How to make those teen-parenting years and family vacations fun for the teens in your life, as well as the adults.
Since those who woke up at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius began discussing retirement funds, and gray hair graced TV commercials, the travel industry has discovered that Baby Boomers take more trips than any other demographic. Yet, as America's affluent boomers age, travel professionals see the real money in Boomers' children and grandchildren — the 2 to 14-year-olds who are estimated to influence more than US$188 billion in parental spending annually.
Whether it's the early arrival of puberty (14% of Caucasian girls and nearly 50% of African American girls develop breasts or pubic hair by age 8, reports Time magazine) or kids' enormous financial clout, children are seen and heard louder than ever before.
It's a Small World
According to a 2009 study done by Forrester Research, 30% of teens agree with the statement " My family always takes into account my opinion about household purchases, including vacation". Forrester Research predicts more than 17 million 16- to 22-year-olds will be spending more than $6 billion online in the near future, has found experienced Web surfers more likely to research travel online than through any other medium.
This is important in light of tough economic times that have hit the travel industry where it hurts. In 2008, PBS's Nightly Business Report noted that markets that cater to teens are"better insulated" than other markets. The travel industry has taken note that parents tend to sacrifice for themselves before they sacrifice for their kids.
What travels are teens, in particular, most interested in? Laura Sutherland, noted author of several travel guides including the recently published "Tropical Family Vacations" says, "It seems that teens want to go to Hawai'i while their parents want to get them away from narcissistic tanning and ogling other teens in bikinis — and off to more industrious pursuits. That's why I think adventure trips work well for this age group."
Resorts Vs. Roughing It?
Bill Crawford, former VP of Travel Services for the adventure travel megasite Away.com, explains, "Requests for family adventure trips are always interesting because parents want to please everybody. That's why we recommend multi-sport trips, which typically include horseback riding, rafting, hiking and biking, so active families can do something new every day."
Among the recent 'families-only' trips in Away.com's inventory of 10,000 adventures, he suggests river rafting as being able to accommodate a wide range of skill and fitness levels. "Kayaking, or combo trips such as beach time and nature observation in Costa Rica, are popular for families with teens because they can handle more than younger children."
YP&B's survey found that instead of roughing it in the rain forest, more than 70% of teens wanted to stay in the best hotels and visit a place they had never been to. The ultra-posh Half Moon Bay Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica (pictured at left) fits the bill on both accounts, and according to Myrtle Dwyer, Director of Sales, approximately 30% of the resort's guests do bring teens with them. "Half Moon is a very sports-oriented property, so teens tend to participate." Guests can choose between volley ball, tennis, croquet, horseback riding, biking, watersports and golf , which Ms. Dwyer notes, "has become very popular among the teens."
Supervision = Teens
At the Smuggler's Notch family resort in Vermont, supervised teen programs are as important to parents as the expertly staffed nursery and children's camps. "Our guests made it clear that they felt their children younger than 13 weren't mature enough to be with older teens," explains Public Relations Director Barbara Thomke. "We recognized a need in this under-served age group, and now divide our programs by age into 11-14s and 15-18s."
Program Directors agree that activities for older teens are most successful in a group environment. Smugglers Notch counselors, who range in age from 21-35, focus on helping kids join ski and snowboard group lessons, or try the organized rock wall, hiking and boating activities, especially when families first arrive.
"Our staff is there to get teens involved," says Activities Director Priscilla Emerling, who noted that more than 50% of all teens on property do join. "We think it's very important to provide something interactive for them," she adds, "not just keep them occupied with a movie." At the suggestion of participants in the annual Teen Forum, Smuggs has also opened a supervised club where those who don't want to participate can just hang loose.
"Teens really like the freedom of cruising," says Candyce H. Stapen, author of the encyclopedic "Cruise Vacations with Kids" and a mom who appreciates a ship's safe and controlled environment. "I give my son and daughter times to check in, or leave a note for me in the cabin, so they can enjoy their friends and the freedom, but I can monitor them."
Carnival, Disney, Princess and Royal Caribbean International are among the major cruise lines with teen-only hangouts (café-style lounges) and some organized programs during the peak Christmas, spring break and summer family sailings. Ms. Stapen rated RCI's megaships, including Explorer of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas tops for teens and for family facilities, such as a rock climbing wall, skating rink and basketball court.
"These ships offer a well laid out teen room with a juice bar, several conversation areas and a dance floor, where teens really have a wonderful 'excuse' for opening up and talking to someone new. My second choice would be Disney's ships, which have designed slew of activities that require teens to work together and a teen-only dance cruise outing that is a big hit."
Québec's Mont Tremblant ski and summer resort is an ideal destination for families with younger teens, who may rebel when stricter rules apply on the road than at home. At Tremblant, parents comfortably allow "tweeners" and teens to independently roam the European-style, pedestrian village at the mountain's base, where a large, pirate-themed indoor pool, minigolf course, numerous shops, patisseries, cafes, bars and even a movie theater provide safe amusements. Althought Tremblant has experimented with a mountainside teen lodge for evening après-ski fun, a spokesperson comments, "Everybody joins as they wish," because the most important ingredient in the success of any teen program is "being cool."
Families Like Togetherness
A trend noted throughout the industry is the interest in 'family-together' activities. At Half Moon, the golf, tennis and watersports staff are charged with organizing inter-generational activities. Ms. Dwyer adds, "Parents can also go with teens on island tours, because Jamaica is beautiful."
Beaches Resorts, noted by FTF for excellent baby and childcare facilities at their properties in Negril, Jamaica and Turks & Caicos, has something new for families with teens over 16-years: an all-inclusive vacation experience focusing on action-packed sports. At Beaches Grande Sport Resort and Spa, parents enjoy complimentary access to Sandals Golf & Country Club or relax on the beach while teens connect with other kids trying their hands at rock-climbing, scuba diving or mountain-biking. There are so many activities to choose from, parents may end up taking a yoga class or windsurfing clinic with a daughter or son.
In addition, the Beaches properties in Negril and Turks & Caicos are always upgrading their video arcades and looking for new ways to improve teens' resort experience.
Programs at Smuggler's Notch provide family challenges with teen/parent ski and snowboard lessons; team-building activities; and parent/teen competitions such as Night Spiker Volleyball, which relies on Day-Glo body paint to identify teams.
In Mont Tremblant's unstructured atmosphere, spokesperson Isabelle Blanchet says families find parent-teen interaction easiest when everyone's involved, either in sports, ski or snowboard lessons, or less strenuous pursuits such as deer observation. Kids seem to enjoy any family-together activity; YP&B's study found that even though 91% of children age 8-17 claimed 'best friends' were the top traveling companions, eight out of 10 found the family vacation experience worth repeating.
Encourage Teen Involvement
What do the experts recommend when dealing with surly, shy or reluctant teens? They are unanimous about getting kids involved in travel planning and trip preparation. Brochures, pre-departure kits, videos and Internet research can help teens feel confident about a new destination; reviewing rules, expectations and group dynamics is also recommended.
At Club Med's teen facilities (called Passworld at most of their all-inclusive family resort villages), teen guests are left welcome notes by counselors to encourage attendance, and the disco opens early to teens only. Teens-only lounge spaces have group games like billiards and foosball so teens can informally spend time with other teen guests they would like to meet.
On Holland America Cruise Line's Alaska itineraries, families are encouraged to enroll children above 13 on HAL's unique teens-only shore excursions. Adds one counselor, "If I can get them to join our group, even for a day, then I've got them hooked. And if they're interested in romance, they'll use teen activities like a dating service."
Candyce Stapen agrees, "Encourage your teen to show up for the first two or three events; friends and cliques are made quickly." How does she do it? "Sometimes, bribery works."
Mr. Crawford advocates sharing an adventure. "While the groups are certainly organized, families are not usually spending 12 hours a day together. At a client's request, we'll find out the composition of a group before departure. Often, there are other teens — and they do have a tendency to gravitate toward each other."
From Ms. Dwyer and the island whose slogan is "No Problem" comes the following advice: "If your children do not want to join any organized activity, just leave them be… They will still have fun."
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.