April 13, 2024

Adventure Chronicles Forum

Navigating Travel Tales

Navigating Family Travel Like a Pro

9 min read

Family travel has become a booming niche over the past decade, and now post-pandemic, there is even greater demand for families to set out on new and meaningful adventures around the world together. Furthermore, a study conducted by the Family Travel Association found that, historically, only 25% of consumers were willing to use a travel advisor to plan their trips; but this year, that number has jumped to a whopping 70%. Now is the time for travel advisors interested in this specialty to take action on building their family travel book of business.

“Family travel is trending upward,” says Lesley Sawhook, co-owner of Exclusive Travel Partners. “I think that during the previous years of isolation in 2020 and beyond, fear drew families back together closer than ever, and they want to travel and experience the world together again and recapture that time lost.”

She continues: “I have been a travel professional for 15 years and love helping families with all types of travel experiences. From theme parks to all-inclusive vacations to a multigenerational Greek Isles cruise. There is nothing better than listening to a guest and getting to know them when they first reach out, to curating the perfect trip, planning calls leading up to the vacation, to the result of receiving pictures of them in destination smiling from ear to ear, and having the great pride knowing I had a small part in that. There is no better joy than helping families create lifelong memories together. It is my absolute favorite thing!”

Multigen and extended family trips take off
“Family travel, especially multigenerational family travel, has grown significantly post-pandemic and we see many multigenerational family trips,” reports Jamie Weitt, PhD, travel agent and agency owner, Pineapple Escapes, LLC, who specializes in family travel. “The holidays are a very popular time of year for these trips, with many extended families booking trips over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Typically, it’s grandparents with their children and grandchildren, but we do sometimes see aunts, uncles, and cousins together as well. My agency books theme parks, cruises, all-inclusives, Hawaii, Alaska, and European vacations for these groups. These are some of my favorite types of trips to book. 

“One of my favorites was a multigenerational trip to Europe with a Mediterranean cruise. They visited London, Paris, and Barcelona for additional nights, plus a 7-night cruise that ported around Italy. It was a great trip to plan, and their photos (and memories) from that trip will live on for decades to come!”

Sawhook describes one of her best family journeys planned for a client: “I had a multigenerational trip on a Disney cruise to Alaska last year that I assisted with. We had three generations traveling together ranging in ages from upper 70s down to eight years old. I had so much fun curating the perfect vacation for them, including the pre-night stays, excursions, and activities to make it as seamless as possible.

“They made such wonderful memories together, and they all emailed and texted me pictures and rave reviews upon their return, thanking me for helping them with the ‘trip of a lifetime.’ We never know how much time we will have with those we love, so helping families experience the world together, and take trips like these, are my greatest honor to be a part of.”

In addition to the uptick in multigenerational travel, the Family Travel Association study showed that extended family travel (more than one family traveling together) is also taking off, with 41% of those surveyed expecting to take this type of trip in 2024.

Abbey Meyer, of Sky High Travel, says: “Families are finding value in making memories and spending time together. As silly as that might sound, the pandemic rejuvenated the family vacation in a sense. It is growing, as are the size of them. Extended family is now joining in on the fun!”

Meyer goes on to talk about one of the best extended family trips that she booked: “It was a 5-cabin multigenerational cruise to the Hawaiian islands. They booked it almost two years in advance. The anticipation of the trip was so much fun for them. The family met several times to go over excursions and details. Three of the five families were celebrating big wedding anniversaries. Celebrations always add such a special element to any trip.”

Double down with a niche within a niche
Another way to approach the family travel market is for travel advisors to develop a niche within a niche. Theresa Winters, owner of Faraway Places Travel, for instance, specializes in single parent travel.

“I look for every opportunity that I can to inspire and encourage single parents to travel with their kids,’ explains Winters. “It started over seven years ago for me when I went through a divorce. I promised myself I would still give my kids the world, even as a single mother, by showing it to them.

“When serving [single parent] clients, it is important to know as much about their children as you can. Focus on making the kids happy; remind the parent to schedule downtime (everyone will need it!); give grace; and know that it will be challenging and stressful, but oh so worth it!”

In some cases, the specialty finds the advisor, instead of the other way around. One of Weitt’s agents serves the special needs family travel niche. She has a special needs child and, through her personal experiences, has worked with a leading travel supplier to help build her niche in this area; and helped them to develop more programs to help families with special needs.

Sawhook also works with special needs families. “I have a Master’s Degree in Special Education, and over 20 years’ experience working with multi-handicapped individuals in public schools. I love assisting families to ensure their own needs or the needs of a loved one are met.

“Accessibility outside of the United States can be limited, so if going to an all-inclusive resort, I need to ensure we have accommodations in place and select the right resort/room for them. For cruise lines, I will work with their special needs department to ensure not only do we have an accessible cabin in place, but we have Hoyer lifts for the pool if needed; book accessible excursions; dietary needs are met in the dining rooms; accessible transfers, etc. I have helped families with children with significant special needs match to kids clubs that could accommodate them on vacation, to assisting with guide dogs on cruises, and the documents needed to ensure that is a seamless process.”

Trending destinations for families
Certain places and types of travel are trending for families. “We are experiencing a big upswing in all-inclusive family vacations and cruising,” reports Sawhook. “All-inclusive Caribbean vacations are what we book the most for families currently. Alaska and Hawaii are also very hot destinations right now. In Alaska, many families don’t want to just cruise anymore, they also want to experience the land tours before and after they sail. We are also seeing younger families wanting to travel internationally together with longer stays in European destinations.”

Meyer agrees on the international front: “International travel is on the rise. I think this is partially due to domestic travel being so costly. It can often cost families the same or less to travel intentionally. Heritage trips are coming back, where clients are specifically wanting to trace their lineage.” 

She also says: “Where some families list easy travel as a priority (typically meaning a non-stop flight), other families with older kids (teens) are not afraid to seek adventure. Costa Rica across the board has been a hot spot, which no doubt checks the adventure box. Alaska cruises are the hottest thing going. I almost question if that is due to the time sensitivity to get to a destination whose landscape is drastically changing. I know it has me personally in a hurry to get my family there.” 

Weitt says, “For families with teens, we have seen an increase in more adventure trips. Exploration trips like Adventures by Disney, or locations like Hotel Xcaret Mexico with adventure parks included are very popular.”

Winters offers: “It makes me so very happy to see more and more families taking experiential type trips. All-inclusive vacations certainly have their place and need (a simple getaway to escape reality), but stretching beyond one’s comfort zones, showing children more of what travel has to offer, will always put a smile on my face when I get to help with this type of an itinerary. Currently, I am working with a family from Canada (I live right at the U.S.-Canada border) that is taking a nine-week trip to six different countries. I have my work cut out for me, but it also brings me pure joy with the thought of what this will mean to this family of five!” 

She also mentions considering an off-the-beaten-path and/or a more elevated destination, such as a mega yacht for a week in Croatia (a trip she has booked and will be traveling on this June). 

When planning travel for a family, travel advisors should consider the ages of the children, the interests of the different family members, the budget, any special needs, and the family’s goals for their trip.

Tips from fellow advisors
As for how to navigate the family travel market like a pro, Sawhook offers: “Take the time to get on the phone and get to know your guests. So many of us just do email correspondence, but taking the time to get to know them face to face or over the phone initially is so important. In doing so, you can listen to them and hear exactly what they are wanting out of the vacation you will be helping them plan. They can hear in your voice the enthusiasm you have to help them, and it establishes trust and a relationship right off the bat.”

Winters suggests: “Ask lots of questions about the children. If the kids are happy, the adults are happy. It really is that simple. I have a 15-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, and traveling with them all comes down to making sure they have things that they are into; on the plane, in the car, for the hotel, and the added excursions. Also remind the children that you are in this together. There will be things not everyone is excited to do, but it will bring you all closer, stretch your limits, and build character. For example, my daughter and I love roller coasters. My son, at a young age, was terrified, but he had to do it with us because I would not leave him sitting alone. Because of that, he now is a huge fan of roller coasters.”

This tip comes from Meyer: “It always helps when there’s a ‘ring leader.’ Clear communication when dealing with groups is vital. This is much easier accomplished when a clear organizer is established, whether you as the advisor have to help them decide who that is or not.”

Weitt advises: “I think the best tip is to sell what you know. As a mom of three, I naturally fell into the family travel niche, as I am raising my family and we travel frequently. Through showcasing my own travel, and building my expertise with my children, that has allowed me to not only grow my knowledge, but also my client base. Often, I have clients who see what my family has done, and want me to plan the same vacation for them in the future. As advisors, we need to travel and experience destinations firsthand with our families to be able to best serve our clients.”

Meyer leaves us with this parting thought: “Groups are the big fish. If you take your time and do it right, you can turn one reservation into multiple clients.”

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