Culture Shock

Families and multigenerational groups are increasingly interested in the culture and history of the destinations they visit. And, as the family vacation evolves from summer road trips to more sophisticated international journeys, so too are the travel needs of this segment.

By: Janeen Christoff

Tours offer kids the opportunity to meet other kids while learning about another culture.  // (c) Disney
Tours offer kids the opportunity to meet other kids while learning about another culture.

Families and multigenerational groups are increasingly interested in the culture and history of the destinations they visit. And, as the family vacation evolves from summer road trips to more sophisticated international journeys, so too are the travel needs of this segment.

"Many parents understand that travel and exposure to other cultures broadens their children’s horizons and gives them a more well-rounded perspective on the world," said Tom Armstrong, corporate communications manager for Tauck World Discovery, which offers tours specifically focused on families through its Tauck Bridges program. "[Parents] know that travel — when it’s something beyond a theme-park vacation or a family cruise — is an investment in their children’s overall development that can help shape them and make them better people."

David L. Rojahn, owner of DTR Travel Inc. in Denver, Colo., has also seen an evolution in what families want to do on vacation.

"I am seeing more families wanting to experience the culture and history of a destination," he said. "I have even had families whose children were studying Spanish in school, so it was important that they tried to speak the language as much as possible when traveling to Mexico."

An Evolving Market
This change in the family-travel dynamic has been a boon for the industry and has created an exponential amount of desire, growth and interest in multigenerational travel.

"Unlike when I was growing up and the typical family vacation was packing up the car and driving to a destination," said Rojahn, "family vacations have become not only more national but international. And since the tragic events of Sept. 11, family bonding has become more important, and travel is playing a big part of the bonding."

Tour operators are noticing a similar trend.

"Many people are surprised to learn that the conventional family model — parents traveling with their children — only accounts for a third of our Tauck Bridges business," said Armstrong. "The other two-thirds is split evenly between grandparents traveling with grandchildren and multigenerational groups with grandparents. Their adult children and grandchildren are all traveling together."

However, cruises and all-inclusive resorts — not tours — are the most common trips booked by families, and that may be because it’s an easy sell.

"All-inclusives and cruises are the most popular products for families," said Rojahn. "Not only do they both offer a diverse set of activities for all ages of the family, but it makes the dining experience much easier."

Savvy agents who are aware of the growing family tour industry, however, can target families looking for something more than just the typical beach vacation.

Adventures by Disney vice president, sales travel and services Don Gross believes cultural experiences will deliver the bonding moments families are seeking.

"Families are looking to bond with their children and create memories through experiences that are enriching and educational for both the parents and the kids," he said. "Cultural vacation experiences are the ideal way to do that. We have learned that our guests not only want travel to be easy, relaxing and fun ... but also vacations that offer transformational and impactful experiences."

In order for families to feel a similar ease taking a tour as they do with a cruise or all-inclusive resort, many tour operators strive to attend to every detail of the trip. At Adventures by Disney, the details of the trip are meticulously planned.

"Every adventure is carefully planned out to ensure fun for every member of the family from parents to grandparents, which is something unique to our business," said Ed Baklor, senior vice president at Adventures by Disney. "We also provide some time for adults to enjoy quiet time on their own in the hotel, while the kids are with the Adventure Guides for a Junior Adventurer movie and fun night," he said.

Globus also takes care of all the details.

"The toughest thing about the typical family vacation, particularly international ones, is that mom and dad are so preoccupied with logistics that they don’t really get to enjoy the destination and discovery with their family," said Steve Born, vice president of marketing, Globus Family of Brands. "The beauty of Globus family travel is that we remove all the logistics so that the family can focus on each other and on their own discoveries."

Tauck Bridges takes a similar approach.

"Once a family actually begins their vacation, Tauck handles all of the mundane chores of travel that otherwise take up time and energy, including luggage handling, navigating in unfamiliar territory, making dinner reservations, standing in line to buy entrance tickets to attractions and more," said Armstrong.

Avoiding the Pitfalls
When booking families or multi-gen groups, be careful to heed the advice of experts beforehand. Both agents and tour operators recommend agents know the product, know the audience, avoid cultural overload and build variety into itineraries.

"I think travel agents can help families avoid many pitfalls through detailed knowledge of all of the family-oriented options that are out there, as well as their ability to put together customized trips and solutions," said Nancy Schretter, managing editor of Family Travel Network, a Web site devoted to family travel.

Schretter added that the Internet is a fantastic source of information.

"There’s so much out there, it takes time to find all the information — not to mention figure out which sources of information you can trust," she said. "So, putting the whole trip together with all the components that families want — within the budget they want — can be one of the biggest difficulties for families and agents."

Rojahn highlights that knowing what each individual wants is key.

"The hardest part is understanding the interests of each of the family members. A grandparent might not want to be as active as the adult children, and what interests an 8-year-old will be completely different than a teenager," said Rojahn.

Key Tours’ director of sales and business development Arthur Kienle agrees.

"For this particular segment, it is very important for [agents] to completely understand what the family is looking for in a cultural vacation," he said. "The agent must be able to communicate to [the tour operator] the purpose and destination features a family is trying to experience, so we can develop an itinerary around those special needs. This is [also] a way agents can differentiate themselves as true travel consultants, which demonstrates the substantial value of a professional travel agent."

Globus’ Born also notes that the tour operators are there to help agents.

"Agents’ time is as precious as ever — and time is money," said Born. "Rather than agents piecing together elements of a family vacation, they can turn to a tried-and-true partner to do it for them."

Tauck’s Armstrong warns of forcing the cultural aspect of the vacation.

"It’s very easy to place too much emphasis on the cultural component in a family vacation," he said. "The importance of striking the right balance underscores the benefit of traveling with a company like Tauck that has extensive experience with family travel. We’re constantly reviewing and improving our Bridges itineraries to ensure we strike the right balance between cultural immersion and fun."

To avoid cultural overload, Armstrong suggests presenting cultural elements in a way that is fun and engages children.

"On our Bridges trips, the line between pure fun and cultural immersion oftentimes can’t be distinguished. When you’re making your own pizza in Italy, learning the traditional Hawaiian sport of surfing at Waikiki Beach or meeting sled dogs in Alaska, are you learning about culture or having fun?" he said.

Adventures by Disney believes that variety is of upmost importance.

"Booking cultural activities for families can be tough for agents because it’s hard to know how enjoyable these trips will be for the kids. And if the kids are bored, the parents won’t have fun either," said Baklor. "Our 2009 season gives agents a wide variety of location choices for their clients. We now take guests to every inhabitable continent."

Tools for Agents
Tour operators catering specifically to families now offer a wide variety of tools to help agents book with ease. On Key Tours’ Web site, agents can search all the destinations and the types of trips offered. And for the family travel segment, its staff of travel planners are on hand to assist agents in designing tailor-made vacations for individual families.

Disney also provides numerous tools and personal support to agents. Agents can go to to find marketing and sales tools along with various training tools for their agencies. District sales managers throughout the U.S. can also be a valuable resource for information about Adventures by Disney.

Globus prides itself on ease in booking but also helps agents prior to booking.

"A single call or online booking to Globus has the entire family experience covered — even air, which is commissionable," said Born. "We also realize that they need help before the booking, which is why we offer tools to help agents be informed and help them sell."

On, Globus offers an online training course on family travel and, soon it will have a course on its online Travel University. The 2009 Globus Family Travel brochure is available in an e-brochure format and is easy for agents to share with clients. The tour operator also offers a suite of free marketing materials to help agents promote.

Tauck also offers a full range of tools for agents, ranging from online availability information for each itinerary and each departure, to its "Ask & Share" Web site forum where clients can post questions about specific itineraries and read unbiased reviews.

However, according to Armstrong, the best thing that Tauck does to support agents is offer a product that delivers real value and consistently exceeds clients’ expectations.

"Ensuring satisfied, loyal clients who generate repeat business is critical for agents," said Armstrong.

And, if agents can generate a satisfied family clientele, they have customers for life.