Agents should identify what each family member wants to do on vacation. // © 2013 Thinkstock
No one would argue that Bondi Beach in Australia is identical to Seven Mile Beach in Negril, Jamaica, or that Lover’s Beach in Los Cabos provides the same experience as Waikiki Beach in Oahu. While beach destinations around the world have unique qualities, they also share much in common for families planning a winter season sun-and-fun vacation. No matter which destination a family chooses for their getaway, there are some things that remain the same. We asked industry experts for their tips on how to create a great sun-and-sand vacation.
“For a vacation to be successful, the whole family needs to have a sense of satisfaction,” said Gary Sadler, senior vice president of sales at Sandals Resorts International. “First you must identify what each member of the family wants to do — one size does not fit all.”
Sadler noted that a small, extra expenditure can alleviate a lot of stress.
“We hire a driver to take us to the airport,” he said. “This eliminates the hassle of parking and carrying your luggage. A driver is worth the expense.”
Sadler also recommended arriving to your destination one night early; this means you will be in a prime position for the next day’s activities.
“I could save $140 arriving the next day,” he said, “but by checking in a night early, we are ready to start our vacation early the next morning.”
Sadler is willing to pay a bit extra for convenience, but he also knows the importance of picking the right destination and sticking to a budget.
“I just returned from a family vacation, and I’m exhausted and broke,” he said. “We vacationed in a city that will remain nameless — let’s just say it’s four hours from Miami. I almost received cardiac arrest when I received the final bill. Everything we did cost us money.”
Sadler noted that an all-inclusive Beaches resort vacation makes it easy to keep to a budget. A Beaches stay also has something for everyone: golf, a spa, multiple themed restaurants, an Xbox Play Lounge and children’s clubs.
Sadler suggests families consider not just the type of guestroom to book but where on property they want to be as well.
“When we’re vacationing at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resorts Villages & Spa, we choose rooms in the new Key West Village,” said Sadler. “The rooms are the perfect size for us, plus we’re located right behind the resort’s Caribbean Village, where many of the restaurants are located.”
The first rule is to book early, according to Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays.
“The traditional year-end holidays are celebrated the world over, which means everyone wants to vacation at the same time. By midsummer, many of the most popular resorts have limited or no room inventory left for holiday travel. This also applies to tours and activities. To ensure that the flight, accommodation categories and excursions clients want are available, remind them that time is of the essence.”
What happens if it’s too late to book early?
“If that’s the case, then make sure you’ve got a tour operator partner to rely on,” he said. “Pleasant Holidays has extensive partner relationships, especially in Hawaii, Tahiti, Mexico and the Caribbean. These relationships translate into confirmed bookings for the travel agent when they would not be able to access room inventory otherwise.”
Richards also advises agents to pre-qualify their clients.
“The needs and interests of a family with young children will vary from one with teens or college students,” he said. “Make sure you pick a resort that has the right family-friendly accommodations, activities and amenities for your clients. Your clients will also want to consider more spacious accommodations when traveling over the holidays. Suite, condo or villa accommodations will help them feel more at home while celebrating away.”
Travel during the holiday season can be fraught with challenges. Inclement weather, over-crowded airports, flight delays and missed connections can dampen spirits.
“To keep everyone merry and bright, travel agents might consider gifting their clients with a few emergency essentials in a small holiday stocking or gift bag,” advised Richards. “Consider including a deck of cards, a roll of Lifesavers, a pack of gum, trail mix, a Starbucks gift card and a small book of puzzles or the like. It’s a small touch that can make a big difference, getting their vacation off to a good start and ensuring they will book with you all year long.”
Richards had some recommendations when it comes to choosing the perfect resort. In Hawaii, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa is an excellent choice for a multigenerational family trip. The resort has a variety of room categories, including three-bedroom suites that accommodate up to 12 people. In the Caribbean, Beaches Resorts cater to families with young children and teens. Mexico’s all-inclusive resorts are an excellent choice year-round; families with teens will appreciate Moon Palace Golf & Spa Resort’s new Wired teen lounge, which features an all-inclusive dessert bar and a FlowRider surf simulator.
Make It Count
“Since I’m in the travel business, my 5-year-old son has traveled quite a bit — he already has some stamps in his passport,” said Jonna Jackson, senior of director product development at Classic Vacations.
Getting to the airport on time and boarding a plane can be a challenge for some.
“Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and pack kid-friendly snacks, since the airlines are unreliable when it comes to feeding passengers,” said Jackson. “We like to book resorts with a great pool area for small kids. We also don’t pack a lot of pool toys, preferring to buy or rent them once we get there. This works out better, considering what airlines are currently charging for luggage.”
Jackson noted that Classic Vacations has seen a trend toward multigenerational travel.
“It can be more economical booking a two- or three-bedroom unit rather than separate rooms,” said Jackson.
In the past, teenage members of families sometimes got lost in the shuffle when it came to resort amenities and features. Classic Vacations brochures now have an icon for teen clubs.
Jackson just returned from a family vacation in Fiji and gives the destination high marks. She also noted that Costa Rica is an up-and-coming beach destination, especially for been-there, done-that family travelers.
“It’s important to remember that on a family beach vacation, you can make experiences that resonate,” said Jackson. “We were just at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua with our son, and he was fascinated by the two pigs on the property. Every morning we would have to go down and see the pigs and watch them being fed. You never know what is going to resonate with a child — it’s best to keep an eye open for unexpectedly memorable experiences.”