Families are traveling again in large numbers, and heading into 2017, travel agents can increase their sales by focusing on their qualifying skills, and learning which suppliers best suit their clients’ family needs.
In a survey last fall, the Family Travel Association (FTA) found that 87% of industry respondents believe the family travel market “will grow robustly or moderately” within the next three to five years—and not one respondent expects sales to decline. Almost a third (30.3%) expect their family travel sales to grow by more than 8%, and more than half (57%) said it will grow modestly (by 4%-8%).
More than half of survey participants have seen revenue from family travel increase by 5% or more in the past year, and more than a quarter expect this segment to represent more than half of their business in the next three to five years.
Travel agents with whom TMR spoke agree. “Families are definitely more willing to take flights further, and spend more times traveling, to get those exotic experiences, taking in destinations that they wouldn’t have thought of before,” said Leslie Overton, executive vice president Absolute Travel in New York. "For me, Japan is enormous right now with family travelers, because Japanese culture is pretty accessible to the American public, like samurais and anime television shows, which are popular with children.”
The FTA survey showed the most popular destination for family travel is the Caribbean/Central America region (39.5%), followed by Europe (39.4%), the Western United States (26.7%), the Southern U.S. (19.8%), South America (15.1%), and Africa (14%).
“More families are becoming aware of trips they can take with their kids, because of social media,” said FTA president Rainer Jenss.
“They’re seeing what other parents are doing, and that’s stimulating interest and ideas. Also, with more wealthy baby boomers becoming grandparents, we’re seeing the rise of multi-generational travel. The cruise industry has really gone after this market, and they have grown it.”
Study participants included travel agents, cruise lines, tour operators, hotels, vacation rental companies, tourist boards, theme parks, dude ranches, gear companies and travel media.
Qualify client needs with high-quality questions
Building a successful family travel business requires a unique set of sales skills, said Sally Black, owner of vacationskids.com, a Kunkletown, PA, travel agency that specializes in family travel.
“You’re not dealing with one or two decision makers, so you have to qualify the needs of the whole family,” Black said. “Mom may be worried about the infant. The 12-year-old has his or her special interests, and Dad is thinking about how to keep the 18-year-old engaged.”
By asking the right qualifying questions to as many family members as possible, an agent can begin to put together a successful vacation, Black said.
Travel agents looking to tap into this market also should understand and consider the key drivers of family travel, the FTA said.
According to the survey, the chief motivators for family travel are: desire to spend quality time traveling as family, 71.2%; desire to expose children to new destinations and cultures, 54.4%; the expanding range of family travel products being offered by the industry, 38.4%; and multi-generational travel initiated by grandparents, 36%.
The FTA also studied the travel habits of approximately 2,600 families, and has identified three core psychographic family travel personas.
So-called “Hassle-Free Travelers” prefer “options that require little effort and research. While they are not averse to international travel, they are likely to book an all-inclusive resort or to choose an organized tour, where the travel planning is done for them,” the FTA said. They are the least likely to take their children out of school for travel.
Currently, “most travel suppliers are geared toward the hassle-free market,” Black said, mentioning how cruise lines, theme parks and all-inclusives have been targeting these types of families for years.
A second dominant group the FTA calls “the Cautious Travelers.” They are “more willing to spend time researching and preparing for travel and to try a wider variety of travel options.” While they also are more willing for their children to miss school, they worry about “safety, hygiene, food options, finding appropriate activities for their children.” These families choose “safe bets,” such as family-friendly hotels and theme parks.
“They know they want to do ‘something,’ but they don’t know what that ‘something’ is,” Black said. “You have to hold their hand and give them a little confidence.”
“Family travelers say they aren’t sure that its worth having someone book their trip,” Overton said. “But when they see what we can do for our clients, ensuring private guides and drivers, and taking care of important elements of their trip, like solving a child’s food preference issue, you get that repeat business.”
Finally, there are the Intrepid Travelers, who value travel over purchasing material goods, and book a new experience to an unusual destination every time they travel. Safety is a much lower concern for this group.
One tour operator’s experience
At Intrepid Travel in Toronto, for example, an 85% increase in family travel tour bookings by U.S. and Canadian customers last year has led it to double the number of family-oriented tours it offers.
Leigh Barnes, director of sales and marketing, said that demand necessitated the increase, as did requests for markets the company wasn’t previously serving. Some of Intrepid’s new family itineraries include Thailand, Namibia and Botswana.
“We’re seeing a lot more families with teenagers, and they are seeking out more adventurous itineraries,” Barnes said. “They’re visiting Inca ruins and staying overnight at Everest base camp.”
Jenss at FTA sees Intrepid’s move as a natural progression. Families who once sought hassle-free trips are expanding their horizons. He believes this bodes well for more exotic and highly curated family trips.
“If we continue to nurture the Intrepid Travelers, help the Cautious Travelers with their concerns, and cater in new ways to the Hassle-Free Travelers, we could see an even greater acceleration in the growth of family and multigenerational travel in the years to come,” he said.