Family Travel Trends For The Year Ahead - My Family Travels

Family Travel is no longer a travel niche; findings from the two Family Travel Conferences held in 2012 prove that this market, overlapping leisure and business travel, is bigger and more influential than ever before.

The more than 70 family bloggers and writers who attended Family Travel Conference Dallas from around the country agreed with Amy Foster , Disney Consumer Insight Director who reported  parents “are solving for many needs on vacation, including the desire to escape the stress of everyday and share fun time with each other. “
“Fun is not frivolous,” Foster said.  “It is a precious resource.”
With families taking more frequent but shorter vacations — over 100 million trips a year now include children — and spending billions of dollars in the process, parents are also more vocal, more demanding and more responsive to what travel businesses can do for them than ever before.
As the millennium epoch enters its teen years, no population segment has proven its strength and profitability as much as Family:

  • Moms control 2.4 trillion dollars in spending says Media Post.
  • Teens dole out $170 billion in allowance (double the amount in 2001) reports ABC News, for the latest in sneakers, clothing and tech toys.

Selling to the family is where it’s at. Here are the ways family travel experts Eileen Ogintz and Kyle McCarthy of Family Travel Consulting see 21st Century Families changing the travel industry.

Toddlers Rule the Travel Roost

Toddlers are the new teens.  In years past, everyone wanted to attract those hard-to-please teens but today, toddlers are seen as the key to building generations of repeat customers.

Social psychologist Susan Newman, author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day, suggests, “If parents establish a pattern a taking family vacations when children are young, children when they become tweens and teenagers will expect it and be less resistant. The vacation becomes a family tradition – and traditions build bonds and are the glue of family. Vacations are much like holidays in their importance and in the traditions they create within the family… young children will repeat them with their children.”
More than 37% of grandparents are vacationing with grandchildren, a trend that is especially evident at theme parks that are reaching out to multigenerational families with new family rides and attractions designed for toddlers — consider Carsland at Disney’s California Adventure and New Fantasyland at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. 

Multigenerational Travel is Golden

Multigenerational travel has taken the lead in the family market says AAA, Travel Weekly and other industry sources. 

Research suggests many trips spearheaded by grandparents are motivated by a family milestone—a major birthday, anniversary or graduation.  This is a huge potential market for the luxury brands and tour operators who can deliver memorable, mostly stress-free experiences.

This grand, well-funded and active group travels almost 25% more than the average leisure traveler and by all accounts, is bringing older and adult children along for the ride.  Not only is there an increase in demand for suites and connecting room configurations at all major hotel brands, but the Leisure Travel Monitor reports more than 2.5 million family reunion travelers stayed in a vacation rental they rented or owned during the past year.

This is the time to attract the new family traveler with multi-room lodging with multiple bathrooms, seamless handicap accessibility, and smart activities for all ages to enjoy together.

Cruise Industry Evolves Faster for the Family Market

More than 1.5 million children are now cruising every year says CLIA, with families representing a leading segment of the entire industry.  Over 750,000 children cruise each year just on Carnival ships.

We are seeing more innovation at a more rapid pace among cruise ships than in any other segment of the family vacation market.  Interactive artwork? High tech games? Stylish but compact  family suites? Innovative family activities for grandparents through infants?

Royal Caribbean has just signed a deal for its third Oasis class mega-ship, Disney Cruise Lines has brought its fleet to four family-friendly ships in just a few years, and Norwegian touts its family-friendly staterooms and suites.

With the industry continuing to roll out new super-size ships – at least 10 new ships are slated for 2013– the extra inventory means a new generation will be introduced to cruising through cheaper cruises on older ships, and grow up to covet the very best the industry can offer.

Health and Eating Equal Family Vacation Wellness

Thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama’s focus on childhood obesity and parents’ interest in healthier lifestyles, kids’ menus are undergoing a transformation like never before—from Denny’s to Four Seasons, Hyatt to Delta Airlines and of course to Disney World.

The food obsession of the average American family has culminated in a generation of parents who want an all-inclusive buffet to contain farm-to-table entrees and kids who prefer sushi to chicken nuggets.

Bravo to Disney Parks who are using their media clout to reduce the amount of junk food being pushed on kids (fruit or veggies with the kids’ meals instead of fries!) and hotels that are offering more imaginative and healthier menus for children and parents who don’t want a steady diet of pizza (unless it’s artisanal) or mac ‘n’ cheese (unless it’s Bobby Flay’s) on vacation. 

Mobile Connects Families on the Go to Travel Plans

Usage of cellphones and smartphones rose 35% from 2010 to reach 45%+ of all Americans, with younger adults surging well past this mark (95% of ages 18-29 and 96% of all undergraduates) says the Pew Research Center.

Moms are the original road warriors:  they organize, prepare, pack, transport and communicate with family members hundreds of times per week via email, texting, social media and smartphone.  The recent 2012 American Media Mom report from Baby Center and Neilsen found that moms are 38% more likely than the general population to own an Internet TV device (why spend good money on cable?), 28% more likely to use a tablet, and 38% more likely to own a smartphone. 

Tablets, up from non-existent just a few years ago, are now used by 25% of all Americans. Moms are using them largely for entertainment, to amuse themselves and plan the next vacation, or to entertain children who threaten to become bored.

Travel businesses that are not designing mobile and tablet-friendly sites, electronic brochures, and kids’ content will be relegated to talking to the great grandparents.

Moms Listen to Smart Mamas

It started five years ago with Snowmamas at Park City Mountain Resort and the Disney Parks Mom’s Panel. Now we are seeing Vail Resorts tout their Epic Moms and Hilton its Mom Voyage program. All are branded blogs packed with useful advice for vacationers written by moms and for moms.

The reality: Moms want to hear from other moms.  Moms want authentic content, not marketing speak. If the travel industry wants to court families, it must offer online content from other traveling families that is real, helpful and honest. 

“We’ve always had influence, now we’re learning how to use it,” observed blogger Jamie Pearson from at Family Travel Conference Dallas.

Celebrity Enters the Family Marketing Mix

Used to be that having a cute mascot was enough to drive a kids club and make you “family-friendly.” Then the super heroes arrived, popular cartoon characters from TV rose in prominence and, suddenly, Nickelodeon teamed with Marriott, Sesame Street moved into the Beaches Resorts and Dreamworks characters took over at Gaylord.

Social media usage has increased enormously in the past year, with Neilsen reporting that more than 52 million moms visited the top five social media sites in March 2012. Its impact on travel has grown too; 52% of travelers say they’ve changed plans after doing social media research (MediaBistro). The intimacy of social media gives celebrities more influence over where families go as it encourages families to “star” in their own vacations. 

When Justin Timberlake chooses Tanzania for his honeymoon and Kim Kardashian takes her kids to the Dominican Republic, moms – the family vacation planner in 75% of households according to our sites – know about it.  They care and they share. Destinations should multiply their free family photo ops to be assured of a place in the hearts, minds and Facebook streams of non-bold-faced family travelers.

Parents demand Educational Value and Authenticity

Education is back in fashion, and we don’t have to call it edutainment any more. 

Crayola funds creativity on Royal Caribbean ships, Fisher-Price supplies developmental toys to Loews Hotels and the World Wildlife Fund is behind animal-conservation programs at resorts around the world. 

Heritage and Culture were cited by 31% of teen travelers as the prime motivator of their travels, up from 25% just two years ago according to Family Travel Forum’s Teen Travel Trends 2012 report. Many are even giving up coveted spring breaks for service trips or academic seminars.

Offer authentic experiences for families, and parents and grandparents will applaud… and come back for more.

Travelers Want to Respect the Environment

Our kids tell us to turn off lights, recycle plastic, conserve water, stop subscribing to print publications. And after superstorm Sandy, more government leaders now believe that our climate has changed forever. 

Foresighted snow and summer resorts have been trying to become year-round vacation destinations for at least a decade, and we believe that 2013 is the year that families will start taking advantage of low-season discounts to enjoy these destinations in any weather.

We also believe more families are interested in traveling greener, looking to destinations and hotels that conspicuously care about their environment, whether by allowing visitors to reuse towels or recycle, having their own kitchen gardens or encouraging the use of refillable water bottles.

Volunteering is Big Family Activity

Hurricane Katrina, a Pacific tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, Fukushima nuclear meltdown, superstorm Sandy:  all are natural disasters that brought out the best in us in terms of helping our neighbors around the globe recover.

Each tragedy has spawned its own dark tourism niche, attracting travelers who want to give back in a more tangible way by volunteering (11% of traveling teens say they travel to help others), or just support a hard-hit destination, a community in a far flung country, or targetted areas of the natural world.

Family Travel Comes of Age in Travel Industry

Those of us who have been covering family travel since the 1990s were delighted with the success of two Family Travel Conferences, and Travel Media Showcase will be producing TMSfamily travel conferences in 2013. 

At both the New York and Dallas conferences for seasoned writers, bloggers, broadcasters and social media personalities, major sponsors such as Disney Parks, Orlando, Norwegian Cruise Lines and dozens of other industry standard bearers came to deliver their message and – more importantly – hear what those in the family travel space want to change.

That’s how we know that 2013 is the year family travel comes of age with actionable intelligence that the industry can use to create smarter products, and better sell them to discerning families.

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