Business retreats with the family

SINGAPORE - When his company's employees get together for an overseas business convention, Mr Erman Tan actively encourages them to take their families and extend their stays.

The chief executive of chemical firm Asia Polyurethane feels that giving his employees this option helps them "blend a bit of their family life with their work life".

"Especially for those who travel a lot, it's good for their families to understand a bit about the nature of their jobs when they attend these conventions together," says Mr Tan, 49.

He is one of a string of employers here and around the world who are increasingly encouraging staff to mix business with pleasure - by allowing them to take their families on business conferences, and have them extend their stays once the conferences are over - provided employees pay their spouses' or children's way.

Hotels and event organisers say that more corporate clients are asking for the flexibility of extended stays and including family members when they book a conference or convention venue.

Ms Karin Sheppard, senior vice-president of sales and marketing (Asia, Middle East and Africa) for the InterContinental Hotels Group, says the group's resort properties, in particular, saw a spike in such requests last year.

"In 2012, our resort properties recorded a 50 per cent growth in the number of delegates who chose to add on a leisure stay by arriving early or staying on for the weekend," she says. She notes that families and partners are tagging along more than before, especially when conventions are held at the group's resorts in places such as Bali and Bora Bora.

Mr Jeroen Meijer, director of business development at the Hilton Phuket, says that in the last year, the resort has seen a 15 per cent increase in corporate clients actively asking for extensions of their stays after or before conferences, and provisions for spouses and children such as kids' clubs, spas and other activities. "It's really gained momentum over the last year," he says.

The resort's general manager, Mr Andre Gomez, says they have responded to the trend by having their in-house event planners create special itineraries for corporate guests' spouses and children, which include spa treatments, snorkelling and elephant rides.

While unable to provide exact figures, both the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore and The Club at Capella Singapore say they have seen an increase in travellers who come for business trips and conferences with families in tow.

Mr James Drysdale, director of Inspired Event Asia, an event management company that organises business conferences throughout the region, cites anecdotal evidence of more corporate clients asking for conferences that combine business and leisure.

He says: "In the past, conference programmes were packed with back-to-back meetings. Nowadays, the meetings are condensed with more leisure time built in. At a recent business conference we planned in Phuket last October, of the 400 guests, 70 were children of employees."

Asia Polyurethane's Mr Tan adds that blending leisure with work can enhance staff morale "because they know the company takes into account the well- being of their family as well".

For example, spouses and children can often benefit from the subsidised group booking rates for hotels and flights.

Dr Marc Schweizer, 40, chief executive of Schweizer Electronic AG, says he also encourages his employees to take their families because "colleagues get a broader picture of their co-workers once they have met their families".

Mr Terry Smagh, 37, vice-president of sales for South-east and North Asia in business intelligence firm QlikView, says his company encourages its employees worldwide to make a vacation out of their annual international conference. Last year's conference was in Miami, Florida, and this year, it will take place in the Bahamas.

"The company realises that many of us travel for work and are away from our families for long periods of time, and so are accommodating of our families during these conferences," he says.

Mr Lim Soon Hock, 62, managing director of corporate advisory firm Plan-B ICAG, has taken his wife, Aye Ling, along on business conferences in Hanoi, Phuket, Seoul, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Their three children have not accompanied them on these trips.

The chairman of the National Family Council says that he enjoyed these work trips more when his wife tagged along. "On all these trips with Aye Ling, the stress of work often becomes lighter. My work-life harmony is often at its peak during these trips."

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