FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel > The Changing Faces of Family Travel

FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel > The Changing Faces of Family Travel

Posted on July 2, 2015   •   Written by

FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family TravelAt the end of September this year, the Family Travel Association is hosting its first annual Summit at the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana. Over the course of two full days, an assembly of industry executives and family travel experts will expand upon topics essential to a rounded understanding of the challenges we face today with family travel and the efforts we can make as an industry moving forward. In anticipation of that, we will count down the 12 weeks leading up to the Summit by spotlighting 12 core family travel topics to the public. Each week, we will publish an introductory essay written by an authority on the topic, which will open it up for public discussion. Following the Summit, we will initiate a 12-month process of digging much deeper into each of these topics, one per month. By the time we gather for the next Family Travel Association Summit in September 2016, we expect to have a much more powerful grasp of what’s at play in family travel.


TOPIC 1: The Changing Faces of Family Travel

Freedom from Want by Norman RockwellIn the fall of 2014, Tylenol launched an ad campaign, called For What Matters Most, in which Abigail Rockwell, the granddaughter of the great American painter Norman Rockwell, looks at “Freedom from Want” (pictured right), her grandfather’s famous depiction of the stereotypical American family, and comments that “Our definition of family is now expanding.” The video that follows presents a trio of modern visions in answer to the question “What would a Norman Rockwell holiday look like today?” They showcase multigenerational families that are Japanese-American, African-American and a “blended” group of four parents, including a gay couple.

“What matters most is family,” says Abigail Rockwell. “And that’s timeless.”

The just-released next step in Tylenol’s campaign, titled How We Family, continues the celebration of diverse families by showcasing same-sex and interracial couples, most with children.

And why not?! In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of the Constitutional guarantee of marriage equality for same-sex couples, the abundant truth is there for all of us to see: the face of families has changed enormously since Rockwell’s days. And with those changes has come a major metamorphosis in the faces of family travel.

Today’s Different Family Reality
Open most contemporary newspapers, magazines and brochures, and the majority of articles or ads targeting families still features a mother, father and their two children. In travel promotions, they’re smilingly and ably cavorting on a beach or admiring a recognizable attraction.

But who really clings to the notion that this is the way things are today?

What about the multi-generational family groups – where are the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the cousins? And what about the confusing extended and “blended” clans with foster or adopted children, step- and half children, and ex-spouses? Or, at the other extreme, single-parent families? And what about families with two dads or two moms? And families with parents of different races or hailing from different cultures? Or families where one or more members have special needs? Or “voluntary kin” households? Or any combinations of the above?

According to an article citing “The New American Family” in AARP: The Magazine from last year, “Family is changing. Divorce rates are high while, at the same time, new forms of cohabitation, rare back in 1970, are on the rise. These family ‘units’ include interracial marriages, same-sex partnerships and extended families living under one roof.”

Referenced in a long but fascinating article about “The Changing American Family” in The New York Times in 2013 is a study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, revealing that the number of gay couples with children had doubled in 10 years. In 2013, well over 100,000 same-sex couples were raising children. This is further supported by a very recent and comprehensive Travel Weekly Focus on LGBT Family Travel by Paul J. Heney (pictured below).

Writer Paul J. Heney, left, with his partner and kidsWriter Paul J. Heney, left, with his partner, Lance Jethrow, and children
Matthew, 8, and Joshua, 14, meet Mickey Mouse.
Photo courtesy of Paul J. Heney

All in all, as reported in the same New York Times piece, “Researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the transformations often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago.”

Lagging Behind the Travel Times
With all this exciting and tumultuous diversity in families, where is the awareness today that, by some estimates, fewer (some say far fewer) than half of families that choose to travel still conform to the Rockwellian stereotype? And that by marketing primarily to a diminishing minority, the industry is catering to an increasingly slim slice of an otherwise growing pie. Worse than that, why isn’t the industry encouraging greater awareness of the different dynamics and demands that accompany modern families, assuming a leadership mantle as it hooks into its share of a plainly lucrative market segment?

These questions cut to the heart of the challenges facing families interested in traveling together. And should be a call to arms in an industry sensitive to consumer demand.

These questions also form the foundation for what we will explore in the weeks and months ahead: where and how all kinds of families can find what they need to facilitate their travel desires and feel welcome wherever they go.


What do you think of the changing faces of traveling families? Do you see the travel industry rising to the challenge, now or in the future? What needs to be done? What needs to be undone?

Please share your feelings in the comments below or, for more interaction, on the Outbounding discussion board prepared specifically for us. And stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more articles about core family travel topics.


Ethan GelberEthan Gelber is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in responsible and sustainable travel practices, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. He is also the editorial director of the Family Travel Association.


For more essays in our FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel series, click on the topics below.

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4 responses to “FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel > The Changing Faces of Family Travel”

  1. SBP says:

    Like all other brands, travel companies can’t just market to the masses and expect to attract a diverse audience. The marketing needs to be contextually relevant.

  2. Ed Salvato says:

    I love seeing how the definition of family is finally catching up to reality of loving LGBT families like the one here. This family includes our writer Paul Heney who has covered his family’s adventures in ManAboutWorld magazine. To his his articles (in the section Go, Daddy!) use this link to obtain a FREE three month subscription to the magazine which is the world’s first gay travel publication uniquely for tablets and smartphones. http://bit.ly/MAWFree

  3. Great report, thanks, but I think one segment deserves more attention. According to 2010 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 16% of households in the “industrialized world” are headed by single parents. With that being 1/6 of the family travel market, it pays to cater to this segment too, with ice breakers, special activities and group meals for the adults and custom programming for the kids. Families are changing in every conceivable way and destinations and businesses that understand will win their market share.

  4. Bill H. says:

    While everyone should be treated with respect, I think it’s silly to highlight a gay couple with their kids and talk about the trends in the changing family. Homosexuality is such a small percent of the population, barely 2%, but you’d think it was 30 to 45% the way everyone is so willing to pander to such a small group of people.

    Since the Supreme Court’s ruling on making gay marriage legal, taking away the voice of “We the People” which always voted for traditional marriage, even in California…those in favor of plural marriages asked why they’re being treated like second class citizens. What?! You mean you can change the gender, but not the number of people getting married?! Of course I’m in favor of one man and one woman defining marriage. After 6,000 plus years, are we really supposed to believe that all of the sudden mankind has become “enlightened” to finally include same sex marriage as being a “good” idea for society.The kids in the above photo are being robbed of having a mom to help raise them. Frankly, that’s nothing to celebrate.

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