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Over the last 16 years, my husband and I have taken our two children on countless trips around the world. We’ve played blocks on toddler mats in Caribbean resorts, borrowed DVDs from the hotel concierge and tried out the waterslides on cruise ships.
At first, we made the decision to take those vacations; the kids tagged along, happy just to be out of the house and in close proximity to a pool, but they generally had no say in the matter.
But over the last few years, I’ve noticed a change: The kids have opinions. They want to know where we’re going, what we’ll be doing and why. And it’s not just my children.
Dr. Lynn Minnaert, academic director of the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University’s (NYU) School of Professional Studies, has noticed a growing trend of kids taking over the family vacation plans.
In a survey conducted in collaboration with the Family Travel Association, Minnaert found that even primary-school kids are having a serious influence on these decisions.
“More respondents indicate that their children, from age 6 and up, make them more adventurous when they travel,” she said. “From that age, the children also have a bigger influence in choosing destinations.”
And parents are listening. As early as 2015, the HomeAway Kidfluencer Survey found that 85 percent of American parents give their children some say in their vacation location choice.
That trend is highest among millennial parents; 19 percent say they are most likely to give their kids full control.
It’s an important find, given that the recent 2018 Portrait of American Travelers survey from research firm MMGY Global notes that millennial families are the group growing most rapidly in the travel-spending space.
Vacation spending is set to jump 19 percent among millennial families, according to MMGY’s data, while spending by millennial couples and singles is set to decline 8 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
So, is it any surprise that the ripple effect has been an increase in the amount of attention that resorts, airlines and the industry as a whole are paying to pint-size influencers?
Enter the new approach to the kids’ club. Once a glorified recreation room where parents could stash their kids for a few hours of downtime, kids’ clubs now often offer an experience so enviable that some have taken to forbidding parents from doing anything more than dropping off the kids at the door.
In NYU’s survey, the coveted clubs ranked high in deciding the desirability of a family holiday. Amenities (including kids’ clubs) were the third top-rated factor noted in a travel decision, coming in only after value/price and free Wi-Fi access in terms of importance.
And it’s not just the case for land-based vacations.
The 2018 Cruise Industry Overview, published by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, finds that cruises are a preferred vacation choice for families, especially those with children under 18.
According to the report, children are involved with the decision-making process for cruises even more than they are for land-based vacations.
It’s a statistic that travel advisors should note when sourcing vacation destinations for families. In fact, cruise lines and resorts are already reacting.
“Our kids’ club is constantly expanding and evolving to meet the needs of young guests, and one key way in which we’re developing this is through the technology onboard,” said Matteo Mancini, corporate kids entertainment manager for MSC Cruises.
He notes that the Doremi Lab onboard MSC’s ships offer children the chance to use a 3D printer, tablets and more.
“It’s a way to exercise their brains and experience arts and crafts in nontraditional ways,” Mancini said.
MSC’s offerings also include a chance to help out behind the scenes on its popular kids’ web series, “Kelly & Kloe On Board.” The series, which debuted in 2016, has already netted more than 5 million views. Children can audition to be included in the series, whether on camera or as a script writer the role of Advisors.
In his 2017 Profile of the American Family Traveler study, Michael Erdman, senior vice president of research for market research firm Longwoods International, points out that family travel continues to play a significant role in the financial health of the travel sector.
He notes that the family travel market represents about 30 percent of the total U.S. travel market, with 484 million overnight-stay trips and 718 million day trips. The study finds that the annual spend on family travel amounts to $160 billion, with $106 billion spent on overnight trips and $54 billion spent on day trips.
For agents, that means parents will be expecting trip planning that includes ways to keep kids entertained without sacrificing their own vacation bliss. It’s not that kids are taking over; it’s that parents know if their kids are unhappy on vacation, no one is happy.
And while the solution might still be the kids’ club, it will have to be one that has evolved beyond the DVD player and a box of blocks.
The good news is that advisors are well-positioned to be the hero in these situations.
Steve Cohen, vice president of insights for MMGY, recently told members of the media that agents who build trust with families will benefit from the boom. That trust will be solidified when the kids take trips they rave about.
Looking for kids’ club offerings that are sure to impress? Consider these trends.
Look for Leaders with street cred. Gone are the glorified babysitters of yesteryear. Today’s kids’ clubs boast university-educated youth leaders; specialists in technology and the arts; and more. Ask about the club leaders’ qualifications and compare them with the interests of your clientele. You could stumble upon an interest match (the child who loves robotics and the leader who studied it) that can make all the difference.
Make them feel like adults. Programs that offer options that make kids feel independent and “grown up” are also gaining in popularity. At Camp Hawk, the kids’ offering at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, kids are supervised but not micromanaged. Among other options, Hawks Cay Resort offers a “Kids Night Out” evening where parents aren’t a part of the plans. At Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel located in the French Riviera, children are invited to explore hotel gardens via pint-size vintage Porsches or Ferraris, and scavenger-hunt winners can earn a 30-minute kids’ spa treatment. In fact, many of these activities are things parents would love, just smaller. A perk for teens is the opportunity to opt into activities, which gives them a sense of independence.
Prioritize skills before thrills. You’d think that children would be interested only in the big-thrill items, but, in fact, kids’ clubs that offer the chance to learn a new skill are also popular, from coding at sea classes on Celebrity Edge to language courses onboard MSC Cruises sailings. Many hotels also provide behind-the-scenes activities for kids. These programs get them into the kitchen, the back of the house or behind the front desk. In addition, movie-making classes, photography lessons and even social media classes are all popular.
Feed the fandom. Cruises and resorts that partner with brands that children already love are also finding success. Princess Cruises’ popular Camp Discovery options allow kids to take part in the types of activities they would see on shows such as “MythBusters” and “Shark Hunters.” And rooms that include themes related to movies and characters they love (such as “Star Wars” and SpongeBob) do well, too.
Help them appreciate where they are. Children care about the environment, and opportunities to get hands-on and make a difference will be attractive to many. At the Mayakoba resort complex in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, an on-site biologist takes kids on eco-walks that teach them about the more than 200 species of flora and fauna on property. And at the all-inclusive Park Royal Beach Resort in Cancun, Mexico, the new “Mexican Family Memories Experience” program offers families a chance to dive deeper into Mexican culture, from pinata-making to local snacks as in-room amenities.