Top 12 Family Travel Directions For The Year Ahead

Learning about wildlife with ACES
Learning about wildlife with ACES in Aspen CO

Where the luxury traveler leads, family travelers often follow.

From the yearning for curated experiences to small ship cruising, locavore cuisine and better technological tools, families – who used to be synonymous with cheap — are close behind luxury travelers in their demands.  In many ways we trained them, by putting luxury products on sale during a recession and inundating kids with the travel-styles of the rich and famous. Whatever.  The reason you’ll have to start paying attention to the family travel market is simple – there are many more of them than any other segment and as the definition of family expands, their numbers keep on growing.

Here’s a look at what Eileen Ogintz and Kyle McCarthy from Family Travel Consulting see as the 12 major factors influencing family vacation planners in 2014.

Collecting Experiences is the New Goal for All Ages

According to Ford’s second annual Social Behavior Study of Micro Trends, educated youth today want to collect experiences, not possessions. With free time in short supply, vacationers want to interact with local attractions, not just look at them.  Zip lines, kayaking, nature hikes or Segway tours are already a must on any itinerary, but nothing beats a unique learning activity for families. In response, Ritz-Carlton worked with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society to launch a new brand standard for Ritz Kids programming (ages 4-12) worldwide. The luxury chain promises activities such as searching for indigenous birds in the wild, exploring gardens for Food Fun, playing games to learn about various types of fish and learning about local cultures, myths and legends.  Grandparents tell us they want to share experiences with their grandchildren while they are able, rather than leave them money. We predict that families will pay for innovative new children’s programming as long as it accommodates parents and grandparents too.

Childcare Has Gone from Fun to Function

Parents expect hotels to provide childcare while they’re spending money at the spa or the golf course, but they don’t want their kids parked in front of a video all day, even if it’s free.  The top family resorts get that: Four Seasons Resorts and Disney’s Aulani on Oahu focus on culture; Vail’s Keystone Resort not only offers kids-free skiing all season but complimentary après programs families love.  We’re seeing more cooking classes, language lessons, gardening, and games to help children learn on-site, as well as family-together volunteer opportunities. We predict resorts will have to drop their fees for functional childcare programs – or use them as a value-add — to stay competitive.

Fitness Is a Travel Motivator Not an Activity

It used to be that travelers wanted to work out on vacation to work off the large volumes of food they ate. Not any more says JWT, in their Annual Trends Report for 2014  — fitness is a travel motivator and that includes families. Citing new offerings in “sight-running,” they highlight companies from Barcelona to New York City, along with dozens of apps that enable joggers to appreciate the local sights they run by.  Families are opting for vacations based on what they can do at a destination, whether it’s hiking or mountain biking, joining a holiday 5K stroll, or learning how to stand-up paddleboard. Loews Hotels are offering supervised recreation programs at their resorts, One&Only offers kids’ yoga and Kimpton Hotels has put hula hoops into their fitness rooms so kids can work out while their parents do.   In an exclusive with Taking the Kids, First Lady Michelle Obama encourages families to be active on vacation.  We predict families will expect their youngest children to embrace active vacations and seek out resorts that offer quality instruction and recreation options. 

Sampling the local foods
Sampling the local foods

Food Obsessions Skew Younger, with Kids Demanding Healthy & Interesting Dining Options

Thanks to campaigns against childhood obesity, many restaurant chains and hotels have added healthier choices to their children’s menus, and some have gone much farther. Hyatt, who led the foodie pack with an Alice Waters kids menu, has evolved a “For Kids By Kids” initiative of favorites selected by kids, into a program running recipe contests in which families design healthy breakfast entrees for a chance to win a Hyatt vacation and a place on the kids’ menu.  At J.W. Marriott Hotels, children can personalize their dining by mixing and matching options from a healthy children’s menu. When MediaPost surveyed hospitality industry marketers about their 2014 wish list, the majority wanted “branded, upgraded food and beverage outlets” to meet the needs of the new wave of foodie travelers.  There’s no turning back. We predict that family travelers will pay more to avoid unhealthy, mediocre food given a choice.

Cruises Will Diversify to Cater to Families in New Ways

Cruise vacations will continue to grow in popularity for family travelers because of their cost, efficiency in planning, and understanding of the needs of different age travelers. Already, well over a million children cruise every year and those numbers continue to grow. Lines like Disney, Norwegian and Royal Caribbean who are pioneering entertainment at sea will grab the biggest share of families because they are best able to engage with teens, offer supervised activities for the youngest cruisers, and sell multi-bedded family staterooms on their mega ships.  More affluent families and repeat cruisers are trading up to small ship adventures, such as with Lindblad Expeditions, or new river cruise sailings specifically targeting families. We predict families will become a big market for many new styles of cruising as itineraries and homeports become more diversified.

Families Demand Technology to Simplify Travel Planning

After the 2013 TMS Family Travel Summit found that family travelers wanted better booking tools to simplify their trip planning, Google and other technology giants stepped in.  Best Western and Carlson Rezidor have both announced pilot programs to leverage the newest Google applications available to the travel industry to easily search for and compare hotels; view the hotel virtually before booking; and streamline the payment procedure. Both major companies are working with Google Hotel Finder to offer their rooms in comparison with competitors based on a geographic search and other parameters the traveler can choose.  Selected hotel rooms can be booked through the interface using Google Wallet, a virtual credit repository, without having to return to each brand’s website.  Google Business Photos is a commercial version of the popular Street View, which takes travelers into hotels to show them public spaces as well as rooms.  Together with Google Indoor Maps, families can select rooms nearest the elevator or those with more floor space for a crib. We predict busy families will bypass clunky old travel websites to seek out the latest in responsive, timesaving planning and booking tools online.

Have Smartphone Will Travel
Have Smartphone Will Travel

No One Wants an Unplugged Vacation Anymore

According to a 2013 Harris Interactive Survey conducted by Skype, parents with children under 18 living at home are almost twice as likely to split their holiday time with different sides of the family as those without kids, requiring travelers to stay in touch with family even when they’re traveling with family. WiFi is also a necessity for young parents who rely on the Internet to plan vacations, store their itineraries and download entertainment; and for teens who have homework and need to update their status. The 2013 MMGY Portrait of American Travelers found that 78% of families preferred WiFi at a hotel vs. 50% who opted for a children’s program. We predict families – with every family member using a different device  — will demand fast, cheap connectivity and try digital detoxification on their own terms.

Family Life is the Original Collaborative Consumption

Camping, picnics, family reunions, house swaps and timeshares are only a few of the ways families have taken their sharing lifestyle with them when they travel. But in a year when the car-sharing service ZipCar was purchased by Avis Budget for $500 million, when Hertz 24/7 and Enterprise CarShare were launched, and when we learned that the top New York City hosts at the room-for-rent company AirBnB were making more than $400,000 per year with this side business, the term “collaborative consumption” took on new meaning. We predict families will welcome collaborative consumption models to solve for vacation expenses such as childcare, group excursions and local activities.

Visual Education to Go is the Next Normal

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) are growing in popularity for advanced learning wherever and whenever students please.  Video-based homeschooling and curriculum enrichment software are being embraced as a way to supplement children’s experiences. Families are going online and buying apps to research their destination’s attractions, and augmented reality is extending to more and more museums and monuments, making families better educated travelers than ever before. Destinations and museums must provide in-depth content to satisfy their visitors’ curiosity, with more emphasis on visual learning through images and videos. We predict that families will be major adopters of the new technology when Google Glass and other wearable smart devices fall in price.

Kids Influence on Vacation Plans Grows Exponentially

The TMS Family Travel Conference shared the news that 54% of parents admitted that their children were a major influence in selecting the family vacation.  But just half a year later, another survey conducted by IHG (parent company of Holiday Inn and other popular family brands) found that almost nine-in-ten parents said their kids’ preferences are influential when choosing a vacation destination. The travel industry is catching on to what parents and grandparents have long known: If the kids are happy, the adults are happy.  We predict that marketers will finally get the go-ahead to target children, with social media leading efforts to influence ever-younger consumers.

The Drews family, kids and grandparents.
The Drews family, kids and grandparents.

Multigenerational Travel Will Get Bigger and More Demanding

More than 30% of grandparents who travel say they’ve taken grandchildren on a trip in the past year, often one they’ve hosted. According to the latest research presented by the Harvard Business Review, ties between Millennials (born between 1977 and 1997) and their parents are even stronger than for other generations. The HBS blog notes that 61% of U.S. Millennials name parents as the most influential people in their lives, 36% still live with parents, and all businesses should join forward-thinking companies like LinkedIn in hosting “Bring Your Parents to Work Day.” Recent marketing research from D.K. Shifflet indicates that well-traveled and highly educated Millennials will be the most demanding customers ever seen, so just imagine when they have their parents in tow! We predict that destinations which work now to exceed multigenerational expectations, can lead this huge new market.

New Travelers from New Nations Will Impact Family Destinations

The top travel companies are rushing to greet new international guests coming from China (the Chinese outspent every other nation on travel in 2013), Russia, India and Brazil among many other nations. These travelers often come on guided tours with multigenerational families.  As America’s travel product evolves to meet the needs of international travelers it will become less provincial, more multicultural, interactive and engaging in visual ways. All these paths align with the latest teaching methods and will bring more of America’s great treasures to the attention of families – a real gift for our next generation of travelers.  We predict those destinations that can connect with these international multigenerational groups will win over domestic family travelers as well.

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