- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Children are getting VIP treatment at Washington's business-savvy hotels as more business travelers bring them along on work-related trips.
Plush hotels more accustomed to pampering adults are adding coloring books, video games, children's menus and child-sized bathrobes to their offerings. Rooms, usually set up for business deals with fax machines and computer hookups, now come equipped with electric-outlet covers and night lights.
"When we're taking care of the children, we're taking care of the parents," said Tricia Messerschmitt, a spokeswoman for the Four Seasons Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. "When traveling business executives become accustomed to a certain kind of attention, they want their children to experience that same kind of attention."
Four Seasons, which has always hosted a large number of business executives, now welcomes 40 to 50 children each month.
"We cater to the business executive, but we do appreciate that business travelers have children, too," Ms. Messerschmitt said. "They expect a particular kind of service and their children should be included in that. Every kid gets special attention."
When children check in, they are greeted by name and they find their rooms full of games, candy, balloons and giant cookies with their names on them. All of the hotel's rooms will have access to Sony Play Station by the end of the year, Ms. Messerschmitt said.
Last year, 23.2 million about 13 percent of all business trips taken by U.S. residents included a child, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. That's an increase of 134 percent since 1989.
"We recognized the growing trend that more and more business travelers whether out of need or preference are bringing their children along on their business trips," said Kristina Messner, a spokeswoman for the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. "We designed a program to help them."
The Willard began its "Kids in Tow" program in 1998. When children check in, they get a backpack full of goodies, including a night light, a flashlight, a baseball cap and a city guide that details D.C. attractions and child-friendly restaurants, such as Planet Hollywood and Hard Rock Cafe.
The 341-room hotel, which offers Nintendo in every room, sees a 50 percent increase in guests with children during the summer. Many parents book their business trips close to a weekend so they can spend extra days in the District turning the trip into a mini-vacation, Ms. Messner said.
In April, Omni Hotels of Irving, Texas, introduced "Omni Kids" a year-round children's program at participating hotels.
The Omni Shoreham Hotel on Calvert Street NW gives its young guests a welcome bag that includes suggestions for family outings in Washington, activity and coloring books, a toy boomerang, a wristband with the Omni logo and a list of emergency phone numbers. Children also get to borrow a rolling suitcase full of toys, books and games that they can take up to their rooms.
Catering to children has become a successful way to draw in business that otherwise wouldn't be there. The Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner uses the companywide "Ritz Kids" program to boost business during the holidays usually a slower time for the hotel.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the 398-room Ritz-Carlton offers video games and pinball machines at an interactive playground and holiday movies to watch at its indoor pool.
The hotel puts on educational programs such as "Play With Your Food," which teaches children how to make imaginary flowers and animals out of vegetables, and "Mad Science Extravaganza," which lets children become scientists for a day.
The Ritz-Carlton began its holiday children's program in 1998 and saw a 30 percent increase in business during last year's holiday period, said spokeswoman Ellen Gale.
Last month, Four Seasons introduced "Big things come in small packages," a program that includes a two-room stay, discounts on attractions and a free children's breakfast for families.
The hotel chains have made sure that their menus accommodate children's taste buds. The Willard's "kids-only" menu includes macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and Captain Willard's Punch Cooler, an orange, cranberry and pineapple juice concoction with grenadine, topped with a cherry.
At the Four Seasons, children get a wrapped gift when they go to the Garden Terrace lounge or Seasons restaurant and get to choose meals from a children's menu.
The Ritz-Carlton at Tysons Corner has added baby food to its 24-hour room service menu offering Gerber cereals, entrees, vegetables, fruits, desserts and juices. The hotel even offers baby formula, pacifiers and teething rings.

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