Why Ban Children From Hotels? In Defense Of Bringing Family On The Road

child cryingNo dogs, no children, no lepers please. It’s hard not to feel like an undesirable when a hotel you want to bring your family to says, “Sorry, we don’t allow children.” In America, and many other countries, it’s illegal for hotels and other public establishments to deny service based upon a client’s race, color, religion or national origin.

And it would be unthinkable for any business to exclude senior citizens, homosexuals or the disabled, for example. But it’s perfectly legal for hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, resorts and even restaurants to ban children. A growing number of childless couples, singles and empty nesters are seeking out hotels and resorts that exclude children, but are kids really the greatest threat to rest and relaxation?

These issues came to the fore for me last week while I was planning a trip to Costa Rica for my family of four, which includes two boys, ages 3 and 5. Almost every nice hotel anywhere near a beach in this country is booked over the long President’s Day weekend, and several of the places I contacted, including a couple that had vacancies, noted that they don’t allow small children (though most allow teens).A website called Leave Them Behind has a modest list of adults-only establishments and according to stories that have appeared in Yahoo, ABC, Ad Week and other media outlets, the travel industry is moving to meet a growing demand for child-free holidays. According to Ad Week, there are more childless couples in the U.S. now than ever before, and 20 percent of American women never have children, compared to just 10 percent in the 1970s.

Moves by Malaysian Airlines to ban children from first class in 2011, and from the upper deck of its Airbus A380 in 2012, also promoted debate on the issue of traveling with children. Spud Hilton, travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, defended the move and went so far as to claim that “with the exception of a family emergency and moving to another state, there is almost no good reason to take a baby on the road.”

Hilton referred to babies, not children in general but I think that a lot of parents don’t travel, or for that matter even bring their kids to restaurants or other public places, precisely because they fear that other people will find their children annoying. But I’ve found that the more you expose your children to hotels, restaurants and the like, the more they learn how to act in public. If we shut our children off from these experiences, they’ll never learn how to act in polite society.

I’m a parent but I can understand why some people want to patronize establishments that ban children. And I agree that in some ways, our kid-centric culture, where some parents allow their children’s activities to rule their lives, is out of control. But I question the notion that children are so disruptive that one can barely enjoy a holiday with them around and I can’t help but wonder what truly motivates those who seek out places where children aren’t welcome.

I estimate that I’ve spent somewhere between 500 and 1,000 nights in hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and inns around the world over the last 20 years. Out of all those nights away from home, I’d say that I’ve been disturbed by another guest or guests at a hotel perhaps a few dozen times. By disturbed, I mean occasions where someone caused me to lose sleep, made me want to leave the pool or other common area, or something along these lines. Out of these few dozen incidents, only one of them involved a small child or baby.

Several years ago, at a bed-and-breakfast in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a crying baby kept us up half the night. That incident occurred before we had children and it has colored our own travel habits – we never stayed in small bed-and-breakfast places, especially ones with hardwood floors where noises seems to echo, when our children were very young.

Of all the other instances of annoying and obnoxious behavior I’ve encountered in hotels, I’d say about 25 percent of the offenders were teens, most of them members of school or sports groups, and the rest were adults. Most of the obnoxious adults that have caused me to lose sleep or sanity on the road were also parts of groups – wedding parties, teams, family reunions and the like – and many were intoxicated.

Unfortunately, some people have no regard for other guests in a hotel and think nothing of slamming doors, shouting in the hallways, partying in their rooms, and blasting their television sets at odd hours. Two years ago, I stayed at a Westin in Mexico that allowed wedding receptions to rage until 6 a.m. with music loud enough for a rock concert and drunken guests rampaging around the hotel on consecutive weekends. This summer I stayed at a Westin in suburban Chicago where a family reunion got so out of control that the police had to actually make arrests in the middle of the night. And at an upscale hotel in Philadelphia last winter, members of an out-of-control wedding party actually brawled in the hallway outside our room at 3 a.m.

A certain percentage of all travelers – children, teens and adults – are going to behave poorly at hotels but I would argue that children are no more likely to cause other guests grief than teens or adults. In fact, I might assert that small children are less likely to be disruptive than teens or adults because they don’t get drunk and they aren’t up late at night when other guests are trying to sleep.

I’m not one of these blind parents who is incapable of seeing that kids can be annoying and I hate clueless parents who fail to control their children as much as anyone else. I know that kids can be disruptive and downright infuriating and I recognize that some businesses, especially intimate bed-and-breakfasts, aren’t a good choice for families with young children. But I think that most children are pretty well behaved and the adults-only movement is a kind of collective punishment that penalizes parents who do a good job with their kids.

Even before I had kids of my own, I never felt the need to seek out hotels that ban children. For me, kids are an integral part of the world and I wouldn’t think to try to avoid them any more than I’d try to avoid birds or squirrels or any other living thing.

I don’t tend to take these kinds of trips, but if people want to spend a week sitting by the hotel pool and can’t bear the thought of having kids splashing about, then by all means, go to an adults-only resort. I certainly wouldn’t legally compel all businesses to welcome children, but I find the ban-kids trend a little misguided and indicative of how intolerant and self-absorbed we’re becoming as a society.

I’ve noticed when we bring our kids to other countries, like Mexico and Greece, for example, that they are valued, cherished and fussed over. Those societies still view children as a blessing, not a nuisance. Yes, there are unbearably annoying kids out there, and we’ve all sat near crying babies on planes, but in most cases, it’s their clueless parents who are to blame. And if you’re looking for R & R, watch out for youth sports teams, wedding parties and drunks, not little kids.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara, Pink Sherbert on Flickr]