In a discussion that was recorded for an episode of the recently launched Family Travel Radio, three experts at our 2018 Summit discussed the benefits of families visiting emerging destinations.
According to the 2018 Family Travel Survey, only 22 percent of U.S. families have ever taken a multi-day international vacation, while 32 percent were interested in taking such a trip in the future.
Travel experts representing three of the world’s emerging international destinations said that these families are missing out on amazing experiences for their children to both learn about their world, and connect with foreign cultures to broaden their minds and give them a more global perspective.
The panel discussion, led by moderator Aaron Schlein, producer of the recently launched FTA podcast Family Travel Radio, helped summit attendees explore both the challenges and rewards for families, and how to promote them to their readers and their clients.
Ryan Connolly, Co-Founder, Hidden Iceland, enjoys leading families on tours of the country’s glaciers.
“When you’re traveling across the Drake Passage, and your sea captain says this area ten years ago was all glaciers, and now we’re traveling through it unencumbered, you think ‘wow, climate change is real and it’s happening already,’” said Connolly, who has traveled to all seven continents.
“Where else in the world can you be walking on a moving glacier in one moment, then be putting your hands into the cracks of a volcano and still feeling the warmth from when it erupted in 1973,” he said.
When children are learning in school about volcanos, “it’s much better for them to be standing on an actual volcano and seeing this is how the earth is created,” Connolly said. These kinds of family travel experiences “change [children] and bring families closer together.”
Zimbabwe, said Jared Alster, Vice President of Marketing, Cox & Kings, “is one of the most amazing destinations for all travelers. It has amazing lodges, friendly locals, and the best trained guides. It’s really cool and different.”
“It’s about being outdoors and being active,” he said, “and wonderful for older kids” with the Big Five [elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, and cape buffalo] on wide display all across the country.
A bonus is that “a lot of the travel within Zimbabwe is by bush plane, so kids get to sit in their own plane to hop and skip around the country.”
Destinations like Cuba are even closer than Iceland and Zimbabwe, but still present a way of living and culture very different from what most American children have seen, said Chad Olin, CEO & Founder at Cuba Candela. His company produces custom itineraries for both couples and families.
“There are convertible car rides. You can soak in the vibrancy of the old city where music is coming out of every corner of every street,” he said. And now is the best time in history to visit Cuba, especially for families,” said Olin, because many Americans are confused by new U.S. Treasury Department rules about travel to Cuba.
“There is a window where it is a secret destination again, but that is not going to last forever,” said Olin.
Don’t let uncertainty inhibit discovery
Based on his experience traveling all over the world, Olin advises parents not to feel anxious about taking their children to an international destination. “Human beings all over the world are inherently good. And I saw that from the hills of Tibet to the islands of Cambodia. If you smile at someone anywhere in the world, odds are they are going to smile back and receive you warmly,” Olin said.
During the boom years of 2015-16, so many tourists were going to Cuba’s tobacco growing region, that they were showing up without proper accommodation. On one occasion, “the Cubans banded together, and they activated beds in Cuban family homes, even though they weren’t allowed to rent to foreigners.”
He described how some travelers had to sleep in the main town plaza, “and the locals stood watch overnight. Cuban hospitality struck me from the beginning,” said Olin, who noted that Cuba was recently named safest country in the world at a tourism conference in Madrid.
One of the greatest misperceptions most parents have about Iceland is that it will be extremely cold to visit, Connolly said, though it typically has the same average temperatures as New York City. “Generally people think Iceland isn’t accessible during the winter off months. But if you can handle New York city, you can handle Iceland,” he said.
Zimbabwe has had to overcome American fear from the years of political turmoil under the dictator and leader Robert Mugabe, who was forced to resign in late 2017.
Today, Alster said, Zimbabwe is a very safe place, with the same U.S. State Department risk rating as Mexico. Zimbabwe has “come out of this cloud, and they need our help to get their economy back to where it was,” he said. The country is “safe for families of all ages,” Alster said.
Connolly said that many families also may be reading travel stories that say Iceland is overcrowded with tourists.
“My view on it is there is a bit of bottle neck” if a family is following the large groups tours around “The Golden Circle,” looping about 185 miles from Reykjavík into the southern uplands and back. While his company will take clients there, Hidden Iceland works with locals farms, and “guides who were teenagers when the boom started. Those adults are now building guest houses, and taking people where it isn’t crowded.”
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