Hotels Cater to Families in New and Unexpected Ways
Special kids activity menus keep kids learning at the Gaylord Hotels.
Hashtag Teen Lounge at Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen resort, Mexico.
The kids program at Conrad Maldives teaches basic scuba diving skills
Water play at the Conrad Maldives Resort in the Maldives.
Ritz Kids programs at Ritz Carlton begin with customized Checkin Guide.

From crab hunts to organic toiletries and vegan menus, hotels are catering to children like never before. The substantial growth in the family market, particularly in multigenerational travel, makes hotel investments in kid-welcoming staff, amenities and facilities a good investment.

In 2015, an Embassy Suites by Hilton survey found that nearly 40% of Millennial parents travel more than three times per year with their children and 82% wanted to travel with their kids even more. Although we found family programs as varied in scope as the hotel brands and rates we examined, the best ones feature a full schedule of creative activities – many of them free — so families can customize their daily activities, and have a more authentic experience at their destination.

Focus on Activity and Cultural Learning in Asia

Much of the most innovative programming is coming from the Asia Pacific region, where multigenerational groups stay longer at resort hotels than families in North America.

“We aim to exceed the high expectations parents have when they choose a hotel for their family vacation,” said Anka Twum-Baah, Vice President, Customer Loyalty & Content, Asia Pacific at Marriott International about MAX!, a diverse activity program Marriott Rewards just launched for children ages 5- 12 across all Marriott brands.

Drop-in activities are custom to each area and based on the four pillars of childhood: Be Active might mean pool games or Zumba lessons; Stay Curious is fed by cooking, robot-making and arts’n’crafts lessons; Go Explore leads to outdoor adventures; and Just Relax is just that, among the many diverse options at J.W. Marriott, Residence Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and other Asia Pacific brands.  These supervised programs are free for Marriott Loyalty program guests and little or no cost to others.

“With Marriott Rewards, Members enjoy the benefits of loyalty in ways that are most meaningful to them, in their everyday lives,” Ms. Twum-Baah added, “MAX! lets parents rest assured that their children’s sense of curiosity and desire to learn about their surroundings will be encouraged and celebrated.”

Suites, Kitchenettes Attract Families to Hilton Brands

At Embassy Suites by Hilton, whose two-room suites with sofabeds and kitchenettes, free breakfast, and evening reception are family favorites; cocktail napkins have been redesigned with tic-tac-toe and Sudoku puzzles.

Staff is being trained to assist families, and an online advice community, #PrettyGreat Family Travel Hacks, provides inspiration and tips.

Other Hilton brands such as Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites, Hampton and Home2 Suites have found that their standard perks such as spacious rooms, free WiFi, breakfast, fitness centers, pools, laundry rooms and grab-n-go lobby markets also attract families, leading many of the individual hotels to develop seasonal packages with additional kid-friendly amenities.

Springhill Suites Think Locally – Appeal with Authenticity

Almost all of the high style Springhill Suites by Marriott hotels follow standards for spacious rooms with sleeper sofa, drybar, fridge and microwave; plus a free hot breakfast. Many have a pool as well. And, like several other brands courting Millennial parents, they’re doing even more to attract travelers with children.

According to Loren Nalewanski, Brand Vice President, “Our guests -– about half leisure travelers — are always looking to take something away from their trips,” so franchisees are encouraged to customize public spaces. Guests can pose as surfers in front of a monster wave photo in the Springhill Suites San Diego Oceanside / Downtown lobby. Or, they can pick props and costumes of their choice and head out for designated scenic views on the pool deck, selected to show off the sunset and SoCal vibe guests will take home.

Kid-Focused Facilities at Holiday Inn Resorts

Holiday Inn Resort properties all feature KidSuites, fun sleeping alcoves within a guest room that have bunk beds, a TV, video games and a bit of privacy. As fun as these rooms are for all ages, the family travel pioneers at Holiday Inn are doing even more. In fact, the brand new 777-room Holiday Inn Resort Orlando Suites – Waterpark has just debuted one, two and three bedroom suites with a kitchenette, plus a 20,000-square-foot waterpark, poolside cabanas, and an on-site 4-D Theater.

All of the Holiday Inn Resorts offer a free, full-day supervised Kid’s Club with unique local activities, such as the option to learn surfing, swim in the big oceanfront pool with mermaids, or try sword fighting with pirates at the Holiday Inn Resort Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

At all Holiday Inns, kids ages 19 and under stay free in their parents’ room, and up to four kids 12 and under per room dine free. Grandparents are not forgotten -– seniors 62+ receive room discounts.

Apps and Environments to Attract Kids of All Ages

The upscale InterContinental Hotels & Resorts chain has developed a free “Planet Trekkers” app for iPhone in conjunction with National Geographic, so kids can explore their destination, play interactive games to discover wildlife, and upload photos they’ve taken. This fun tool is available to all families whether or not they are staying with the brand.

At the atrium-centric Gaylord convention hotels, families will have fun and learn something even if they never leave. The 63-acre Gaylord Palms Resort in Florida has three entertaining, educational and heavily themed zones in its atrium lobby. In The Everglades, meet baby alligator grunts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings; at Key West, study stingrays in the 161,000-gallon lagoon.  

Gaylord Palms “Extraordinary Kids Menus” have imaginative time-filler games including cultural word translations, a place to scribble your ideas on making the world a better place, and a seed-embedded star that can be planted in soil back home. The four hotels, with at least 1,400 rooms each, substantially lowers rates during dead business seasons, like between Thanksgiving and New Years, making them a good family option at the holidays.

Forward thinking resorts extend amenities to teens, too. At the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort in Mexico, the #Hashtag teen lounge is an airy loft packed with basketball, ping pong, bowling and board games, as well as a private mini theater with Netflix streaming access.

Destination Children’s Activity Programs

Ritz-Carlton took the lead two years ago with on-site children’s programs that are so special; families travel so their kids can experience them. Noted French oceanographic explorer Jean Michel Cousteau and his Oceans Future Society has designed exclusive resort activities, adapted locally, based on water, land, environmental responsibility, and culture.

Notes Donna McNamara, Senior Director & Global Brand Leader, The Ritz-Carlton and Ritz-Carlton Reserve, “This is a really immersive, meaningful experience for children.”  While kids ages 5-12 study coral reefs at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Hawaii; a property like the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain in Arizona features desert hikes, star gazing, storytelling, art and even menu items that help children appreciate the region’s local culture.

She recalled one family at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, whose girls returned from the Ritz Kids Mangrove Tour absolutely thrilled about seeing a butterfly –- an insect unknown in their native Iceland. “When parents know that their children are doing something fun, and learning something, and coming away excited and wanting to share it with you,” added Ms. McNamara, ”that engenders brand loyalty.“ This same resort has just renovated its Kids Club to emulate a historic Frontier Farmhouse, inspired by the traditional ranches and farms of Central Florida. As part of the immersive environment, a Florida Everglades habitat host some plants and small animals that would be found in the region. There’s even a wetlands with its own swamp.

Most of the luxury brands offer special guest experiences. At the Waldorf Astoria Park City in Utah, families bond over complimentary S’mores every night at outside fire pits. At the Hilton Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, the free IKA Kids Club offers beach games, Fijian craft classes and sulu tying, while the kids spa does henna tattoos and hair braiding for a fee.

Elevating Kids to Appreciate Adult Hotel Amenities

“More than two-thirds of our guests look at family programming when making hotel booking decisions; and increasingly, they value educational and cultural activities that promote outdoor play,” says Brian Povinelli, Global Brand Leader of the 400 Le Meridien and Westin Hotels & Resorts worldwide.

Westin Hotels & Resorts, known for a focus on wellbeing, greet kids with a travel journal to record crab hunting at The Westin Blue Bay Resort & Spa in Hainan, China, or SuperChefs cooking classes at many resorts. Furnishings in the totally revamped Westin Kids Clubs are made from responsibly sourced, recycled and low-impact materials; cartoon characters and plastic are out; gardening on a live wall is in.

At Le Meridien, another Starwood brand, Family Kids Clubs are little gems of mid-century modern design, reflecting the chain’s sophisticated French origins. Planning activities that draw out creativity, culture and curiosity, each property brings in local elements such as musical instruments kids can play, maps and language learning. In partnership with LEGO, resorts like Le Meridien Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Golf Resort & Spa host an Imagination Playground where kids can create their own place spaces.

Do Your Homework to Maximize Value

When it comes to supervised children’s programs, many parents don’t realize that states and foreign countries have different laws regarding child welfare that limit what resorts, even those within the same brand, can offer to guests. That’s why it’s so important to check with an individual hotel or resort about its unique facilities.

The Westin La Paloma in Arizona, for example, runs a supervised Westin Kids Club where children from 6 months-4 years are accepted for just $12 per hour. Being able to let baby nap in a group nursery while parents get a massage or play tennis is reason enough to book this resort over another.

Families love savings, too, so the announcement of a new global family package at the Westin and Le Meridien brands -– including free dining for under-12s, free kids clubs, discounted second rooms and the ability to book connecting rooms, based on availability -– is the most welcome news of all.


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