The second Family Travel Conference just wrapped up at the deluxe Omni Dallas Hotel. Family Travel Forum, along with TakingtheKids.com and Traveling Mom hosted more than 70 top media and industry leaders, 30% with kids in tow, for a weekend of sharing, discussion and learning at the state-of-the-art convention center hotel.
#FTCDallas, as the conference is known on Twitter, was a moment in the sun for family travel. Big brands reported that family vacationers want family-together time and unique experiences, then delivered on the research with a roster of new products. Family travel experts in attendance asked for easy, safe, structured vacations; healthy kids menus; smart kids clubs; and authentic local activities; providing sponsors with valuable feedback. From any angle, Family Travel Conference was a win-win event.
Family Travel is a Big Fun Business
Once considered an inconsequential niche of the U.S. travel economy, family travel today is the fastest growing segment of the leisure travel market, comprising more than 100 million trips annually. Eileen Ogintz of the syndicated column "Taking the Kids" presented hard numbers to the assembled mommy bloggers (plus a few men), journalists, broadcasters, social media luminaries and sponsors. Ms. Ogintz emphasized that 27% of families say children influence their vacation decisions, and that 37% of grandparents had traveled with grandchildren in the past year. "There is much the travel industry can learn from family travel writers to better meet the needs of 21st century families," she added in her closing remarks.
The travel industry was listening. As I watched the crowd smile at the depth of their own clout, Anne Tramer, VP of Corporate Communications of Omni Hotels and a major conference sponsor, acknowledged that she, too, had seen a surge in multi-generational travel to the hotel. Omni said they welcomed the dialogue with "family travel thought leaders" and, perhaps equally important, the buzz generated by event (#FTCDallas hashtag was trending on Twitter) as their Dallas hotel celebrated its first anniversary.
Video is Changing the Way Families Book Travel
According to Thinkinsights (January 2012), more than 30% of leisure travelers — and a whopping 68% of business travelers — watched a travel-related video in the past year. The first Family Travel Conference held at the Omni Berkshire Hotel in New York had focused on better travel writing. Recognizing that how families get information is changing, FTCDallas delved into better video. Speaker Genevieve Shaw-Brown from ABC News shared some of her broadcast segments, reminding the audience that you can only sell travel discounts — which her viewers love — in the context of a larger story. Travel Video Postcards creator Kaleel Sakakeeny and Valarie d'Elia, travel correspondent for the cable news station NY1, joined filmmaker Rob Burgos, head of New York's Full Circle Post, to school the assembled in production and help them cut videos shot at the conference.
Proclaimed @lucretiapruitt afterwards via Twitter, @newmediatravel – The *best* storytelling session I've attended in 5 yrs of conferences…
Generating videos and online press about Dallas' downtown rejuvenation — expansion of the Dart Rail line, Klyde Warren Park with its outdoor reading room, the Ross Perot Museum of Nature and Science — was only part of what attracted the Dallas C&VB to host the conference. Having the opportunity to understand how social media impacts vacation planners was another reason the cities of Ft. Worth and Grapevine hosted attending media on post-conference media visits.
Top Brands Stay Ahead of the Changing Family Market
Of course courting the family vacationer and the media outlets that serve them is standard procedure for most of the conference's major sponsors, including Disney Parks and Resorts, Disney Cruise Line and Visit Orlando. From their own research on the evolving needs of the family demographic, they shared the new family travel story.
- Moms and dads are saying that vacations are the best way to create memories that preserve the fleeting moments of childhood.
- Parents want to see see the world effortlessly on tours and cruises that educate and entertain kids.
- Multi-generational families like to explore familar destinations in new ways by visiting child-friendly museums and seeing shows.
"We were thrilled to share the magic of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts at the Family Travel Conference," said Michele Himmelberg, a public relations director at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. “It was great to meet face-to-face with these writers and bloggers who are influencing travel coverage across the country, particularly in social media.”
Stick Together, Help Each Other Grow is a Family Lesson
Utah's Park City Mountain Resort, well known for training Olympians including Shaun White, brought a snow machine and a bevy of Snowmamas to the FTCDallas breakfast. Social Media Manager Krista Parry was there to brand Snowmamas.com, a site featuring carefully selected bloggers as PCMR ambassadors, as the place families can go to get genuine snowsports advice. "Help your audience, do good," Parry urged during the "Using Social Media to Grow Your Brand" workshop.
Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler reminded attendees that social media is "about them, not about you." She urged the assembled travel experts to use social media channels to broadcast their expertise, benefit readers and viewers, and solve problems, not only to disseminate sponsored messages.
Be authentic, be truthful in your reviews, be helpful to your readers, followers, whatever audience you have… all were recurring points made by FTCDallas speakers working in all media.
The message is clear. Today's family travel planner has so much information available that travel media should be their gateway, the trustworthy content filter that delivers only the most useful advice to busy family vacation planners.
Shared Experiences, Healthy Foods, Value are What Families Want
At the media market that accompanied the conference, handsome knights from Medieval Times worked the room. Greyhound was eager to share news of their Greyhound Express Blue Fleet because 55% of their riders already are visiting family. DiscountCruises.com assured the mom media that what set them apart from online cruise booking companies was having live agents who offer trustworthy, customized advice.
Disney's star ambassadors, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, provided photo ops that charmed all ages, preserved the memories and, more importantly, provided fodder for hundreds of Facebook posts and tweets.
The Dallas Zoo reinforced the "Big D" slogan by catering an authentic chicken fried steak supper with a view of their elephant habitat. They "did good" by educating all ages about healthy eating, playfully, while a chef taught the kids how to make dessert popsicles of the same yogurt, granola and fresh berries the zoo feeds its primates. Travel Media Showcase and FTC conference producer Joanne Vero called the event a "home run" at delivering that unique, parent / child shared experience that today's family wants.
Family Travel Writers Feel the Love
The breadth of industry support beyond the family niche was an affirmation of this segment's maturity. Southwest Airlines grew their share of family traveler "Likes" by sponsoring the "Facebook and Pinterest" workshop, then showed off their terminal upgrade at Dallas Love Field. Galleria Dallas found value in showcasing the mall's role as a social hub for teens, young couples and families who come to dine and ice skate. Hyatt Resorts in the Hill Country, Travelguard insurance and others pitched their products and got feedback from family travel journalists.
The response was overwhelmingly positive on both sides of the aisle; attendees felt FTCDallas was time well spent, both for their own enrichment and for networking. "We've always had influence," noted TravelSavvyMom.com creator Jamie Pearson, "now we're learning how to use it."
Even family travel professionals who didn't attend took notice.
Wrote Amie O'Shuaghnessy of Ciao Bambino, who followed #FTCDallas via Twitter, "You've put together something useful for our blogging community and have also raised our exposure (and legitimacy) within travel at large. Bravo!"
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