Kids of all ages welcome! The challenge of providing travel products and service that is truly family-friendly lies in backing up that loosely used invitation with action. Families are more inclined to travel further afield, consider your brand and recommend it if you make sincere efforts to include children travelling with parent(s) into your offerings. There are elements you cannot control, like the climate and how accessible your destination is, but those mothers who do most of their family travel planning are scrutinising your products with one thing in mind: how will you treat my children?
Child-friendly vs child-oriented
I couldn’t believe how abundant family travel blogging is – I discovered this researching the state of family travel as a developing tourism trend. Families are recording their travels for the world to see and travel vicariously through their photo journals. They make it seem such a simple thing and when asked about their expectations, a common response was: very little to none! They claim not to seek out overtly child-oriented travel products that cater predominantly to kids or teens.
They want their kids to experience destinations as they do; and they, in turn, want to experience destinations through the eyes of their children.
So apart from a few practical adjustments to make small children or teenagers feel welcome and comfortable, they expect to make the best of what’s available.
Through the power of positive attitude, they approach all destinations as being child-friendly, therefore family-friendly. Maybe they feel their children are flexible and amenable to great departures from their normal routines and don’t need gimmicks to entertain their kids. If that’s true, then they’re extremely lucky (possibly a bit deluded), but then again, I’m probably still skeptical of the wisdom in carting babies and indifferent teens around on trips of a lifetime (when I waited so long to experience my first trip abroad – sour travel grapes). Yet! There it is: the trend is growing and people are eager to show their kids the world outside their comfort zones, to leave them with life lessons, lasting memories and the kind of bond that only travelling together creates.
When you travel with children, you are giving them something that can never be taken away.. experience, exposure & a way of life.
Pamela T. Chandler
Parents will choose a destination based on their travel bucket list, existing interests and hobbies or new ones they want to learn, and recommendations from other family travellers. As for what it means to be family-friendly, the sort of amenities they’ll seek out depend on their kids’ ages – as much as they want shared experiences, they also want time alone and give their kids opportunities and space for some kids-only action.
It’s about balancing the offering to encourage shared and separate activities.
The safety issues to factor in: lifeguards at pools or other swimming areas; rangers on duty to warn about poisonous/dangerous creatures not designed for petting with tails that should never be pulled; emergency services close by; and such. Reliable child-minding should be standard with trained and experienced staff that love working with children and don’t hate their jobs. Weather will be a major decider – to alleviate the threat of complaining, moping and sulking, parents understand the importance of outdoor entertainment, which requires moderate, bearable weather.
Weather can become reason alone for families to book at the last minute – they want to be assured of the conditions during travel; so special offers of that nature become hugely valuable.
Speaking of value, a contentious but important matter to address is how travel brands cost their offerings.
The traditional family unit isn’t the reality for many and single parents desire travel as much as 2-parent families. Having travelled often with my nieces, I’ve lost count how often I’ve been penalised for being the sole adult with 2 minors. Paying full adult rate for a minor doesn’t seem fair; so I search until I find a more accommodating brand. It would be great to have more choice!
In the final analysis, as a travel brand you’ve got to choose your battles and what to open yourself up to. If your brand better suits the adults-only market, it’s better to focus on that rather than break the mould occasionally on the pretense that you’re family-friendly.
Conversely, if you recognise how lucrative this market can be for you, folks who don’t like the sound of childish squeals and pitter-pattering feet should be fairly warned what to expect. If you don’t have the resources to provide fancy amenities for kids and teens, rest assured: families will feel your welcome in the attitude of your staff, your service, and the value you provide for their money.
The family travel trend
So any destination can be family-friendly and your products can be child-friendly, if the bloggers are to be believed. Your families are from a broad demographic swathe covering the world, with Middle Eastern families currently topping the list of prolific family travellers. Even if you offer kids a free pass, expect families to spend more than couples or solo travellers.
Your restaurants, activities, gift shops, guides, minders, beauty therapists, etc. benefit more. So will places of entertainment, museums and galleries, malls and markets in your vicinity.
Families travelling during school vacations are more likely to spend the entire period in one place because it’s more convenient than moving around with kids.
On a recent 3-week trip with my teenage nieces, I saw a marked difference in mood wherever we stayed put the longest. Patience is not the modern child’s strong suit, a reason most parents will opt to stay in one place for longer, and keep the in-between travel to a minimum.
Of course, the more attractive you make it, the more interest you draw.
Be the brand that caters to kids and their parents will happily spend a bit more to take up your offer.
Cruises are brilliant at this and clearly understand the value of the market they’re pitching to. Few other travel products manage to cheat the adolescent travel sulk into submission as well as an all-inclusive cruise with all its active, lazy, sociable or solitary options – a flexible schedule, freedom to choose, 24-hour unlimited access to food, and free WiFi everywhere. Kids clubs, junior safaris, treasure hunts, games rooms, on-site cinema are all solid family bait.
When you factor in another crucial point, these facilities prove to be invaluable investments: parents increasingly include their kids in travel planning. It’s sneaky, marketing to impressionable kids, but if anyone can persuade parents to choose your products, it’s their kids!
Let your content do the talking
Consider who’s doing the research, what they’re looking for and what appeals to them – your content should tell the full story of your experiences. This is hardly news but nobody’s more visually stimulated than the younger, tech savvy generations.
From Millennial parents to precocious 10-year-olds tasked with finding activities online that they’d like to do during their trip, if you provide comprehensive information on your destination, off-site excursions, events/festivals, you can save them hours of trawling the Internet.
If you have videos and a good variety of hi-res images to communicate everything you offer families, it makes the decision easier for them. Give them access to your special offers for those last minute decisions, and catch them at exactly the right time when they’re ready to book. Directions, travel distance, maps and direct contact details will eliminate the stress of getting lost – the last thing they want to do with kids in tow.
Travel photography is a great way to engage travellers, kids included. If you feature client pics on your website gallery, on your social media platforms or on digital Brochures, why not open it up to families with budding photographers, or indeed to the parents? Solicit travel pics, including those taken of your products and share them on your pages. Just think how well they’d do on teenage Instagram pages!
Conduct photo contests, have your own photographer on hand to guide your guests, and you’ll end up with marketing gold – a lovely cache of UGC.
Nothing sells a family-friendly brand as well as a satisfied family.
As ever, social media remains a good source to help you glean what families expect from travel brands.
Teen-proof your brand
They need that balance more than anyone! Believe it, nothing’s more disheartening than travelling with a disinterested teenager. It’s your job to help those parents out. Start with on-site facilities geared toward teenage creature comforts and throw in something amazeballs (you might as well learn the vocab if you’re going to hear it around you).
Think games arcades or events, in- or outdoor cinema experiences, bonfires, alcohol-free lounges, parties, live music.
Baby brothers/sisters and adults not allowed; teenagers only!
They want that special attention without having attention drawn to them (be lit but be cool) and time to themselves or with peers.
Provide opportunities to experiment with food, learning to cook, build-your-own-burger or pizza, with or sans family. They need simple down-time to relax somewhere beautiful and outdoors, for beach time, go hiking, and they might want to do something useful. A positive trend among young people is their awareness of sustainable living; so why not travelling? Enable learning or get them involved in your own sustainable practices, they might just surprise you. With parents utilising travel to teach and reinforce family values, there will be increasing demand for opportunities to give back to society and nature.
Adventure is important and families want to be active together. Promote physically challenging activities in your destination, help make them easier to access, and offer guidance. With safety a top parent priority, the more info you can provide to reassure them, the more trustworthy your brand.
Child-proof your brand
For younger kids, consideration should be given to their routines especially around napping, as this dictates what the rest of the family are free to do. Provide a space where parents can watch over napping toddlers and enjoy a beautiful view, with a good book and a beverage. Some parents appreciate that kids can be noisy, so prefer accommodation with a general tolerance of noise (where there are other guests with kids) or a measure of isolation. Then they don’t worry about their kids disturbing others nor do other people’s kids bug them.
There are small but effective ways to make kids feel special and win over their parents.
Movenpick Resort & Spa Jimbaran, Bali, offer VIP check-in for kids under 12 with personalised welcome gifts. By making the fuss, the brand makes itself memorable, a sure thing for some referral or repeat business.
Another brand offers a chocolate happy hour for children. JW Marriot group are developing varied programmes to make their hotels more welcoming and accommodating of families. Staff are trained to show courtesy to kids, bedtime story books are included in-room, a sink step stool and other small touches show the brand values little guests. These and other creative, active and cultural kids programmes are offered at no extra cost.
Essentially, if the kids are sorted, parents follow suit. When you acknowledge their need to reconnect with each other as partners or with other adults as single parents, it shows you take their needs seriously. The reputation that you #KnowThyClient gets you the best kind of referral business! Whether it’s opportunities for date night, pampering, complimentary items for mom or dad, adults-only excursions or events – anything that isn’t all about the kids – those are the extras they appreciate.
If you already have a playground on your premises, gardens, walking trails, or off-site child-friendly excursions, good for you! Consider upgrading your efforts, understanding that you’re catering to a more sophisticated younger traveller, whose parents are sensitive to their treatment by travel brands. The same parent(s) can be persuaded or dissuaded depending on how welcoming you are to children. Meanwhile, don’t forget that the young guest you’re servicing now will become client and advocate of your future business.