2015 Family Travel Association Summit Recap


Family Travel Association Summit Recap

Archives: 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

Letter from the President | Event Schedule | Presentation Line-Up | Summit Attendees | Gallery | Summit Presenters
About the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch


On September 30, after three days at the stunning Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Emigrant, Montana, the first annual Family Travel Association Summit ended on a high note and with high praise.

Nearly 80 attendees had listened to a dozen presentations and panels by 17accomplished speakers, learned about new family-travel research and enjoyed active outdoor networking sessions (yoga, hiking, riding horses, fly fishing and more).

Now we bring to you a chance to relive the 2015 Family Travel Association Summit – through session summaries, a photo galleryStorified tweets from the time of the Summit, the presentation slides used by the speakers and even some edited video footage (see below).

Feeling renewed, refreshed and inspired about family travel? Share your thoughts on social media (links above), via email or on several forum pages related to the topics covered during the Summit. And, of course, please share this with a friend!

Jump to: Rainer Jenss | Jim Pickell | Sarah Gavin | Wendy Perrin | Margo Peyton | Sarah Liaram | Randy Garfield | Toby O’Rourke | Richard Wiese | Heidi Mitchell, Bonnie Levengood, Lissa Harnish-Poirot, Jeremy Saum | Christopher Elliott | Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Rainer Jenss: Introduction

Rainer Jenss opened the inaugural Family Travel Association (FTA) Summit with a remembrance of Keith Bellows, the National Geographic Traveler editor who had joined our ranks before his passing in late August. Keith’s inspiration, encapsulated in his memorable catchphrase – “Learning happens between the poles, not just between the ears; the world’s the greatest classroom we have” – helped drive the creation of the FTA. Rainer also spoke (and showed video) about his own round-the-world family trip, and its role as another balance-tipping motivation for founding the FTA. He concluded with a brief introduction to the findings of our U.S. Family Travel Survey, conducted in partnership with NYU.

To learn more about Rainer’s comments:

Jim Pickell: The Sharing Economy’s Impact on Traveling Families

Speaking about The Sharing Economy’s Impact on Traveling Families, Jim Pickell, President of HomeExchange.com, led off with some reflections about today’s holidaygoers’ emphasis onmeaningful travel. Jim’s interesting ME Ratio, which pits Meaningfulness against Expenditures (travel is more fun when M > E!), was a perfect frame in which to situate the sharing economy, a new means by which to increase M while reducing E. Despite the present-day uncertainty associated with the sharing economy, it is here to stay, especially for the aspirational millennials, flashpackers, active retired and families who crave the meaningfulness derived from interacting with and living like locals.

To learn more about Jim’s comments:

Sarah Gavin: Why Vacation Deprived Is the New Sleep Deprived

Sarah Gavin, Head of Communications at Expedia, showered the Summit with statistics about Why Vacation Deprived Is the New Sleep Deprived. She drove home in sometimes heart-wrenching detail the significance of family vacations. Yes, work is important, booking isn’t easy and holidays are expensive, but, according to survey results, vacation-takers are happier, healthier and better lovers. And, critically, parents are more present with their kids. This latter point is deeply important to kids, who really take note (“my parents kiss more on vacation” “I am more important than my mom’s phone [on vacation]”). Another key finding: trust kids to help design a great family getaway.

To learn more about Sarah’s comments: 

Wendy Perrin: 10 Unique Challenges Parents Face When Traveling with Children

Family travel isn’t easy, but most people say their best childhood memories are from family vacations. With that opening bracket,Wendy Perrin, Travel Advocate at TripAdvisor, ran through her list of 10 Unique Challenges Parents Face When Traveling with Children. From conflicting travel goals and unusual foods to unpredictability and cancellation fees, not to mention dealing with peak pricing, long lines and restlessness, Wendy underscored how family travel is all about positives for kids, but, for parents, regrettably focused on avoiding negatives. The closing bracket: When a family masters travel challenges together, it makes the most vivid and bonding memories of all.

To learn more about Wendy’s comments: 

Wendy then moderated a discussion about some of these issues with Ida Keiper of Starbrite Traveler, a specialist in travel for families with special-needs children, and Eileen Ogintz, the syndicated columnist behind Taking the Kids. The good news: gone are the days when parents apologized for traveling with their kids. The obstacles ahead: finding ways to really serve the interests of the kids in traveling families, both those able to drive family vacation decisions and those with physical and developmental disabilities requiring special services. In both cases, the key seems to be greater industry awareness of traveling families’ needs. They should be met and then exceeded.

To learn more about Ida’s and Eileen’s comments:  

Margo Peyton: Keeping Kids Safe on the Road

In her passionate presentation about Keeping Kids Safe on the Road, Margo Peyton, Founder of Family Dive Adventures and Kids Sea Camp, reminded everyone that in adventure travel, you experience the world as it really is, not as you dream it could be. The challenge is to minimize risk without being able to eliminate it, an understanding that adventurous families embrace. The trick is to gather important personal knowledge (of limitations, fears, allergies etc.) and moderate between parents who believe kids can do anything and parents who don’t realize how much kids can do. The proof’s in the pudding: Margo’s dedication to safe learning and responsible adventure has resulted in a 100% safety record.

To learn more about Margo’s comments:

Sarah Liaram: Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy

Sarah Liaram is a Masai from Kenya and a local partner from Abercrombie & Kent’s office in that country. Her work is to introduce travelers to the potency of travel philanthropy, especially as it applies to empowering women and youth. She presented examples of how family vacations have changed the lives not only of the travelers, but of the locals living in the communities that hosted them. Beneficiary programs have focused on tree planting and reforestation, educational conservation-oriented safaris and field trips for local kids, school stipends and infrastructure improvements. Of note: philanthropy as a function of family travel is often guided by kids’ desires to help!

To learn more about Sarah’s comments:

Randy Garfield: What Happened to the American Vacation

Randy Garfield, retired President of Walt Disney Travel, kicked off the presentations on day 2 with a look at What Happened to the American Vacation, pulling from data amassed by Project: Time Off, an initiative of the US Travel Association. The news wasn’t good. In 2014, overworked and exhausted Americans failed to use 429 million paid vacation days, preferring to clock in than take time off with family. There’s a struggle between being the ideal worker and the ideal family person. Work’s winning. Worse yet, 6 out of 7 kids see work stress at home, and parents’ health is affected by it. Parents have only 18 summers with their kids; don’t miss the memories! Explore the up side of down time. It’s not frivolous.

To learn more about Randy’s comments:

Toby O’Rourke: How Technology Is Changing the Way Families Travel Together

During her talk about How Technology Is Changing the Way Families Travel Together, Toby O’Rourke, Senior VP of Marketing at Kampgrounds of America, gave this fun fact: In 2015, more people have been killed by selfies than by sharks. More core to her message was that technology has changed how people plan travel and engage with one another (Americans use electronic media 11+ hours a day; wi-fi is now a basic need, not just an amenity), but it can never replace travel. Despite the many cons of the ubiquitous screen, a few big pros include: accessible travel planning especially involving kids, instant reviews and customer service, and technology that can promote more physical interaction in a destination.

To learn more about Toby’s comments

Richard Wiese: Travel That You Cannot Find in the Guidebooks


As creator and host of the TV show “Born to Explore,” Richard Wiese has built his career around Travel That You Cannot Find in the Guidebooks. Through examples, he showed how what motivates his own travel and professional pursuits, and his passion for sharing them, is his belief in how curiosity and creativity (far more than money and notoriety) make travel beyond bucket lists so important. Meaningful memories are what matter and they grow out of people being open to experiences – in far-flung places and their own backyards – that involve encounters with locals. The people met during travel, especially family travel, can turn any ordinary experience into an unforgettable moment, certainly once shared unspoken languages, like food, art and music, are used.

To learn more about Richard’s comments:

Heidi Mitchell, Bonnie Levengood, Lissa Harnish-Poirot, Jeremy Saum: The Future of Family Travel

Our day 2 panel united Heidi Mitchell of Travel+Leisure with Jeremy Saum of AFAR, Lissa Harnish-Poirot of Family Vacation Critic and Bonnie Levengood of MSC Cruises to talk about The Future of Family Travel. In a far-reaching hard-to-summarize discussion that elicited a healthy reaction from other attendees, one thing was made abundantly clear: there’s a divide to be bridged between media and tour operators within the family travel space. The ready willingness on the part of all parties to bring experience-based expertise to the fore is an important first step. Now it needs to happen. So what about the future of family travel? It’ll be a lot brighter once productive lines of communication are open.

To learn more about these panelists’ comments:

Christopher Elliott: Finding Your Inner Consumer Advocate

Christopher Elliott is a travel consumer advocate who writes for, among others, USA Today. He was asked to help everyone by Finding Your Inner Consumer Advocate.
He began by explaining his work and sharing examples of how he helps travelers caught in webs of unsympathetic bureaucracy find fair service. Then, with a reminder that consumer advocacy and family travel advocacy have a lot in common, he beseeched all attendees to stand up for what they believe is right. How do parents feel when they need to pay airlines extra to sit next to their kids? What should be done about it? Here’s a depressing fact from Chris: Airlines have regulations about how much space is needed for cats in cargo, but not humans in economy.

To learn more about Christopher’s comments:

Nancy Sathre-Vogel: Roadschooling: How Travel Facilitates Learning

Roadschooling: How Travel Facilitates Learning was the final Summit topic, presented by Nancy Sathre-Vogel, the author behind Family on Bikes. Using the very real example of how her school-agetwin sons learned at different speeds, she, in her own words, “geeked out” about brain research. Key to her presentation was how travel puts everyone, especially kids, in the kinds of challenging and stimulating environments that can change the very structure of your brain and facilitate learning, even in those who have a history of slower learning. Yes, travel can change your child’s brain. So even when noble homeschooling intentions may not find full application in reality during long-term family travel, that doesn’t mean children aren’t gaining in ways they wouldn’t in the classroom.

To learn more about Nancy’s comments:


The Summit’s goal was to advance our collective understanding of the important issues surrounding family travel. The overwhelming consensus is that we did just that!

And now we’re preparing for our next steps. Already launched is our FTA Spotlight: Re/Defining Family Travel. We’ve entered the next stage of in-depth analysis and review of our chosen core topics (and perhaps others). Stay tuned for more about that during the weeks and months ahead!

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The Family Travel Association would once again like to extend its special thanks to all of the FTA Summit participants, as well as Mountain Sky Guest Ranch for its outstanding hospitality, and the prizes generously offered by Costa Rica Monkey Tours, Kids Sea Camp and Granite Gear.