned by Westin, to be released Tuesday, found that more than half of the 1,500 respondents failed to take all their vacation days . “They worry about losing their jobs,” London said. According to the survey, 64 percent canceled or postponed vacation this year due to work worries.

Blended travel can sometimes save money for travelers as well as companies, said Michael Steiner, executive vice president for Ovation Corporate Travel in New York.

For example, employees can often take advantage of corporate discounts. One client whose corporate travel policy allows him to fly business class recently saved his company money when he decided to sail with his wife on the Queen Mary to London instead. Fare for two was less expensive than one business class ticket, said Steiner, whose family tacks vacations on to business trips about three times a year. “I travel so much, when I’m going to a really cool destination, I think to myself, ‘How can I get them over?’ It saves time and money. And I don’t lose a day or two traveling.”

Combining business and pleasure
The national hotel occupancy rate dropped during the recent recession, to 54.6 percent in 2009, according to STR, a hotel research company. “It was — by far — the worst occupancy rate of the decade,” said Jeff Higley, a spokesman.

Hotels eager to attract guests are taking note, creating new incentives geared to court business travelers and their families.

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“We’re doing more and more to program our properties to be leisure destinations,” said Richard Maradik, chief marketing officer of Gaylord Entertainment, owners of four large resort hotels and convention centers in or near Nashville, Tenn., Orlando, Fla., Dallas and Washington, D.C., where 80 percent of business comes from meetings and conventions. In the last two years, even in the down economy, more people extended stays after group business visits, he said.

“Our research clearly shows us, and our customers clearly tell us, that time is money and they want as much as possible,” Maradik said. “A wonderful room, a wonderful restaurant and wonderful amenities are great, but it’s not enough. What customers really want now is to experience something unique.” Seasonal programs in November and December, for example, feature spectacular ice attractions, character breakfasts, and holiday lights that “create an immersive holiday experience,” he said.

At Great Wolf Resorts, which operates 12 resorts in North America that feature indoor water parks and meeting space, leisure travel prompted more business travel.

When its first properties opened more than 10 years ago, the focus was on leisure travel, said Steve Shattuck, director of communications. But the company observed that rooms were being booked regularly by families midweek, often when meeting spaces were utilized simultaneously. “One parent would be at a meeting while the other would be playing with the family in the water,” Shattuck said. “It’s the business trip that does double duty.” As a result, the company increased its meeting and convention space at some properties, and in all newly built ones.

“We take our families seriously,” said Jonathan Critchard, general manager of the Athenaeum in London. The hotel recently introduced a number of family-focused features: free meals for children 12 and under, complimentary snacks and soft drinks from the mini bar, and a kids’ concierge (who gets in touch with guests before arrival to see what can be arranged to make the children’s stay extra special).

The hotel has long been family-friendly, but “we just wanted to take it up a notch,” Critchard said. And it worked. In the last year there has been a significant jump — up 30 percent from the previous year — in the number of family guests, he said.

Not too long ago, welcoming children at a business-oriented hotel would have been unheard of. Now? “It’s all about embracing families and children,” Critchard said. “They are our future, at the end of the day. People may think a five-star hotel is not the place to go. But actually, it’s the place to come. We are so geared for it.”

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Video: Designer hotels are new travel trend

  1. Transcript of: Designer hotels are new travel trend

    AL ROKER reporting: This morning on TODAY'S TRAVEL , designer hotels. Several top fashion houses from Diesel to Betsey Johnson have turned their artistic eye to a larger

    canvas these days: Whole hotels. Many of them are offering reasonable rates. Nilou Motamed is the features editor at Travel Leisure magazine. Nilou , good to see you again.

    Ms. NILOU MOTAMED: Good to see you, Al .

    ROKER: So is this a real trend that's becoming popular?

    Ms. MOTAMED: It actually is a huge trend. In fact, the latest fashion accessory for designers is to have their own hotel . And it kind of makes sense, I mean, fashion is all about fantasy and drama...

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: ...and hotels these days are all about bigger and better. And so how better for a fashion designer to show the 360 vision of their brand than to do a hotel ?

    ROKER: To do a whole hotel . And of course it's Fashion Week here in New York .

    Ms. MOTAMED: It is. So this is perfectly timed.

    ROKER: So you must be all-twitter right now. I know that, I know that. OK. So let's start off with the Pelican Hotel in Miami , Florida , created by the clothing company Diesel .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Now Diesel is a very cool Italian-based kind of jean and casual wear company, and they were actually very ahead of the curve with Miami .

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: They came in in the '90s and saw this low-slung '40s motel and they saw the potential and they turned it into a very cool destination on Ocean Drive .

    ROKER: And it's reasonable.

    Ms. MOTAMED: Oh, my gosh, it's under $200, which is great, and even lower during low season, which is right now.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: And the rooms are so funny, they're all themed differently. One of them is called Me Tarzan You Vain , so you don't know whether that's a translation thing from Italian...

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: ...or whether they just were being clever, and I think they were being clever, they're definitely tongue-in-cheek. And the cafe there is very, very cool, definitely a place to see a lot of -- a lot of beautiful people walking down Ocean Drive .

    ROKER: All right. Now we're going to -- out to the West Coast , the Parker Palm Springs , Palm Springs , California , designed by Jonathan Adler . He was kind of ahead of the curve, 2004 .

    Ms. MOTAMED: He was ahead of the curve in terms of doing a new thing with interiors, he does these gorgeous ceramics, people love his work. And so he decided to go to the old Merv Griffin resort, now that really takes you back.

    ROKER: Ooh .

    Ms. MOTAMED: And it needed -- it needed an update. But what's great about Palm Springs is it has all this history, it has that Rat Pack glamour.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: So he added a little touch of the mod '60s, a little bit of the feel-good '70s, and turned this into a great destination hotel and spa. They have wonderful -- three swimming pools, one of them which is all-salt water. They have clay tennis courts, they have croquet, they have petanque, so it feels a little old world.

    ROKER: Petanque! I like the sound of that.

    Ms. MOTAMED: You like that, right? And again, under $300 a night to stay there, and you can get better deals even than that.

    ROKER: Let's go across the -- across the pond to Edinburgh , Scotland , the Missoni Hotel . I'm guessing it was designed by Missoni .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Honestly, you're -- nothing -- you can't pass anything by you, you're too good. So Missoni is known for bright poppy colors, lots of great textiles and texture, and Rosita Missoni , who is the designer, the head designer, she's taken all of those influences and put into their first hotel , which is in Edinburgh .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Now this is on royal -- the royal mile there, so it's a kind of an interesting clash with kind of an Italian brand that's coming to Scotland .

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: But it works perfectly. And what's great about this hotel , if you book a month in advance, which is I think a reasonable amount of time to plan your trip...

    ROKER: Not bad.

    Ms. MOTAMED: ...ahead, you get 25 percent off their rates.

    ROKER: Nice deal. Let's go to Ireland , the G Hotel in Galway , designed by a hatmaker?

    Ms. MOTAMED: Designed -- yes, in fact, designed by not only just a hatmaker, the hatmaker to Lady Gaga .

    ROKER: Oh.

    Ms. MOTAMED: We saw a lot of her at the VMAs .

    ROKER: Wow.

    Ms. MOTAMED: To Sarah Jessica Parker , to Madonna .

    ROKER: 'I -- I'd like a hat in meat, please.' What -- how do you pronounce his name?

    Ms. MOTAMED: Philip Treacy.

    ROKER: Ah. OK.

    Ms. MOTAMED: And he's a very famous Irish hatmaker and he -- Galway , as you know, is a beautiful part of western Ireland . And so there's a nice combination -- again, it's a contrast, this very modern hotel , it feels like " Alice in Wonderland " in the middle of this very charming town where there are great pubs and lots of places to have fish and chips and cozy stuff to eat. So I think it's a -- it's a good one. And again, the price is very reasonable.

    ROKER: Two hundred and sixteen a night.

    Ms. MOTAMED: Honestly, these prices are cheaper than they would be to get any of the clothes from these designers. So...

    ROKER: So you don't have to get dressed, just stay in the hotel .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Just get under the sheets.

    ROKER: Finally, we're going to finish up here in New York City . The Plaza Hotel , Betsey Johnson . This is the -- this is the grand one here, this is...

    Ms. MOTAMED: This is the opulent, this is the OTT .

    ROKER: ...this is a personal suite designed by Betsey Johnson .

    Ms. MOTAMED: Now this is a suite -- not only is it designed by Betsey Johnson , but the theme is Eloise .

    ROKER: Ah.

    Ms. MOTAMED: Now Eloise is everyone's darling.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. MOTAMED: The six-year-old precocious who lived at the Plaza . And all little girls want to stay in an Eloise suite and this one is one that they would never want to leave because of the -- of all the incredible attention to detail, the hot pink. There's actually a neon sign above the bed that says " Eloise ." And you get lots of goodies if you stay in this room, including a monogrammed bathrobe, a $100 credit down at the Eloise store down in the Plaza . Now if you can't stay at the suite because a little bit pricey, there is an Eloise tee at the Palm Court , which all little girls love and is a fun thing for anyone who's coming in to town with their kids to do.

    ROKER: You know who else who loves it?

    Ms. MOTAMED: Who?

    ROKER: Our director, Joe Michaels .

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