At 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 5: Technology and Family Travel: More Than Just Texting and Selfies
The technological advancements of the past 10 years have changed just about everything, including the character of family time, and the nature and importance of family travel. On the one hand, parents and adults rely on technology for both work and play, and kids and teens are digital natives for whom being connected has become a human need; they’re part of a generation that never knew a world without it. On the other hand, family time is eroding as attention devoted to browsing, texting, searching, Instagramming, posting, tweeting, blogging and vlogging increases. While the quantity of family time evaporates, family vacations therefore become all the more important for the quality time they allow.
Photo via Flickr, Claude Robillard
Making Travel Marketing Matter
Technology’s impact on family travel is felt in every possible way, from planning and booking to the actual experiences. Of particular interest today is how children are more influential than ever in making important vacation decisions. Approximately one in three U.S. millennial parents currently allows their kids to have full control over the final choice of destination, according to a recent survey by Home Away and YouGov. Children have gone from the back seat to the front seat in holiday planning, and their technological savviness is a big driver of that shift. The benefit, of course, is that kids are more invested in their vacations ahead of time and everyone gets the most out of them.
While kids are playing a bigger role in travel planning, travel providers are all but ignoring them with the marketing and promotional content they create, defaulting to the adults who pay for it all. Instead, travel providers really need to tailor their content to all audiences – kids, adults and different kinds of families. Interestingly, according to a recent study Google conducted with Ipsos MediaCT, two out of three U.S. consumers watch online travel videos when they’re thinking about taking a trip, and YouTube data shows that travelers are spending more time reviewing online videos than ever before, with views of travel-related content up 118% year over year. With video as a medium easily accessible by all family members, marketers need to segment their content to the interests of the children, as well as the parents, to create stronger engagement.
A child uses Bound Round, which creates interactive travel apps and content for kids.
Connectivity Is Key
Connectivity and social media have made the world a lot smaller and more accessible than ever. Travel to a foreign country is even more manageable, too – more informed, less stressful and fuller of richer experiences. In fact, the world is literally in the palms of our hands with apps for anything and everything needed on vacation, from finding a flight and knowing what to pack to translation, currency conversion, local maps and the best restaurants.
But with nearly one in four teens saying they are online “almost constantly” according to a Pew Research Study conducted this year about Teens, Technology and Social Media, the challenge is how to use that connectivity to stay alert to and learn about the real world while on vacation.
Kids need connectivity everywhere these days, even in campgrounds. Photo courtesy of Kampgrounds of America
For instance, one in 10 kids under the age of 10 has a mobile phone; this increases to six in 10 by the age of 13. Mobile devices are practically an appendage of older teenagers. This puts the world at their fingertips. With mobile phones now more cameras and social media sharing devices than actual phones, and with social media serving as an important catalyst for demanding, creating and sharing memories on vacation, this can be turned to everyone’s advantage.
Think of it this way: today more than ever, consumers use social media to chronicle and celebrate their family vacation memories – incredible meals in off-the-beaten-path local restaurant, amazing sunrises or the thrill of once-in-a-lifetime moments. In our social world of humble brags, families want less predictable and more unique experiences. Travel providers can and should therefore leverage this desire, broadcast via social media, and provide quality, interesting and authentic experiences and social moments for families, knowing that they will be shared. More critically, these are the kinds of experiences that will make children put down their devices and take notice. And they’re the kinds of experiences that local hosts favor, as they place value on qualities prioritized by local communities.
Photo via Flickr, Intel Free Press
Given the erosive effect of technology’s impact on family time at home, family vacations are more important than ever; however, technology needs to enable and elevate the making of memories, not compete with it. That may mean putting children in the holiday-planning drivers’ seats or making them the experience guides or videographers. The important thing is to engage the family in all aspects of the vacation as a way to ensure the experience is richer than just a week full of texting and selfies.
Let us know your thoughts and ideas. The Family Travel Association is looking to gather ideas and opinions in an effort to push beyond texting and selfies in family travel.
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.
Kara Wallace is Vice President, North America Marketing at Royal Caribbean International.
For more essays in our FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel series, click on the topics below.
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