Is Your Hotel Property Truly Family Friendly?
By Silvana Clark
Wednesday, 5th March 2008
It used to be that fathers went on business trips while moms stayed home with the kids. My how the times are a-changing! More and more parents bring children along on business trips. Regular vacation travel is increasing also.

According to a recent Travel Industry Association Report, family travel accounts for 74% of all vacation travel in the US. Many hotel chains, cruise ships and resorts claim to offer "Family Friendly" programs. Parents look for accommodations that make the family feel welcome.

They want children to have a positive experience when traveling. This means parents are drawn to places offering special promotions geared for families. Many resorts that previously catered to business guests, now encourage parents to bring children.

As a professional speaker on the topic of customer service as well as creating an atmosphere welcoming families, I've had many mangers tell me about their wonderful programs. They advertise family friendly amenities, which often means simply giving children a small box of crayons and coloring books upon check-in.

The myth of "family friendly programs" became very evident when our family took a 12 month trip around the United States. We stayed in many places advertising their kid-friendly programs. Oh, they had a pool and children's menu, but very few properties tried to establish a personal relationship with my daughter. As a "test" she always came with me to the registration desk. Not once did a staff person even ask her name or age when we checked in.

Basic customer service would be for an employee to say, "Hi Sondra. I'm glad you're staying with us this weekend." What about the simple fact of telling the parent, "Your daughter has the brightest smile." It sure makes me feel good when someone compliments my daughter. Right away I'd have a positive impression of the property.

When staying at the Squaw Peak's Resort in Phoenix, the front desk staff suggested we visit the children's concierge, which of course we did. This friendly young woman gave us a personal explanation of all the amenities available for families.

They provided a well stocked playroom in case families needed to wait for their room to be ready. From a practical standpoint, I appreciated that they offered free diapers and a clean changing table for those times when a baby just has to be changed! We didn't mind waiting a few minutes for our room since my husband and Sondra quickly got involved with the activities in the family waiting center.

It's a known fact. If children are made to feel special, parents have a positive impression about your property. Anyone can hand a child a gift bag. With a little effort, you can connect on an emotional level to create a long-term relationship with the parents and child. The following are some ideas to create positive word of mouth publicity by making children feel welcome.

Create a bulletin board labeled: VIK "Very Important Kids". As children check-in with parents, take a Polaroid picture of them and post it on the bulletin board. If you have a digital camera, quickly print the picture and stick it on the board. Make sure to write their name on the back of the photo.

This is a golden marketing opportunity. Several weeks after the family's visit, send the photo to the child with a note saying, "Thanks for staying with us at the Happy Times Resort. Here's your picture to remind you of the fun time you had. Hope to see you again!" If you feel really ambitious, mount the photo on a small calendar imprinted with the name of your property. Parents will proudly display the calendar, and have almost a daily reminder of their visit with you.

Set up a large whiteboard or chalk board and ask children to sign their "autograph" when they arrive. They'll love writing their name with a flourish for all to see.

Here's one of the easiest ideas of all. When parents come in to register and have children with them, acknowledge the children! Chat with the children, asking about their vacation plans, pets, etc. Parents love it when people interact with their children.

Change the names of your room or meals to add a little kid-friendly humor. At the Sol Hotels Flintstones Land in Spain, breakfast is called "Brontobreakfast" and the gift shop is the Yabba-Dabba-Doo Bazaar. 5-8 year olds are invited to participate in the Bamm Bamm Club. Doesn't that sound more fun than the "Kid's Activity Program"?

As children arrive, hand them a sheet of paper with information about your hotel's Scavenger Hunt. Ask them to find the answers to such questions as: How many sidewalk lights are there from the sidewalk to the front door? What does the inscription say on the fountain in the lobby? Get the autograph of a hotel employee. After children complete the survey, they turn it in to receive a small gift.

When parents call to make reservations, ask for the names of their children. Before the family arrives, place a banner across the doorway of their room saying, "Welcome Lindsey and Jesse!" Many Dollar stores sell large metallic Welcome banners. Simply use a permanent marker to add the children's names.

Prepare small gift bags for children. These can include a deck of cards, small piece of candy or other treat. The contents don't have to be expensive because the children will get their fun from finding the bags. Leave a note in the family's room saying, "We have a small gift for Ashley. Follow these clues to find your gift." Then list a set of "silly" directions such as: Stand by the bathtub and sing Row Row Row Your Boat. Skip to the closest mirror and make some weird faces. Crawl to the closest bed while growling like a tiger. Tiptoe to the top drawer of the dresser. See what is inside. (They'll find their gift.) Some front desk staff have had children ask, "I liked looking for my prize. Can you hide it again and give me different clues?"

Plan activities that elicit the "Wow" response. How about a Hawaiian breakfast or an evening Easter egg hunt using flashlights? Have a pool party start at 3:27, just to be different. Check out S&S Worldwide for a number of low cost items ideal for treasure hunts or goodie bags. They also have complete craft kits so staff can open a kit and have all the supplies needed to make creative craft projects. www.ssww.com Recently I overheard a mother say to her husband," We paid 35.00 for this program and Ashley leaves with a page from a coloring bookÖ" Help parents know what their children will be doing at your organized programs. Display a large sign that says:

Welcome Everyone!

Today we will:

Go on a hunt to find a giant dinosaur egg!

Make dinosaur puppets

Play some games that involve dinosaurs

Read a story about a very silly dinosaur

Enjoy a tasty snack

As you can see, it only takes a small amount of extra effort to make children feel like welcome guests. Parents appreciate the thoughtfulness that you exhibited towards their children, and are likely to tell their friends about your family friendly property.

Silvana Clark is a professional speaker, travel writer and author of 10 books. (Don't tell anyone that she frequently works as a "mystery guest" at various hotels and resorts.) She gives highly interactive keynotes and workshops on increasing staff motivation and helping hotels and resorts provide quality family-friendly programs. silvanac@msn.com This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it www.silvanaclark.com
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