• Personalized, detailed service is key. For a special touch, offer a package of products the family can use at their destination — whether its sunglasses and sunscreen in Hawaii or chapstick and scarves in Alaska.
• Know your market. Know which destinations are convenient for everything from parents with strollers to seniors with walkers. Details will be key to retaining clients and getting their referrals.
• Family travel is not cheap, which means this market is highly focused on looking for value, amenities and shared experiences.
• Parents typically are concerned about safety, so know about security and other details of your destinations and programs.
• Provide a plethora of information. For parents, you cannot give too many details and too much information to assuage their concerns — everything from childcare at the destination to educational programs is much appreciated.
• While many families still travel during their children’s summer vacation, more are also traveling at other times — don’t limit your marketing only to the summer months anymore.
• Remember that parents are constantly talking with others like them — so a good vacation experience can generate significant referrals.
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Even with a sluggish economy pinching some travelers’ pocketbooks, David Rojahn has found success in what experts say remains a continually growing and lucrative market: family travel.
Rojahn, president of DTR Travel Inc. in Denver, started his agency 15 years ago. But four years ago, he shifted gears and began catering specifically to family travel.
"With the migration of customers to online booking, family travel was the market where we could see growth," Rojahn said. "We tend to attract families of five or more because it’s hard for them to book online."
To more effectively sell family travel, agents should get to know their clients’ interests.
In the past two years, surveys have found that family travel grew at a faster rate than all other sectors of leisure travel as weary consumers took refuge in reuniting and reconnecting with family and friends.
Last month, a Travel Industry Association/Ypartnership survey found that 63 percent of respondents believe leisure travel brings family members together and 58 percent feel leisure travel is very important to their well-being.
An American Express Travel survey of 501 U.S. adults also found that nearly 90 percent said they would continue to travel — despite economic pressures — to pursue personal passions.
All of that has meant good news for agents tapping into the family travel market, including Rojahn, who said he is seeing a growing number of multiple families also seeking to vacation together as a group.
DTR specializes in family travel to Mexico and Rojahn said he scouts out the region four or five times a year, developing personal relationships with vendors and suppliers and posting his own hotel inspections and reviews on his Web site.
Rojahn said a key marketing tactic that has ensured DTR’s success has been its investment in search engine optimization to boost his agency’s Web site returns among top search engine results for family travel.
Experimenting with key words or paying search engines for placement can mean the difference between landing a family group or not even being seen. TravelAge West recently did a Google search on "family travel," and pulled up 67.2 million sites. Knowing which key words will land your site at the top of that list is crucial.
Experts say another key is to feature destinations, resorts and other offerings on your site, but don’t give out all of the information. You want the customer to call you for more information, not go directly to the source.
And Rojahn suggests agents seeking to lure family travelers online hone their writing skills.
"In the online arena, one typo can lose you business," said Rojahn.
Knowing exactly what products and programs suppliers are offering for families also is crucial, as the strength of the family travel market has enticed suppliers to boost efforts to cater and offer special amenities.
Earlier this year, Starwood Hotels & Resorts launched its first family travel program at 29 resorts in the U.S. and the Caribbean and hopes to expand it to Canada, Latin America and Europe by next year.
"With families busier than ever these days, our guests have told us that it’s more important than ever to spend meaningful time together as a family," said Matt Ouimet, president of Starwood Hotel Group.
Core elements of Starwood’s Love Your Family program, accessible through FamilyFunSpecials.com, include experiences such as stargazing and amenities.
At Club Med, 100 resorts have long catered to families, but public relations director Kate Moeller said that trend has surged in recent years.
"From 2001 to 2008, our database has increased from 47 percent to 70 percent family," Moeller said. "This is in part because our product, while always family friendly, has evolved to satisfy new segments of the family market."
Resort areas are specifically geared toward infants and teens, luxury and free-standing suites for families have been added to several Club Med resorts, and the company is adding an interactive portal on its Web site specifically for families.
Vicki Tomasino, vice president of sales for Carnival Cruises in the western region, said agents seeking to tap into the family market should be well-versed in the issues that face any group travel.
Carnival, like other vacation providers, is seeing an increase in multigenerational family travel and Tomasino said the average family is occupying 10 to 12 cabins on a trip.
For agents to successfully sell family cruises, Tomasino said agents should be highly familiar with the product and amenities particular to families — such as all-inclusive meal plans that include 24-hour pizzerias, room service and free and unlimited ice cream.
"It’s important to talk about cost and value with families when you are selling them on a cruise vacation," she said. "In food alone, a family can really spend a lot on vacation."
For younger members of a family, there is a free activity program, while casinos and Vegas-style shows cater to the older generations.
"It’s just really important to ask a lot of questions. Ask them where they have been and where they usually like to go, what their kids like to do," Tomasino said.
For Kevin Froemming, president of Unique Vacations, which represents Beaches family resorts, family travel is a hands-on experience.
"I go to the Beaches resorts at least five to six times a year with my children," said Froemming, whose two children are ages 13 and 11.
Beaches has three family-friendly resorts in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos. The Turks and Caicos resort is opening an Italian village that will add 180 new two-bedroom family suites, as well as stocked kids’ suites equipped with Xbox consoles and bunk beds.
Froemming said the fastest-growing trend in family travel is multigenerational travel, largely driven by grandparents who pay for their children and grandchildren to vacation with them.
To cater to this emerging trend, Beaches is now offering family reunion packages and is marketing to teens and tweens. Experts note that children are significant promoters, so if an agent can get them on their mailing lists, it could be just the reminder parents or grandparents need.
"We talked to experts, and they said kids are very influential in deciding where the family goes on vacation," Froemming said.
Froemming said agents interested in attracting family travel reach into local communities.
"One of the biggest opportunities for travel agents is in attracting smaller groups of people," he said. "Go to doctors’ offices, PTA meetings, connect with Girl Scouts of America and become a leader in your community."