Celebrating Life’s Milestones: It’s a Growing Business

by Harvey Chipkin
Celebrating Life’s Milestones: It’s a Growing Business

This is the first of two stories on ‘milestone’  travel

So-called ‘milestone’ travel has become big business as more and more clients plan vacations around birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other life events—and tour operators and suppliers are working to make the most of this niche.

“An increasing number of clients—up 20% this year alone—are organizing trips to celebrate a landmark birthday or anniversary,” said Jean Fawcett, a spokesperson for Abercrombie & Kent (A&K).

“Some let their kids choose a destination when they turn 13 or graduate from high school or college,” Fawcett said. “We are finding that families want to travel and learn together, creating memories that will last a lifetime.”

A move to exotic destinations
The niche can be a lucrative one as clients often splurge on a milestone trip much as they do on honeymoons, according to tour operators.

And some milestone travel now encompass exotic destinations and adventurous experiences.

“An African safari is ideal for a milestone anniversary,” according to Fawcett. A safari like the “Star Baths” at Sanctuary Baines’ camp in Botswana can be tailored to romance, she added.

Honeymooners or anniversary celebrants return from a night drive to be surprised with a “star bath,” a freestanding traditional Botswana-style zinc bathtub with canvas screens to ensure privacy.

For family celebrations, A&K’s Family Galapagos program is a popular choice because it offers something for travelers of all ages – with a variety of activities and different levels of adventure.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in people who want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to celebrate an earlier milestone birthday – most often 50,” Fawcett added. “Perhaps because mountain climbing is often used as a metaphor for life, trekking is becoming a popular choice for celebrating milestone events.

“A growing number [of clients] are choosing to honor a significant birthday with a meaningful travel experience – especially one that includes a sense of accomplishment like summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.”

Customized milestones
Atlantis, the Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas, has responded to the growing milestone travel trend by launching
Atlantis Celebrations, a personalized service that helps plan celebratory vacations including family reunions, milestone birthdays, anniversaries, graduation or bachelorette parties, and more.

Jessi Hill, director of weddings and special events, said family reunions often opt for a Wild N’ Wacky Beach Olympics. For bar and bat mitzvahs, it might be a Junkanoo Rush party and for the Big 50 (50th birthdays), it might be an “Amazing Atlantis Race,” a group scavenger hunt.

“Our events are customized and we work closely with agents on specialized trips,” said Hill. ”Our guests love discussing the purpose of their trip, and a simple, ‘are you celebrating anything special?’ opens the door to our wide range of options.”

Europe and beyond
At Collette, president and CEO Dan Sullivan, said long-time vacation destinations are prime options for milestone travel.

“Many destinations throughout Europe, including Italy, London, Paris, and Ireland, are really top sellers when it comes to a romantic and celebratory destination,” Sullivan said.

Yet Sullivan said clients also want to go further afield.

“Over the years, we’re hearing more and more about clients who want something new and different for a special milestone,” he said.

“We recently had an agent who booked a 50th wedding anniversary gift for a couple from their four children and significant others. The biggest surprise? The eight adult children joined their parents in South Africa!”

The trend has also extended to villa vacations.

“Milestones come up a lot,” said Steve Lassman, vice president of Villas of Distinction. “We do birthdays and big anniversaries. They like to take a five- or six-bedroom villa.

“And very occasionally we will get a wedding proposal,” Lassman added. “We had one guy who rented a villa then had us provide him with a private sailboat cruise. They were taken out to an island where a table was set for two – and he proposed there.”

Next time: Marketing ‘milestone’ travel

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