Travel agents, suppliers and more discussed family travel insights during April's #TWChats. // © 2016 iStock
Feature image (above): National park travel is increasingly popular for families (depicted is White Sands National Monument in New Mexico). // © 2016 iStock
For the second consecutive year, TravelAge West and Family Getaways took over #TWChats — alongside Travel Weekly and Travel Weekly contributor Carrie Finley-Bajak — to lead a dynamic discussion about family travel.
Travel agents, suppliers, journalists, bloggers and travelers were among those in attendance for the hour-long chat on April 13, which hit just shy of 50 million impressions thanks to nearly 450 contributors with a reach of approximately 3.5 million Twitter accounts. Top contributors included Family Travel Association; Erin Kirkland of AK on the Go; Travel42, sister publication of TravelAge West and Travel Weekly; and Nancy Schretter of Family Travel Network.
Co-hosts included AAA Travel, Abercrombie & Kent, Avoya Travel, Beaches, TravelAge West and Family Getaways writer Chelsee Lowe, Ciao Bambino, Family Travel Association, Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina, GeoEx, Globus Family of Brands, Heather Mundt of Momfari and contributor to Family Getaways, Intrepid Travel, Nancy Schretter of Family Travel Network, Rothschild Safaris, Royal Caribbean, Travel42, Travel Leaders, Un-Cruise Adventures and Visit Philadelphia.
TravelAge West launched the chat at noon PST by asking what travel trends are currently taking family travel by storm. Immediately, the conversation turned to experiential and adventure travel.
Intrepid Travel, no stranger to the growing experiential and adventure travel market, replied, “Less typical resort stays, more active holidays, safaris, and off the beaten path adventures!”
Many #TWChat participants suggested that families experience this kind of travel by visiting national parks.
The response of skipping any potentially superficial travel experiences in favor of authenticity was also popular.
Nancy Schretter of Family Travel Network chimed in, “Families want to experience destinations, make authentic connections and engage in memorable activities — not just see things.”
Un-Cruise took it one step further by advocating a digital detox, too: “Unplugged travel. No devices; just authentic experiences with animals and nature.”
The next question asked #TWChats participants to share their upcoming family trips.
In the most popular tweet of the chat, Royal Caribbean replied, “You can't go wrong with a trip around the Caribbean on one of our Oasis Class ships.”
Among other participants, soon-to-be-visited destinations spanned the globe, from visits to the Galapagos and safaris in East Africa to, once again, national park travel.
GeoEx tweeted about recently arranging an adventurous family of five’s trip to Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal, while Dave Parfitt of Adventures by Dad and Erin Kirkland of AK on the Go both mentioned forthcoming road trips with their families.
The third question, via Un-Cruise, brought up a matter that often affects families made up of travel-loving individuals: Should kids should skip school for travel and, if so, for what kind of trip? Though a controversial topic, answers mostly favored travel as a beneficial form of education.
For example, Four Seasons Oahu tweeted that life experiences go far beyond classroom walls — a sentiment echoed by many.
Family Travel Association also explained, “Families understandably want to avoid high-season crowds and costs. And including an educational component is important.”
But several participants voiced some concern. Nancy Schretter of Family Travel Network reminded fellow chatters that skipping school can be difficult for older kids and teens and suggested to schedule family trips to avoid missing standardized tests and exams.
Carrie Finley-Bajak, social media consultant and Travel Weekly contributor, tweeted, “For sure if they are home-schooled. Iffy if they are in public school. Unexcused absences are not good.”
After adorable family photos took over the #TWChats feed for question No. 4 from Travel Weekly, the banter turned to under-the-radar destinations that are actually ideal for families. In the recent cover story of Family Getaways on the same topic, contributor Chelsee Lowe suggested the Canadian Rockies, Chile, Greater San Francisco, Kenya and Panama. Other participants also praised many of these destinations as family-friendly.
Monograms tweeted, “Our CEO’s advice? Go somewhere they may not visit as adults (Amazon, Galapagos, Costa Rica, Guatemala).”
Meanwhile, Alabama’s Gulf Shores received lots of love, as did Alaska and the Bahamas, especially Royal Caribbean’s private island of Cococay.
Question No. 6 addressed the recent industry hubbub that has surrounded the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Bill, which — if passed — will assist families in sitting together when flying with children under 13 years old. Chat participants became a sounding board for the subject, asked by Family Travel Association.
Distaste of the airline industry seemed to be the strongest reaction, although many remarked that issues involving seats do eventually get resolved — typically due to the kindness of strangers.
Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids said, “We’ve encountered wonderful fellow travelers who have enabled our fam to sit together. Shouldn't come to that though!”
Similarly, Trips by Lance tweeted, “Not fan of legislating everything, but wish common sense would prevail by corporate leaders so families sit together.”
Beaches summed it up in one tweet: “Family vacations should get started on an exciting note. Everyone together and ready to experience their vacation.”
Tons of innovative family-friendly theme parks, tour operators and cruise lines received praise during the Twitter chat, including many #TWChats participants.
Travel Leaders was one of the numerous chatters who gave a shout-out to Mickey Mouse and friends, tweeting, “Everybody loves the magic of Disney.”
The topic of national parks resurfaced in the conversation when Heather Mundt of Momfari asked for ways to make a national park vacation more kid-friendly.
AAA Travel suggested giving the kids a camera for a photo scavenger hunt that includes stopping into visitor centers for guides and learning activities.
GeoEx offered a slew of possibilities: “Camp fires! S’mores! Star-gazing! Hikes identifying the local flora & fauna! National parks are perfect for families.”
There’s no doubt that plenty of travel agent fans were present for #TWChats. In addition to planning ahead, hiring the services of a travel agent was a popular answer to how families can succeed at planning a vacation during peak travel times.
Avoya Travel tweeted, “Utilizing the expertise of a travel agent who knows exactly how to avoid crowds, get around & have authentic experiences!”
As for ways family travel options have expanded (or not) to meet the needs of today’s diverse families, responses varied.
Mindy Poder, Executive Editor of TravelAge West, Family Getaways and Explorer, tweeted, “Marketing materials are doing a better job of depicting diverse + LGBT fams. Indeed, options exist; it's about exposure.”
Sarah Pittard of Solo Mom Takes Flight commended some resorts for recognizing solo parent travel by waiving supplement fees.
Concluding the chat was a question about the travel agent’s role in family travel planning today, and if it should be different.
Ciao Bambino replied that agents are more important than ever, as parents are overwhelmed with choices and great agents save both money and time.
Abercrombie & Kent retweeted this and added, “And can save a vacation. They know all the things you may not even think to Google.”