Heather Greenwood-Davis Keynote: The Future Is Family Travel

Heather Greenwood-Davis Keynote: The Future Is Family Travel

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Heather Greenwood Davis is certainly no stranger to the FTA and its members. As one of family travel’s biggest advocates and our industry’s premier journalists, Heather clearly knows how to inform and inspire an audience, and that’s exactly what she did at this year’s FTA Spotlight. Using her unique sense of authenticity, conviction, and storytelling talents, Heather delivered a powerful message that left most in the audience with a lump in their throats. Heather’s “The Future Is Family Travel” keynote address was so well done, a written script would not do it justice so we urge you to check it out yourself.

The following excerpt from Heather’s speech should leave you wanting more:

How do we, as an industry, as a community, as people who as a collective believe in the vision of the FTA to to inspire and empower families to travel and help them discover what’s possible.

…. How do we embrace this chance for transformation – as parents, as professionals, as human beings.

I don’t have all the answers but I have some ideas and I want to share five big ones with you.


We need to Rebuild Trust

It’s been a trying year for all of us and parents who often shoulder the heavy responsibility of caring for the most vulnerable – kids and grandparents – are stressed and skeptical. We’ve set up our own guardrails of safety to get through this pandemic and shifting those will require great, intentional efforts.

Fact based, science based, information will help. This is the time to live up to your role as a trusted travel advisor. Deliver the information your clients need in the ways you know your audience can best understand it. Families want to know what is safe, but they also need to know why you believe that to be the case. And, if it is not safe, you need to be honest with them about the risks they need to consider and what the industry is doing to mitigate them.  That means including information about where they can get tested, what it will feel like and what the results will actually mean.

The hotel industry is a perfect example of how well this can work. A recent MMGY study found that consumer confidence in hotels has gone from single digits to 50% over the last few months. That investment in safety protocols and campaigns, combined with the word-of-mouth testimonials from people who have visited and felt safe has changed consumer perception.

We need to do this across the industry. Families want to understand what happens if the trip they have planned is cancelled. What should they do if they or the ones they’re caring for get sick? As an industry we need to offer layered assurances. We need to speak with an honest, accurate and consistent voice and we need to be able to admit when there simply isn’t enough information for us to do so.


Offer, Reward and support baby steps

As much as we’d like to think it possible, there is no scenario where we all wake up tomorrow and things are as the way were in January. But the desire for families for something different than what they are experiencing now is an opportunity for the industry to help them find the possibility in the now.

Expedia recently coined the term “Tripping Point.” That’s the moment they say when consumers grew tired of  stay-at-home orders and started yearning for travel again. It will surprise no one here that North Americans reached their tripping point quickly. It took most Americans an average of 27 days and Canadians 28 days after the introduction of stay-at-home mandates, and a quarter of both countries reached it within the first week. I think those numbers are low. We all want to travel, we just all come to it with a different risk tolerance.

Families need us to meet them where they are. Daycations, staycations, work from hotel, remote learning, road trip travel, small group travel, pod travel, flexible cancellation policies… these options are all gaining in popularity because they do just that.

Provide travelers with the innovative options that are out there without pressure to go beyond what they are comfortable doing.

That will also require us to scale down some of our own expectations. Recent news of high efficacy rates for pending vaccines has sent the industry into a tizzy, but a November MMGY survey found that almost half of respondents say they would not get a vaccine for COVID-19 when one becomes available. An equal percentage stated they would wait a few months to assess its efficacy. The announcement of a vaccine is good news, but it isn’t a silver bullet. We need to be realistic about the hard work that still lies ahead.


Make sure you’re prepared to meet the people your clients have become, not who they were

When we came back from our trip around the world the hardest part was the “return to normal life.” We recognized pretty quickly that there was no going back. The people who returned from the trip weren’t the same ones who had left and so there had to be shifts – ripple effects of that change.
People are going to shift as a result of this pandemic too. With all he heartbreak that this pandemic has brought to people it has also brought them together. Parents who’d normally have to fight commuter traffic and come home too tired for a movie night, suddenly had more time with their kids. Kids who would spend every waking moment outside of school with their friends, now had more time at home with their parents –  and each other. In-laws at risk meant for intermittent opportunities for intense loving and appreciation.  Those relationships won’t fade when everyone begins to go back to work, there will be a demand for opportunities to rekindle the feeling without the fear. Family travel can do that.

Recently the USTA did research that found that 60% of those surveyed said that having a vacation scheduled in the next six months would make them feel like had something to look forward to Its our job to help families plan for that future.

It’s time for our collective imagination. We need to come up with new offerings that encourage people to dream again. We need to share what they can safely do now and offer them ways to plan for later.

And those offers need to recognize that they are in the midst of a transformation. We are all new people. We’ve learned to embrace carbohydrates and fallen in love with comfortable clothing. We value time together in new ways and understand what we’ve missed in the interim. We’ve rediscovered our neighborhoods and state parks, we’re more grateful than ever for trails and open spaces and we will be wary of crowds for a long time and wiping down tray tables for years to come. We’re preparing to put our travel training wheels on again and once we feel steady, we’ll need the industry to help us find new places to use them.


Let’s Build Back Better

It’s time to push harder for the things we believe in.

Remote schooling has put to bed the idea that kids only learn within four walls.

Work from anywhere has changed what business travelers need in terms of family accommodations and supports.

We have a better understanding of how interconnected and dependent we are on each other globally. We will need to think more globally when we connect with readers, consumers, customers and clientele. We are not all American. We are not all white. Our passports don’t all wield the same level of opportunity.

Where you are from has always influenced how you saw the world now it also dictates in new ways what parts of the world you can see. Sometimes within your own country.

And with these realizations come so many opportunities if you’re ready for them.

The “Diversity in Adventure Travel Report: U.S. Travelers of Color” from the ATTA found that 36 percent of U.S. outbound adventure travelers identify as a non-white. Collectively, that’s 22 million people of color over the age of 18 representing $51 Billion in annual revenue.

And just last week MMGY’s The Black Traveler report created in partnership with the Black Travel Alliance, found that Black U.S. leisure travelers spent $109.4 billion on travel in 2019

That is money that isn’t being spent during a lockdown. That is money that will impact what and where travelers go when they can. And their owners will emerge with new values and ideas about how – and with whom – they will spend when this is over.


The things that matter most won’t change

Travel – and family travel in particular – has always been built on a desire for connection, inspiration and adventure. That won’t change.

People are still going to dream about destinations and build bucket lists – even if they might start emptying those lists sooner.

They’re going to need our help to shape and refine those dreams.

They need us to remind them that there is a still world out there that is well worth exploring. We can inspire them through virtual travel yes but also through photography, storytelling, and first-person accounts as the world slowly opens again.

Now is the time to rethink how we embrace influencers – not as numbers on social media, but as explorers and the first line of travelers who will be willing to bring back news of the new world order with honest, relatable accounts of what it feels like to audiences that trust them to do so.  Now is the time to lean into authentic voices and amplify them

I’ve had your attention for a while now and I don’t want to abuse that so let me conclude with this: Despite the confusion I’ve caused many a flight attendant, I’m no Oprah… but like her, there are some things I know for sure.

One day the pandemic will be over. Families who’ve spent their days together will begin their search for a world that reflects who they’ve become. There will be some who will discard the lessons offered by this intense time of introspection and attempt to return to the world as they knew it. They will struggle the most, because this time it wasn’t a trip for one family of four. This time we’ve all seen what we were missing.

Try as we might, no one who has lived through this pandemic will ever be the same. We all know better now. We know what is at stake when we put off until tomorrow what we should’ve done yesterday.

And I think most of us, are going to move forward in a way that makes sure that not one more day is wasted waiting for the perfect opportunity to live life to the fullest.

When this is over, when we are once again afforded the opportunity to board those steel cannisters and tubes. When the doors close and we are inside, soaring through the air or bouncing along the rails to some magical place with the people we love the most at our side and adventures we’ve dreamed of waiting when we land, we’ll do so as people who are better equipped to appreciate where we’re headed and with a renewed confidence that the future of family travel is as bright as ever.

To see the presentation in its entirety, please click on the link below.

“It’s time to come up with new options to dream about travel again. We are all in a state of transformation.”
– Heather Greenwood Davis

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