No Kids? No Problem, Aunts Travel With Nieces and Nephews
by Ana Figueroa /

The travel industry should take note of the power of the newly-dubbed PANKs: Professional Aunts, No Kids.

This segment holds huge potential as buyers of travel, according to the recent World Travel Mart 2013 Global Trends Report. Conducted with Euromonitor International, the report singled out PANKs as a key emerging demographic—and one that has yet to be exploited by the travel industry.

PANKs are defined as women over the age of 18 who don’t have children of their own but have close relationships with friends’ and relatives’ kids. They are a steadily growing population.


Here’s what travel agents need to know about this new market.

Impressive numbers
According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau survey, nearly 43% of 15- to 44-year-old women were childless. That’s an increase of 3% over 2002 figures.

A 2012 joint study by the web-based community Savvy Auntie and Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, estimated the number of U.S. PANKs at 23 million. It also found this market spends some $9 billion annually on children.

Indulging the kids
“As women marry later, they are also having kids later or not at all,” said Melanie Notkin, CEO of Savvy Auntie.

“They’re spending a great deal of time earning income. That income gives them the option to indulge niece and nephews.”

“Indulging” doesn’t necessarily involve material goods, Notkin added. In her blog, Notkin noted the “Auntventures” that PANKs often take with nieces and nephews.

“These women can play an important role [in childrens’ lives] by providing new cultural adventures and world perspectives. Taking nieces and nephews on trips accomplishes this in a literal sense,” said Notkin.
 
Where agents come in
Opportunities abound for agents as well as suppliers to target this market. But doing so requires making some changes in the definition of “family travel.”

“In all industries we tend to look at women as either moms or newlyweds or part of a couple,” Notkin said.

“There is some marketing to single women. But rarely do we see women as aunts with the opportunity to take nieces or nephews on a trip.”

Marketing to PANKs
Notkin cited tour operator Intrepid Travel as one company that’s targeting PANKs through social media, dedicated emails and advertorials.

Intrepid specializes in small group international cultural tours. That’s a niche that appeals to PANKs for several reasons: it’s safe, well-organized, meaningful, experiential and tends to be good value.

Intrepid Travel’s research found that PANKs are interested in domestic travel, particularly to Disney resorts and Hawaii. “In Europe, the U.K. is in high demand,” said Notkin.

Old stereotypes
Targeting this market not only makes good business sense, it helps combat age-old stereotypes.

“Overall, PANKs can feel sidelined by society,” said Notkin. “The modern childless aunt of today is sophisticated and worldly.

“She’s not the stereotypical old maid or nutty, blue-haired relative. She’s not the spinster we used to feel sorry for.”

On the contrary.

PANKs are often important role models for nieces and nephews. Traveling together affirms and strengthens those ties in significant ways.
 
Tapping into the “Auntventures” market is well worth the effort although realizing results may take some time, Notkin said.

“It’s like the guest that you’ve never before invited to the party. You can’t expect them to show up immediately as soon as you decide to invite them.”

There is some marketing to single women. But rarely do we see women as aunts with the opportunity to take nieces or nephews on a trip.

Melanie Notkin, SavvyAuntie.com