AN ON-THE-ROAD BOYS' CLUB NO MORE

AN ON-THE-ROAD BOYS' CLUB NO MORE

Back in the old economy, before the roller-coaster Nasdaq stock market ride and the emergence of the Internet, business travel was like retreating into a mahogany-paneled boys' club, a break from problems at home and the office.

Things have changed. For one, the business trip is no longer a male-only domain.At the beginning of the 1970s, women represented 1 percent of all business travelers. Today, according to Westin Hotels & Resorts, they make up roughly half of all business travelers.

And it's no longer adults only. Sixty percent of parents say they've packed up the kids along with the briefcase, according to a recent survey by Sheraton Hotels

Almost half claim they've taken a child along on a business trip as a learning experience. Forty percent do it to tack on vacation after the business trip. Many more would like to bring their kids, but 75 percent say they're reluctant to pull their kids out of school.

Parents are also reluctant to leave home themselves. Two-thirds of parents refused to go on a business trip because it conflicted with their children's activities.

More than one-third of parents claim they'd cut a trip short because of a birthday or child's illness. Nearly one-third would skip travel for a school function.

Five percent say they'd cancel a trip altogether if their children were upset about their leaving, says John Greenleaf, vice president of Sheraton-brand management for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, based in White Plains, N.Y.

Sheraton surveyed 300 men and women who had gone on at least one business trip that included a hotel or motel stay of at least three consecutive nights.

Only five percent of female road warriors - and 11 percent of male ones - admit that they don't carry a picture of their children. At the same time, just 58 percent of the women bring along a photo of their spouse.

Thirteen percent of business travelers expect their kids will give the stay-at-home parent a hard time. Those concerns are justified, according to Greenleaf. He cites research showing 14 percent of children cut classes when a parent is on a business trip while 38 percent don't do their homework. Twenty-two percent go where they shouldn't on the Internet, while almost half stay up past their bedtime.

Stay-at-home parents tend to be more lax than when the other parent is also home. Fifty-eight percent let their children order out for food, and 11 percent watch TV shows that the traveling parent would not allow.

On the road, men and women behave differently and want different amenities. A study for Wyndham Hotels found women business travelers care most about service when they choose a hotel. Men think location is most important.

Women also appreciate a deep tub, not just a shower stall. Eighty-two percent of female guests at London's Halkin Hotel prefer baths to showers, while just 14 percent of the men soak their cares away in tubs.

Natania Janz, a London-based psychologist and co-editor of the Rough Guide anthologies ''Women Travel'' and ''More Women Travel,'' says women look for meaningful contact when on the road, while men tend to stand back in detachment snapping pictures.

This explains why women like to shop, she believes. It's not a matter of acquisitiveness only, but a way to ''get into a foreign culture and engage,'' she says.