Learning and living.
Since the kick-off Sunday, conference participants have taken part in a series of sessions designed to address current trends in family travel, and engaged in a variety of activities to give them a sense of the family travel activities in this part of Southern Arizona.
Along the way, everyone’s understanding of family travel has grown. They’ve also had a ton of fun.
Day 2 of the FTA Summit began with a keynote speech from Caroline Shin, the CEO and co-founder of Vacatia. This relatively young company specializes in helping travelers book rooms at resort residences, instead of at traditional hotels or vacation rentals.
A short Facebook Live interview with Caroline Shin
Shin noted that the larger accommodations are perfect for families because they provide greater space and top-notch services… often for comparatively less than at an equivalent hotel.
“Families don’t have to choose one or the other with these,” she said. “They offer the best of both worlds – the space of a home and the services of a hotel.”
Following the keynote, summit attendees fanned out to participate in two rounds of intimate breakout talks. The first round offered discussions on understanding millennial travelers, getting families to spend more time outside, global vacations, and the evolution of the sharing economy. The second round comprised panel talks about diversity/inclusion in family travel, the unique experiences of dude ranch vacations, and the benefits of guided tours. Every session was packed; some were standing-room-only.
Before lunch, attendees returned to the main conference hall for a panel discussion about the modern experience of travel agents. This panel was composed of Kenneth Shapiro, editor-in-chief of TravelAge West, a publication that serves the travel agent set, and three travel agents: Cari Gray, Nancy Damieneas and Sally Black.
Among the points this quartet made:
- Despite the rise in OTAs, families are still seeking help from travel agents at a consistent clip.
- Travel agent customers take longer trips and spend twice as much.
- Booking through travel agents is a great way to connect with trusted tour operators.
- Family traveler interest in resort kids’ clubs is on the rise.
Shapiro added that flying is one area of family travel in need of major improvement, noting that often when families return from a vacation, the airline experience is one of the only negatives they have.
“Word of mouth is such a big part of spreading the word about family travel, yet when you talk to families after they get back from a trip, the first thing they’ll do is tell you how horrible airline experience was,” he said.
Sally Black, who also serves on the FTA Board of Advisors, agreed.
“We have to convince customers to pay and upgrade to avoid hassles,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with training and education and expectation for our clients.”
The travel agent panel discussion was followed by a presentation from one of the event sponsors, MSC Cruises. Then, after lunch, summit attendees split into groups to enjoy activities around the Tucson area: hiking at Sabino Canyon in Saguaro National Park East; riding horses at White Stallion Ranch; visiting the Mini Time Machine museum, a museum of miniatures. Other activities included cooking classes and SCUBA instruction (by PADI) in the Westin pool.
Attendees returned to the hotel to freshen up and catch busses into downtown Tucson for a dine-around at seven of the city’s best restaurants.
The third and final day of the FTA Summit started with a celebration of one of our own. FTA founder Rainer Jenss named Margo Peyton, Founder and President of Kids Sea Camp, as the first annual FTA Person of the Year.
Next, Bill Street, Corporate Curator of Conservation and Education for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, took the stage for the last big keynote. Street’s talk focused squarely on conservation: why it’s important, how travel companies can teach kids about it, and how parents and grandparents can extend and amplify the lessons at home.
“The younger generation will be responsible for fixing many of the global problems we face today,” he said. “If youth and families aren’t connecting to nature today, how do we expect them to want to deal with these issues in the future?”
Street closed his talk by telling the audience about SeaWorld’s “Youth Council,” a group of young people which SeaWorld mines for feedback and ideas and suggestions about the future. The mention of this strategy touched a nerve with the crowd, especially when Street asked for a show of hands from others tapping youth opinions, and only two attendees raised their hands.
A short Facebook Live interview with Bill Street
“Getting the opinions of young people is critical,” said Street, who noted the current council has more than a dozen youth members from all over the country. “Often they share ideas and impressions we grownups never even would have thought about.”
Following Street’s keynote, attendees split up into activity groups and again fanned out around the Tucson area.
After lunch back at the resort, attendees participated in an industry charrette, an open-mic opinion-sharing process during which they broke into small groups to find solutions to the challenge of how to inspire families to travel more. This was followed by a Media Meet-Up when travel companies in attendance sat down and met with the 40+ trade and consumer media representatives.
Finally, as a glimmering final hurrah, the FTA Summit concluded with a “cowboy cookout” dinner at Tanque Verde Ranch. Everyone celebrating a successful event, a second consecutive year of positive energy and participation.
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