Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association // © 2016 Family Travel Association
Feature image (above): The Family Travel Association, a collective voice for the family travel industry, invites agents to attend its second annual summit in October. // © 2016 iStock
When the Family Travel Association (FTA) was founded in 2014, it became the first collective voice for the family travel industry and the go-to resource for information on the variety of options they have when planning vacations. This year, from Oct. 23-26 in Tucson, Ariz., the association will open its second annual summit to travel agents specializing in family and multigenerational travel.
Rainer Jenss, president and founder of FTA, provides insights on what agents should expect at this year’s summit, as well as dos and don'ts for booking family trips.
Why did you decide to have Caroline Shin, CEO and co-founder of Vacatia, and Bill Street, corporate curator of conservation and education at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, as the keynote speakers at this year's summit? What kind of insight do you hope they’ll bring?
They are actually just two of the keynotes we have confirmed, and we’ll be announcing additional speakers in the coming months. We selected them because they each work for businesses that inspire families to travel, which is our theme for the summit. SeaWorld is obviously a very established and successful brand, while Vacatia has launched in the last year and is offering a unique and new option for traveling families. We will also have a keynote from someone at Disney, who will reveal the work they do to inspire families to travel.
This year's summit will feature multiple breakout sessions. What will these group sessions offer agents?
The breakout sessions will include a mix of workshops and seminars, all meant to encourage more group interaction and participation between delegates, from both agents and non-agents. Most of the sessions will be relevant to agents, as they are all meant to help attendees better understand family and multigenerational travel. Agents will also learn about all the different varieties of trips accessible to and designed for families. Many of the suppliers and destinations in attendance will be representing products and services these agents may not have ever heard of or even know exist. This exposure to new and unique family-friendly products will be very helpful for agents looking to broaden the portfolio of options they can present to their family clients.
What else can agents expect from this year's summit agenda?
The agenda is an intentional mix of professional development — seminars, workshops and keynotes, as well as personal networking. The activities before and after the business sessions include things such as golf, horseback riding, hiking, city tours and scuba-diving demonstrations. We intentionally design it this way to ensure an ideal environment for delegates to meet, exchange ideas and get to know one another better. This was one of the most popular and valuable parts of the entire conference last year.
What do you hope agents take away from their experience?
I think they will find it incredibly helpful, and we are excited to do something the industry really hasn't done before, at least in any kind of meaningful way. Besides being educational, it will also be inspiring for agents to see how the industry has come together in this specific market. At the end of the day, agents should leave the summit equipped with new relationships, new products to sell and techniques and ideas to inspire their family clients to travel more.
Despite all the steady growth in family travel, you've emphasized that not enough families take advantage of all the opportunities the industry has available for them. What is an overlooked vacation spot for families in the U.S.?
I think one destination that is a secret and offers a great product for families is Alaska. It's completely overlooked. Multigenerational groups and families with grandparents are certainly going on cruises to Alaska, but few will venture beyond the ships — and that's where the best opportunities are. I recommend renting a recreational vehicle (RV) in Anchorage and cruising around the Kenai Peninsula.
What is a common mistake that travel agents make in terms of how they approach booking family vacations?
I feel strongly that travel agents should ask more questions and just generally be more investigative. Probably the biggest mistake agents make when it comes to families is that they start by asking where the clients want to travel, not the “what” and “why.” When you ask “where,” you immediately limit the options available to them.
Are there particular traits that you feel make a quality family travel agent?
An important trait is knowing where to go for information. I feel many agents have limited resources and may not do all their homework. When agents are talking to parents, the one thing they need to emphasize is to not underestimate what they think their kids will enjoy. Too many parents jump to conclusions and say, “Well, my son or daughter is not going to like this or that.” Generally speaking, parents will tend to eliminate certain destinations or activities in order to go for the path of least resistance. This is where agents need to really inspire and get these parents excited. In other words, they need to ensure the clients are well-informed of all their options and expand their horizons.