Travel agents who embrace a new, broader definition of family travel can flourish in today’s booming market – and time-starved parents are hungry for their expert help, according to family travel expert Nancy Schretter.
Some 100 million to 115 million trips per year include children, Schretter, founder and managing editor of the Family Travel Network, said during a presentation at NTA’s recent Travel Exchange in Florida. That makes family travel leisure travel’s fastest-growing niche, she said.
Schretter proposes a definition of family travel as being “any combination of family members traveling together, regardless of age or type of travel.”
This is broader than the stereotypic definition of two parents traveling with children under the age of 12 or even the more recent understanding of the market as encompassing one or two parents traveling with kids under 18.
“The first thing agents need to do in this market is think about the definition of family travel,” Schretter told Travel Market Report.
Family trips are, by definition, group travel, a lucrative business for agents, she noted. The growing popularity of large multigenerational trips, often for 18 to 20 people, can boost agent commissions even higher.
It’s true that significant numbers of parents book family travel on the Internet. But Schretter said this actually presents agents with a “phenomenal opportunity.”
“With time poverty, and the fact that the Internet has become so unwieldy, parents are feeling overwhelmed,” she said. “They’re interested in going to a family-oriented agent who is really a destination specialist and a one-stop shop.
“The key is for agents to know the market inside out, so if someone says, ‘This is what I’m looking for,’ they can match them with the right property or tour.
“It’s easier, for instance, to find resorts for families with four- to 12-year-olds. But there are not a lot of resorts out there with good facilities for babies and toddlers. And where do families go to capture the imagination of young adults?”
Many types of travel
Agents need to know about more than popular family-friendly destinations, because the family market “cuts across so many types of travel,” Schretter said.
These include tours, custom programs, cruises and adventure travel trips as well as weekend getaways and long vacations.
Popular family destinations include Florida, California, Hawaii, national parks and dude ranches.
There is also a growing focus — especially among families with annual incomes of $125,000 or more — on international travel, said Schretter. This often involves long-haul exotic destinations and experiences such as Mediterranean cruises and land programs to Africa, Turkey, Costa Rica, Peru and Ecuador.
In search of memories
The common denominator for all family travel though is a quest for lasting memories, Schretter said.
“At no time in our history have parents and grandparents lived further apart and had their time together be so constrained,” she said. “Vacations are seen as the one time when families can get together and bond.
“And as the baby boomers are getting older, they want to leave behind experiences, not things.”