Why Skip-Gen Family Vacations Are Trending in 2019

Skip-gen vacations — in which grandparents travel alone with their grandkids — are taking the family travel market by storm

Mexico-based Velas Resorts first introduced its Grandparents package in 2010. © 2019 Velas Resorts

Mexico-based Velas Resorts first introduced its Grandparents package in 2010. © 2019 Velas Resorts

Today's grandparents are a far cry from the stay-at-home, cookie-baking, sweater-knitting seniors we once knew them to be.

The country also has more grannies and grandpops than ever: A whopping 69.5 million self-reported as such in the 2014 U.S. Census, marking a 24 percent jump from 2001. What’s more, this portion of the population — many of them baby boomers — are physically fit, financially stable and not limited by an eight-hour work day. Their get-up-and-go lifestyle lends itself perfectly to a travel trend that’s gaining traction within the multigenerational travel market: skip-gen vacations.

The rise of these trips — in which grandparents travel alone with their grandchildren — has been making headlines. Cruise Lines International Association forecasted skip-gen cruises as a top trend in its State of the Cruise Industry Outlook in 2017, while AARP’s 2019 Boomer Travel Trends report noted that about 15 percent of baby boomers are already planning these trips for 2019.

“So, [today’s grandparents] have had 15 years of ‘training’ in how to travel, and I think they are ready to tackle it on their own. It makes sense to me that we are seeing more of them plan trips with their grandkids, who are the real ‘prize’ on these vacations, anyway.”
Kyle McCarthy, co-founder of The Family Travel Forum

“Family travel as a segment of the leisure-travel market has grown slowly and steadily since 9/11, which is why millennials who grew up during that era [with baby boomer parents] are more accustomed to family vacations,” said Kyle McCarthy, co-founder of The Family Travel Forum, an independent media network that provides trip-planning resources for families. “So, [today’s grandparents] have had 15 years of ‘training’ in how to travel, and I think they are ready to tackle it on their own. It makes sense to me that we are seeing more of them plan trips with their grandkids, who are the real ‘prize’ on these vacations, anyway.”

Road Scholar, an educational travel nonprofit, was perhaps the first organization to cater specifically to this group when it introduced its Grandparent Learning Adventures back in the 1980s. Now, the organization offers more than 50 of these special-interest departures, with a new national parks camping trip slated for this summer.

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Educational nonprofit Road Scholar currently offers more than 50 Grandparent Learning Adventures. © 2019 Road Scholar

Educational nonprofit Road Scholar currently offers more than 50 Grandparent Learning Adventures. © 2019 Road Scholar

Because many grandparents don’t live in the same city or state as their grandkids, it can be difficult to create strong family ties between the two generations, especially when shared time is limited to what takes place within an extended family context, according to James Moses, president and CEO of Road Scholar.

“Parents have a different role in their children’s lives than grandparents do, and these grandparent-grandchild learning and travel adventures give the two generations the chance to experience the world together,” he said. “They can observe each other navigating the world in ways they never could at home, or with their parents in the middle.”

And speaking of parents: They may not mind being left out of the vacation equation, McCarthy suggests.

“People are experiencing an incredible lack of time, especially younger parents who work in 24/7 industries,” she said. “Because parents’ vacation time is so restricted, and they bring so much work with them when they travel, perhaps they would want to let kids travel freely with the grandparents, who have more time to devote to having fun together.”

Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association (FTA), agrees. He notes that although Project: Time Off reported that 52 percent of Americans didn’t use their allotted vacation time in 2017, parents are the leading culprits of this trend: Fifty-eight percent opt to forgo their yearly time off.

“The reason for this is twofold,” Jenss said. “Parents are very caught up in their careers, and, as sad as it is to say, they don’t have time to plan travel. But the grandparents do have more vacation time, and they don’t have all the limitations.”

“Parents are very caught up in their careers, and, as sad as it is to say, they don’t have time to plan travel. But the grandparents do have more vacation time, and they don’t have all the limitations.”
Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association

Katerina Makatouni, co-founder of Kids Love Greece, which specializes in multigenerational trips to the country, notices that these vacations often coincide with milestones in a child’s life.

“Typically, I see one grandchild traveling with both grandparents,” she said, “and the trip is usually a gift from the grandparents to the grandchild, for a birthday or a graduation, for example.”

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All Aboard

Suppliers are also seeing the benefits of marketing to this group. In 2010, Mexico-based Velas Resorts introduced its Grandparents Package, which waived the fee for the grandparents during a family’s stay. Since then, and as Velas’ bookings have continued to grow, skip-gen experiences have been added to the roster of offerings. Last May, the company released two new skip-gen-themed “microadventures” at Grand Velas Riviera Maya: a private excursion to the pre-Columbian city of Chichen Itza, and a tour of the colonial city of Merida followed by a trip to see the ruins of Uxmal.

According to Rodolfo Gonzalez, managing director of Grand Velas Riviera Maya, new skip-gen experiences are in the works for 2019, as well.

“The idea is to offer activities that foster quality time together, as well as to have services and facilities that make it easy for the grandparent to have time to themselves while the kids are having fun,” he said. “Our bookings in this segment continue to grow, which reaffirms our decision to commit to the skip-gen market.”

And, often, these vacations are truly impactful for clients.

Kurt Kutay, president of adventure tour operator Wildland Adventures, believes skip-gen trips can be life-changing for the grandparents and kids who experience them. Last November, his team released anecdotal research on the benefits of skip-gen travel, interviewing past clients — both grandparents and their grandchildren — about their experience on skip-gen trips with Wildland.

The resulting conversations were “intense and often emotional,” Kutay said.

“While the desire of grandparents to bond and create memories with their grandchildren is universal, their motives in opting for travel as a pathway to those memories is informed by their concerns about the world, and by their passion to impress upon their grandchildren that the world is more than just the U.S.,” he said.

Kutay cites one client, Anne, who traveled with her 20-year-old granddaughter, Emma, on a skip-gen trip to Morocco.

“Anne invited Emma to not only get out and discover the world, but also to be awed by a very different lifestyle and culture,” he said. “Their journey through Morocco sparked conversations between them about the roles of women in the world, about what constitutes work in different cultures, and even about social media.”

A Balancing Act

While most agree these trips can be rewarding for families, planning them can be quite challenging, as advisors booking these vacations will have many different needs to balance.

“For grandkids, it’s an intense bonding experience where they get to know their grandparents better, but this has its upsides and downsides, too,” McCarthy of the Family Travel Forum said. “A big downside to these vacations is when grandkids don’t really know their grandparents, and grandparents don’t understand the discipline and behavior expectations for these kids. For example, can they text at the dinner table? Can they stay up late? In these situations, I suggest the child’s parents and grandparents have a candid conversation about rules and expected behaviors, and then give the kids and teens a sense of what is expected.”

Family Travel Association founder Rainer Jenss pinpoints the “skip-gen sweetspot” for children to be between the ages of 6 and 14. © 2019 Road Scholar

Family Travel Association founder Rainer Jenss pinpoints the “skip-gen sweetspot” for children to be between the ages of 6 and 14. © 2019 Road Scholar

Clear communication with the travel agent is also key. Lauren Goldenberg, a travel advisor for The Family Traveler, says that although a skip-gen trip can be similar to a vacation that includes the parents, it’s not a one-size-fits-all booking.

“It totally depends on the group makeup, bedding needs, the clients’ budget, the group members’ physical abilities, the amount of time it takes to travel, the time of year, etc.,” she said. “Not many of these family groups are just going to a resort. It’s usually something more special, meant to build different types of memories.”

Advisors should also discuss the trip with children to make sure they’re on the same page, FTA’s Jenss adds.

“The grandparents may say, ‘I want to take my grandson on a river cruise,’ but the kid may have no interest in that,” he said. “Grandparents may not be in touch with what their grandkids like, or where they want to go, so advisors should have that conversation with both parties.”

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Skip-gen vacations allow kids and grandparents to experience new cultures and experiences. © 2019 Wildland Adventures

Skip-gen vacations allow kids and grandparents to experience new cultures and experiences. © 2019 Wildland Adventures

The kids’ ages should be taken into account, too, Jenss says. Cruise lines and all-inclusive resorts have kids’ programs that skew toward a younger demographic, while small-ship, expedition cruises or river cruising may cater better to teenagers.

Jenss pinpoints the skip-gen “sweet spot” for kids to be between the ages of 6 and 14.

“Children between these ages are not disinterested, and they’re not so young that they require too much maintenance,” he said. “It’s when they’re curious, they want to travel, and they don’t mind being with grandparents.”

And when it comes to choosing a destination, advisors should choose “a place that is considered safe, and where parents feel comfortable sending their children while balancing the ability and experience of grandparents,” Wildland’s Kutay said.

He mentions Costa Rica, Tanzania, Turkey, Egypt and Southeast Asia as popular with skip-gen clients, as these locales expose both generations to new cultures and experiences.

“The baby boomer generation sees travel as a game-changer for their grandchildren to understand the beauty of our environment, and the vulnerability of the planet they will inherit. They want their grandchildren to become better ambassadors of the future.”
Kurt Kutay, president of adventure tour operator Wildland Adventures

“There are always rites of passage available to each of us in our lives,” Kutay said. “The baby boomer generation sees travel as a game-changer for their grandchildren to understand the beauty of our environment, and the vulnerability of the planet they will inherit. They want their grandchildren to become better ambassadors of the future.”

The Details
Road Scholar
www.roadscholar.org

The Family Travel Forum
www.myfamilytravels.com

Velas Resorts
www.velasresorts.com

Wildland Adventures
www.wildland.com

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