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Traveling the globe with her own two children has provided Jessica Hart, owner of Los Angeles-based Travel By Hart, an independent affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso Agency, with an appreciation for the importance of sharing the world with kids. It has also given her a firsthand understanding of the special requirements necessary for family travel.
Since every client has different expectations, Hart takes the time to discover each family’s unique travel goals so she can craft their perfect vacation experience.
“Families are looking for value in their trip — but not just flights and the cheapest hotel,” Hart said. “My clients find value in experiences they would not otherwise be able to attain, and they want authentic interactions with the local community that no one they know has done before.”
Further, Hart knows that finding such opportunities — like visiting a local home for a home-cooked meal, accessing museums when they are closed to the public or having a child play soccer with a local league in Europe — is the reason that families use a travel advisor. So she makes sure she is resourceful and well-connected with suppliers who are able to bring her client’s requests to life and provide memorable experiences that they can’t put together themselves.
We asked Hart for her insight into top family travel trends for 2018.
Which destinations do you think will be popular this year?More and more families are choosing Portugal. It’s safe, it’s beautiful, and the locals love kids and families. Plus, it’s packed with history, culture (there are 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites), castles and forts, so even the youngest travelers will have fun exploring. Portugal is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and the freshest grilled seafood you will ever taste.
Costa Rica is consistently a top spot for families, and it’s one of my favorite exotic destinations for all ages because of its amazing biodiversity. However, its neighbor to the north — Nicaragua — is also becoming more popular with families because it is safe and extremely affordable. Known as the “land of lakes and volcanoes,” Nicaragua appeals to many different types of travelers — families, history lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and, of course, surfers.
Tahiti is another popular destination for 2018. A big plus for Tahiti is that it takes about eight hours to fly direct from Los Angeles. An even bigger plus is that kids ages 11 and under can fly free on Air Tahiti Nui (and also stay free at certain resorts).
What is the most popular type of family travel? While cruises and all-inclusives will always be popular, many of my family clients are requesting experiences where they can connect with the destination. Whether it is active adventures where they can experience the destination’s natural setting (such as hiking in the Alps or surfing in Costa Rica), or “voluntourism” where they can give back, experiential travel is very popular.
River cruising in Europe is also definitely at the top of the list right now for families who want to explore a few different countries but don’t want the hassle of packing and unpacking. Many river cruise lines cater exclusively toward this demographic on certain sailings during school breaks. My clients appreciate the one upfront price — covering everything from unlimited complimentary beverages and food to fantastic, unique shore excursions led by handpicked local guides — so that they can enjoy their vacation without having to constantly reach for their wallets.
Are you noticing that more families look for specialized teen activities when they travel? I often get requests for fun and adventure for teens, so I send active families on organized trips with companies such as active travel operator Backroads. It has the perfect balance of family activities and opportunities for teens to be independent, ensuring that everyone has a great vacation. I am also seeing families plan educational trips around subjects that their kids are currently studying, like American history.
What are some trends in multigenerational travel and/or multiple families traveling together? I see a lot of multigenerational families or groups of families traveling together on cruises — especially to Alaska — since it appeals to all ages. I have also had more multigenerational travelers looking for a trip that traces their ancestry. I love these trips because they have so much meaning and are great for bonding and learning about the history of a family.
Another thing becoming popular with groups of families and multigenerational groups is renting a big villa together. This is often less expensive than individual hotel rooms, and with the option to have a chef cook some (or all) meals; housekeeping service; a butler; ground transfers; and private pools on-site, the families can just relax and enjoy one another.