This article was originally produced for Ashfield Meetings & Events’ sub-brand SPARK THINKING and has also been adapted for a feature in C&IT Magazine - a business publication for event professionals
Last week it was World Book Day. I know this because I have children who love to throw themselves into this event. Last year my daughter dressed up as the Queen Of Hearts and proudly clutched her copy of Alice In Wonderland as she walked through the school gates. We'd spent the night before making the costume together and having a lot of fun as she practiced how she would deliver the famous 'off with their heads' line. This year has been a much bigger operation. Not because the costume was more complex but because we didn't have the luxury of time. The character and costume was decided upon and my good friend was lined up to face-paint two weeks in advance of the date. If you are a working mum who travels, this may resonate with you. If you are a working mum in the events industry, this should definitely resonate with you.
I had been invited by Accor to attend their seventh annual GME (Global Meetings Exchange) in Montreal. Whilst the destination alone was a draw, the balance of a programme with speaker sessions, activities, one-to-one meetings and plenty of networking opportunities convinced me that it would be a valuable event to attend. Of course this was an exceptional trip; Accor certainly know how to make their guests feel welcome, but the planning involved to ensure everything runs smoothly at home, whilst you’re away, is the same whether you’re organising an event or attending as a delegate.
Usually, I find packing my case a bit of a chore but for this trip I had a willing helper. My seven-year-old daughter and I downloaded the event app and together, we worked through the dress codes relating to each day. As I explained the difference between smart casual, business casual, relaxed and informal and city chic, she took great delight in flinging open my wardrobe to source the appropriate clothing. We talked about the importance of getting this right as I was not only representing my company but the brand of me. Although I was looking forward to the trip, I was growing anxious about the time I’d spend away from my family – eight nights would certainly be the longest time I’d been away from the children.
I wondered if the same level of pre-trip preparation and anxiety was the same for dads. On the flight out I chatted to a chap who had a daughter the same age as my 11-year-old son. The conversation steered itself to World Book Day and so I asked which character his daughter would be dressing up as. He said that he didn’t know and that his wife would take care of it.
Once we’d touched down in Montreal, we were straight into our pre-GME familiarisation trip to discover the world’s largest log cabin -the Fairmont Montebello. I chatted with a fellow mum on the hour-and-a-half transfer to discover that her own mum was in charge whilst she was in Canada. We agreed that having a good support network available to us - partners, parents, grandparents - was a key factor in enabling us to do our jobs and in particular, to travel. The first two days at the Fairmont Montebello were action-packed. We ventured out on Ski-Doos, saw wildlife roaming in its natural habitat, took part in a curling competition and enjoyed breakfast at a traditional sugar shack where making maple syrup has been the family business for over 40 years - all perfect activities for an incentive programme.
We were sad to say goodbye to Montebello but it was time to move on to the city of Montreal where the iconic Fairmont Queen Elizabeth would be home for the next four nights. Built in 1958, the hotel has recently seen a $140m refurbishment and is well-known for being the venue in which John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their 1969 bed-in and recorded Give Peace A Chance. The event kicked-off with plenary sessions that covered external factors affecting our industry, trends and the opportunity to ask Accor questions.
Next up was the chance to meet with senior representatives from within the Accor family of hotels. With just 10 minutes allocated to each one-to-one session, it was important for me to maximise this time. A face-to-face meeting with industry colleagues from around the globe is an opportunity to relish. I didn’t want to waste this time questioning them on stats about the hotel when I can visit their website for that. Inspired by World Book Day, I decided to collect stories about the hotels to bring them to life. The Sofitel St James in London has an initiative called cousu main which means ‘service from the heart.’ This ethos is encouraged in staff throughout the hotel. The Director of Sales & Marketing told me how, following a conversation with an elderly Irish guest, she set about writing a limerick based on what she had learned about the lady, and placed it in her room. It touched the guest and established a connection. And that’s such an important part of this industry: connections. It often helps if you share some common ground so on some occasions a chat about the kids proved to be a good ice-breaker and I found it interesting to hear about the logistical challenges that women in our industry had to overcome in order to be able to travel to this event. But overcome them they did and here they were, representing their companies and delivering professional presentations.
A chance conversation with an American event manager led to a story about how she was the first woman in her family not only to go to university but to be a working mum. Her emotional account of her life, thus far, showed that she was very proud of what she had achieved. I asked how her travel impacted her daughter. She told me that at first her daughter missed her dreadfully but now that she’s a little older, she understands about mummy’s job. And what’s more, she is now curious about the work her mum does, even expressing a desire to be involved.
Of course it’s all about balance; I’m not suggesting that continuously packing and unpacking your suitcase for work purposes is good for family life but when you do need to head off on a business trip, rather than being wracked with guilt, as we often are, perhaps we should see it as an opportunity to educate and inspire our kids. Our children are observing our every move. By embracing the opportunity to travel we are continuing to learn, grow and develop. Sharing our stories and experiences with our kids gives them a sense of inclusion, confidence in their own abilities and will enrich their lives, particularly if you have daughters. My colleague Claire Davies, a Senior Project Manager and mum to Ella, told me: “I have travelled on business for the whole of my daughter’s life. I look at her - age 12 – against her other friends and feel that my travelling has had a positive impact. She is growing into a very independent, confident young girl and understands the need to work as well as the importance of doing a good job. These are great attributes that will benefit her later in life.”
Through my attendance on this trip my children have learned so much. We’re often advised to keep work and home life separate but what if there is real benefit in blurring the lines?
Heavy snowfall in the UK meant school closures on 1 March which resulted in World Book Day being postponed. The good news for me was that I was on hand to help with costumes and face-paint, as we tucked into pancakes with maple syrup and listened to John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance.