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 12: It’s Time to Double Down on Family Travel
Learned professionals may get paid to forecast business climates in the future, but I wouldn’t necessarily bank on their answers. That’s not to take anything away from their analyses and best guesses, but in today’s world, where terrorism, health scares, natural disasters, and ever-increasing airfare fees can wipe out travel plans practically overnight, I find it hard to rely on many predictions.
That being said, there are trends worthy of review that can serve as guideposts for prognostication.
What Do We Know Today?
One thing we reliably understand is that family/multigenerational travel is growing. A lot. Right now, from 33-40% of all leisure travel includes some form of family travel. These are numbers that have sustained it as one of the biggest growth segments in the entire travel industry for the last decade. One reason why is the increasing number of grandparents traveling with their grandchildren, both with and without their own children – their grandchildren’s parents – tagging along. As the senior population continues to grow and maintain healthier and more active lifestyles than ever, these numbers are likely to grow.
But I see psychographics, not demographics, as the real factor in determining if and how much family travel will grow in the years ahead.
The Family Travel Association was founded, in part, because even though family travel is hot right now, we believe there’s lots of room for growth. For all the parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles currently traveling with their kids, there are just as many who are not.
With this in mind, I believe that today, right now, is precisely the time to double down on family travel. Besides the not-so-inconsequential detail that America looks to be lagging behind the rest of the developed world in producing world-ready workers, I’ve always maintained that not enough parents in the U.S. place the same priority on the value of travel as their counterparts overseas. This is a broad generalization, of course, and yet there does seem to be a consensus among strong voices in the industry with whom I have discussed this.
So to learn more about what’s really going on in this country when it comes to families and their travel habits and attitudes, the Family Travel Association joined forces with the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at New York University to take a snapshot of the market. What we got back was new and groundbreaking research into how families make travel decisions and the barriers they face in doing so, as well as how differently parents prioritize traveling with their kids.
What Did We Learn?
As we started sifting through the data, we noticed three distinct profiles for groups of family travelers. The first group, made up of what we call the ‘Hassle-Free Travelers,’ prefers travel options that require little effort and research. While they appreciate the value of travel, they are looking for travel options that can be booked and enjoyed easily. They are less likely to value travel over material possessions and least likely to take their children out of school to travel.
The second group, consisting of ‘Cautious Travelers,’ is more willing to spend time researching their travels, and – at least in theory – more ready to try a wider variety of travel options. In addition, they are more willing for their kids to miss school to travel. However, they worry about safety, hygiene, food options, finding appropriate activities for the children, and whether they are getting value for their money. Because of all these uncertainties, they tend to revert to ‘safe bets’ such as family-friendly hotels and theme parks. But because they feel that travel strengthens family bonds and makes children better global citizens, the members of this group seem sold on the value of traveling with their kids, even when they are not sure where to go and what to do, or are just too nervous to leave their comfort zones.
Finally, there are the ‘Intrepid Travelers.’ They tend to opt for new destinations each time they travel, are most likely to take the kids out of school for vacations, value travel over material possessions, and like to travel to different cultures and unusual destinations.
The Cautious Travelers were found to be the largest group in our survey.
What Does This Mean?
I submit it confirms that a significant chunk of the population is very willing to travel – and travel more with children – but is not going to do without help. These people are struggling to find meaningful information about where to go and what to do, need assistance finding travel options that have the experiences they are looking for, while offering value for money, and seek reassurance that their families will be safe while on the road.
I would even argue that this is great news, as it represents a tremendous opportunity for the industry. If we continue to nurture the Intrepid Travelers, help the Cautious Travelers with their concerns, and cater in new ways to the Hassle-Free Travelers, we could see an even more robust acceleration in the growth of family and multigenerational travel in the years to come.
So what is the future of family travel? I’ll officially predict that if consumers have easier access to information, get more inspired by all the wonderful opportunities available to them, learn more about why travel with children is so beneficial and can be transformational – not just recreational – and the industry helps simplify the process of planning/booking family travel, then this segment of the industry will continue to grow and expand in the years to come. You might even be able to bank on it!
Tell us what you think about the future of family travel. The Family Travel Association is keeping an eye on all the practices and trends, but wants to hear what you’ve got on your watch list too. Please share your feelings in the comments below.
Rainer Jenss is President and Founder of the Family Travel Association. Before traveling around the world for a year with his wife and two young children in 2009, Rainer Jenss was a Vice President and 13-year veteran of the National Geographic Society.
For more essays in our FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel series, click on the topics below.
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