By Dr. Peter Tarlow
Although most family vacations will not occur in the Northern Hemisphere until June – August, May is the month when families plan their vacations. The family vacation market is a huge part of the travel industry and in this period when families seek to get away after multiple lockdowns, the tourism industry would be wise to offer multiple alternatives, especially in this year of high inflation and transportation problems, especially in the world of air travel.
Prior to the Covid pandemic lockdowns, tens of millions of families took family vacations and many of these people traveled with children under the age of 18. These trips tended to be fairly long, averaging some 6.9 nights per trip. The greatest number of these trips was by car, with, for example, only 25% of all US families traveling that summer by air. Interestingly enough, as a population ages the amount it is willing to spend per day and the length of these trips tend to increase. While the summer of 2022 is still somewhat a question mark due to irregular gas prices and the pandemic situation, smart tourism business should still be preparing for an important part of the tourism market. To help you prepare for the busy summer family months, here are several things to consider.
-Remember that today’s families come in all sorts of sizes and age groupings. Often we have the idea that family vacations are mainly composed of two parents and two or three children aged 9-12. In reality, that demographic is a thing of the past. Family vacations are now just as likely to be composed of a single parent, teenage children or very small children, grandparents and grandchildren without parents, or any other combination. The changing face of society in all industrialized and post-industrialized countries means that family vacation packages must offer greater variety to a greater number of people than ever before. In reality, there is no one family-oriented vacation just as there is no one definition of the word family.
-Work at lowering family vacation stress. Families tend to judge a vacation on how well each person survived the other. All too often family vacations turn into a “stressful search for fun.” To lower stress develop family-oriented activities in the early evening hours and brochures indicating rainy day activities. All too many destinations consider themselves to be family vacation material when in reality there is not much for an out-of-town family to do.
-Develop family-oriented package tours. Costs are always a stress producer. Communities that can develop one-priced or pre-priced vacations are bound to lower stress and attract those people who are on a budget. Hotels, attractions, and restaurants can by working together develop land cruses where the client has an approximate idea of what the vacation will cost before he/she arrives rather than fearing credit card shock after the vacation has been completed.
-Develop family vacations that take into account financial concerns. Communities that seek the family vacation market may well want to develop group-ticket prices, flexible restaurant costs, and free activities combined with paid activities. Due to an irregular world economy, family travelers will seek value for money. This value for money does not necessarily mean inexpensive, but it will mean that the traveler will not tolerate inaccurate information, misleading marketing, or price gauging.
-Offer a wide variety of family activities. The most popular family-oriented activities have tended to be historic sites, water (lake/ocean) experiences, mountain/outdoors adventures, urban museum experiences, and family reunions. Note that shopping, other than souvenir buying, is a popular couple vacation activity, but tends to be much less popular on family vacations.
-Get beyond brochures and when you do make brochures then make them female-oriented. While men and women often have equal input in travel making decisions, it appears that women do the data collecting. Design brochures and packages with the woman customer in mind. For example, women tend to notice colors, seek knowledge about medical facilities and tend to worry more about food options than do men.
-Your website is your door to the world, make them easy to use and family-friendly. All too often the travel website is so complicated or takes so long to download that families seeking tourism information become frustrated. Information should be easy and personal. Hospitality is all about taking care of people, and family vacations are about building memories. Becoming more mechanical may make us more efficient, but we lose not only the personal touch but also the chance to create a memory. Never forget that the purpose of a family vacation is to strengthen relationships and develop memories. If your community replaces memories with efficiency, there is a good chance that your attraction/locale will be a single visit place.
-Develop both short- and long-term family vacation offerings. Many families will now split vacations between a longer vacation and an extended weekend vacation. These different lengths require different activities and pricing options. As baby boomer’s children grow up, we should expect to see an increase in family vacations composed of couples or young grandparents traveling with grandchildren. These people will have specific demands. Among these demands will be good tourism surety, good risk management, high levels of service, and bonded child-care in the evenings. These same people will also seek hotels that offer free computer access, and flexible check-in and check-out times.
-Work to make your community or business family-friendly. One of the key elements of a family vacation is the serendipitous moment. For example, a child having his/her photograph taken with a fireman or police officer, or getting to meet the mayor. Work with other city agencies to make the town memorable. Seek ways for serendipitous moments to occur. Those moments may be the best marketing device you develop.