There has always been a lot of talk from the hotel industry about how to service business travelers: providing room to work, wine receptions, special hotel club levels and residential perks for longer-term stays. In recent years, however, hotels have taken notice how more and more business travelers are extending their trips and bringing their families along for weekend getaways following their conferences and meetings.
That was when some thoughtful hotel entrepreneurs realized the long-stay amenities targeting business travelers – kitchenettes, complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi – were also well suited to families, and that family travel was on the rise in the U.S. In fact, Skift recently released a report indicating family travel is a $150 billion industry.
Putting the pieces together today, could it be that 1 (more traveling families) + 1 (family-ready hotel services) = 3 (happy hotels, happy business travelers and happy traveling families)? It’s not as simple as that, of course. While plenty of progress is being made, there is still a lot of work to be done.
HOW HOTELS MAKE FAMILIES HAPPY
At Family Vacation Critic, our entire focus is on the family travel experience. That includes highlighting great family-focused hotels and amenities. But hotels keen to appeal to families need more than a fitness center and a wine hour. They need space for families of five, suites where mom and dad can have some quiet time after younger kids go to bed, play spaces, washing machines and more.
These are the hotels that attract families and led us to create a list of more than 750 hotels that are the friendliest for families, personally vetted by our own team of family travel experts and real families who have visited and shared their reviews.
What amenities make a hotel stand out to our experts – and family travelers – looking for a family-friendly hotel?
Children’s Programs. Catering to families and multigenerational family trips is no easy task when there are children (and adults) of multiple ages. Hotels doing it well, such as the all-inclusive chain resorts like Beaches and Club Med, provide children’s programming, infant care, special activities, and events for tweens and teens – something for all ages.
Mom and dad can enjoy family time with their children, and also squeeze in romantic dinners and spa time while kids take part in scavenger hunts, pajama parties and more, making a family getaway truly appealing (and perhaps even relaxing) for everyone.
Free Stuff. Helping to ease the costs of traveling in a large pack is a great way for hotels to build brand loyalty. The number one amenity requested by travelers in 2017 is complimentary Wi-Fi. Today, people absolutely want to be connected and they don’t want to pay for it when they know so many competitors promise free service.
Complimentary breakfast is another amenity helpful to families for whom meals and snacks eat into a big portion of their budgets.
Other free and fun amenities have included cute touches like the pet goldfish presented by Kimpton hotels across the country.
Hotels that allow kids to stay free when sharing a room with their parents are also in higher demand than those that charge per person.
Space. A room with two double beds can feel awfully cramped to a family of four or five, especially when they occupy it for a week. Families need space to spread out and separate, and more and more families are seeking suites.
One Holiday Inn near Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, for example, has a family suite with a king-size bed, sitting area for mom and dad, and a walled-in “treehouse” with bunk beds and a TV for children. Everyone has space in the same room, which also includes a dining table, refrigerator for snacks and microwave for reheating restaurant leftovers.
Embassy Suites is renowned for being all-suite properties in which every room is configured with a separate bedroom and a living space with sleeper sofa, dining area and kitchenette.
Kid Amenities. Some of the best hotels for families are those going above and beyond the standard family offerings. While many hotels provide cribs or Pack ‘n Plays, some hotels also have diaper pails, changing pads, baby tubs, bottle warmers and more for parents traveling with infants, not to mention baby proofing gizmos.
Others, such as Westin, which touts a Kids Eat Well program, can schedule healthy cooking classes coordinated with kid-friendly menus. Special nightly tuck-ins with cookies and milk – perhaps with a story time too – are nice touches too.
Even luxury resorts are getting in one act. The Ritz Carlton Amelia Island in Florida has a separate kids’ check-in, complete with ice cream, leaving space for mom and dad to register without worrying about the kids. Resorts with spas are also providing princess treatments for young girls and teens.
WHERE HOTELS NEED WORK
While the changes made to hotels that benefit families are definitely growing, there are still some areas that need work.
Ignoring Teens. Teen clubs are popping up, but most are rooms with a couple of gaming consoles and a computer, and tweens and teens are often grouped together. Any parent with a teen knows a 17-year-old has limited commonality with a 12-year-old and will avoid these spaces.
Another kink in the works is free stays or meals for kids 12 and younger, but full charge for teenagers.
Penalizing Single Parents. Many all-inclusive resorts are great for families, allowing kids to stay for free and take advantage of complimentary activities and meals. However, most of them require double occupancy, meaning single parents traveling with kids may have to pay for a second adult, even if one is not traveling with them.
Fortunately, some resorts offer special Single Parent sales, but it is not (yet!) uniform practice. By penalizing single parents, hotels lose business from these families, who are just as willing to travel and spend as two-parent households.
Think single parents are just a minority? There are 25 million kids living in single-parent households, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Not Confirming Connecting Rooms. Hotels may find it difficult to confirm connecting rooms when trying to fill beds and make all customers happy, but families will stay away if they don’t have certainty.
I know a family of five that was separated on two different floors; dad stayed with some kids and mom with the others. So much for vacation togetherness!
Nickeling and Dime-ing. Sunday buffet brunch is a wonderful perk. However, charging full price for a four-year-old who barely eats anything is hardly fair.
Parents are equally annoyed by mandatory resort fees that are often undisclosed prior to check-in, even if they cover desirable things like “free” Wi-Fi, access to fitness centers, newspapers and pool towels. When a family of four is planning to spend $2,000 for a week’s vacation, getting pinched with extra fees just sours the experience.
If family travel is a $150 billion industry, thousands of hotels across the U.S. (and the world) could see tremendous growth by adapting and adding to services to target families as much as they target business travelers. The Family Vacation Critic list of 750+ hotels with names like Atlantis Resort, Disney’s Aulani and Sandos Playacar, is just the start. Let’s see it continue to grow!
Lissa Poirot, editor-in-chief of Family Vacation Critic, has covered the travel industry extensively for over a decade, becoming focused on family travel through her own first-hand experiences traveling with her two children. Lissa’s family travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including CNN, ABC News and The New York Times, and her travels are chronicled on Family Vacation Critic – a comprehensive online travel resource for families, offering hotel and attraction reviews, destination guides and travel tips and deals.
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