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School’s out for summer, and many families are already in full vacation mode. While beach and city destinations will always be popular, Virtuoso is reporting that families are also seeking more adventurous experiences, with active or adventure trips ranked No. 1 on its list of Top 10 Family Travel Trends for 2019.
According to a 2017 FTA Family Travel Survey, there are three principal vacation profiles for families: Hassle-Free, Cautious and Intrepid Travelers.
Rainer Jenss, founder and president of the Family Travel Association (FTA), says that Intrepid Travelers are those who aren’t afraid to go outside of their comfort zone.
“They’re the ones on your block who are the first to visit Morocco or Antarctica,” he said. “You see it in the places they choose to travel to — places that aren’t trending yet — but you also see it in what they choose to do when they are traveling.”
The FTA surveyed a cohort of families identified as those who “step outside of their comfort zone” when traveling, and found that Intrepid Travelers’ top travel motivations are to experience nature or national parks; to disconnect from technology and everyday pressures; and to unwind.
Travel advisors can capitalize on the growing interest in active travel by not only understanding why families are pursuing adventure, but also by knowing where they can find it. Following are expert suggestions on how Intrepid Travelers can meet their vacation goals.
Goal No. 1: Experience Nature Not every wild landscape is ideal for family travel. The best ones combine unique natural landscapes with numerous options for active and memorable immersion.
“Costa Rica is a paradise for nature lovers, with more than 5% of the biodiversity of the planet in a small country,” said Jose Huertas, an agent for Horizontes Nature Tours in Costa Rica. “One of the main reasons more families are traveling to Costa Rica is because they can see many nature events and microclimates without having to travel a long distance.”
Because of the wide range of activities in the country — accessible to an equally broad range of skill levels — Huertas recommends that advisors work with a local DMC who has firsthand knowledge of activities to ensure clients will have an unforgettable vacation experience.
For example, he suggests a visit to the Pacuare River for families with teens who want to river raft, while those with younger children should head to the less challenging Sarapiqui River.
You see it in the places they choose to travel to — places that aren’t trending yet — but you also see it in what they choose to do when they are traveling.
Similarly, for ziplining, if kids are adventurous and older than 8, he recommends parks by Costa Rica Sky Adventures. Huertas encourages multigenerational families and those with smaller kids to consider different providers, or possibly even split the group so everyone can have the best experience possible.
Clients can also find adventure in their own backyard. One of the newest examples is Tahoe Via Ferrata, an outdoor experience by Alpenglow Expeditions at Squaw Valley Resort in California.
Italian for “iron road,” via ferratas were first built more than 100 years ago to facilitate foot travel through Europe’s mountainous terrain, and Tahoe Via Ferrata is precisely that. Trained mountain guides lead adventurous families through challenging climbing routes using steel anchors, metal rungs, cable bridges and steel cables attached to rock.
Logan Talbott, director of operations and chief guide of Alpenglow Expeditions, says that the steel cable is what separates via ferrata from actual rock climbing, making it the perfect activity for anyone who enjoys being outdoors — from beginners to experienced climbers.
Goal No. 2: Disconnect According to FTA’s Jenss, disconnecting for adventure-seeking families means “feeling a sense of freedom from where they came from and unwinding from the day-to-day world.”
From this perspective, adventure family travel doesn’t necessarily mean clients are looking to do something ultra-daring, but instead, the adventure can be found in simply choosing a vacation that takes them “off the grid” for a while.
“We live a good life — or whatever others define as a good life — but sometimes we’d trade what we have for some offline luxury,” said Franzi Taferner, co-founder of Enrosadira, a tour operator based in Italy’s Dolomites mountain range. “We’re longing for the key elements that make us human: real conversations, real nature and real peace.”
During UnCruise Adventures’ cruises, clients can disconnect from their everyday life onshore and take part in family activities such as tide pool treasure hunts, face painting with glacial mud, parent/child (or grandparent/grandchild) kayaking, polar plunges and paddleboard races. They can even play “I spy” with breaching whales and leaping dolphins.
“The UnCruise crew does a really good job of exposing kids to things they’re naturally curious about, and encouraging them to use their senses — such as picking up rocks, listening for waterfalls, catching raindrops on their tongues and kissing banana slugs,” said Erin Kirkland, a family travel journalist from Anchorage, A.K. “Kids want to do these things, but we forget in our busy day-to-day lives that it’s that simple: Just let them do it.”
Tim Jacox, president and COO of UnCruise Adventures, says it’s all about getting families out in the world for active experiences in the middle of nowhere. At the same time, he notes, the key is to get everybody in the family involved; while adventure is the driving force of the trip, no one should feel left out.
“One thing that sets us apart is that we’re going out into the wilderness and spending almost all of our time there, which allows for great family bonding,” he said. “So, maybe grandparents are riding in the skiff while other members of the family are going on a long hike or what we call “yak and whack” (kayaking and bushwhacking) — they’re all a way to get families active in nature and then have great stories to share.”
Goal No. 3: UnwindSimilar to looking to adventure travel as a way to disconnect from hectic schedules and technology, some families are motivated by a desire to reconnect with each other — and for adventurous families, an action-packed trip can be relaxing. For clients who aren’t ready to climb Mount Everest, agents can still look for opportunities to add a bit of unforgettable edge to otherwise “tame” family destinations. One excellent option within the framework of a city vacation allows thrill-seekers to take a walk on the wild side — and right up and over the roof of London’s famous The O2 arena. A 1,200-foot-long walkway at “Up at The O2” offers families a memory of a lifetime, as well as spectacular views.
“At the summit, you’ll be standing 170 feet above the arena with expert climb guides on hand to share their knowledge every step of the way,” said Rachel Lloyd, communications manager at The O2.
On the flip side, a destination may be inherently adventurous, but the vacation can still be worry-free. Recently, Adventures by Disney announced the addition of Egypt to its portfolio of global itineraries with a 10-day, three-part tour by land, river and sea.
We live a good life — or whatever others define as a good life — but sometimes we’d trade what we have for some offline luxury.
While families explore the Valley of the Kings, the Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx (including a tour of the burial chamber of Pharaoh Cheops), the line’s Adventure Guides make sure every detail is taken care of so clients can relax and enjoy their time together.
“We look at everything as a family focus,” said Suzanne Bright, an Adventure Guide for the line. “And we’re there to eliminate the stresses that can spoil a vacation. We’re there to make it absolutely perfect.”
Amie O’Shaughnessy, CEO and founder of Ciao Bambino, points out that although adventure travel with children is growing in popularity, one issue advisors face in selling this category is matching the appropriate ages to activities and destinations.
“Families have a growing appetite for getting off the beaten path both in tried-and-tested destinations such as Costa Rica, the Galapagos and Alaska, but also in up-and-coming destinations such as Colombia and Patagonia,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Advisors need to spend time in this category — particularly with higher-risk activities — to make sure what’s proposed matches the needs of the clients, and to establish boundaries of what’s possible and expectations of what’s realistic.”
Tiffany LaVon Layne, founder of LaVon Travel & Lifestyle in New York, says she believes advisors should always think outside the box, because part of the job is introducing clients to things they haven’t experienced before.
“You might have an adventurous family as a client who didn’t know they liked hiking until you curated a unique hike through the Grand Canyon,” she said. “And the next thing you know, they’re saying, ‘We want to do more things like that when we travel.’”