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When an 8-year-old girl tells her mother that she’d rather solicit donations for the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos Islands than receive presents on her birthday, you know travel has had an impact.
Sven-Olof Lindblad, founder and CEO of Lindblad Expeditions - National Geographic, shared the story of the former guest, noting that the child was moved to tears when it was time to leave the naturalists she’d met on her trip.
“A lot of these kids get very, very inspired as a consequence of what they see,” Lindblad explained to a crowd of about 100 attendees during the opening moments of the Family Travel Association (FTA) Summit, held Oct. 23-27 on Royal Caribbean International’s Majesty of the Seas.
“It’s happening all the time in one form or another,” he said. “Whether it’s a place as dramatic as the Galapagos, your backyard, your local park or wherever.”
The story punctuated the pivotal role the FTA seeks to play in family travel conversations.
“Family travel can change a child’s life, and what we as an organization want to do is engage with our members so they become ambassadors to this mission and can advocate for change in the way the culture looks at family travel,” said Rainer Jenss, president of the FTA. “I propose that the FTA will be the engine that drives that change.”
The initiative — which was met with applause and commitments from members in attendance — does not mark the first time the association has worked together to impact the broader community.
In the past, the FTA has advocated for a family’s right to fly together in adjacent seats without extra fees. The organization’s efforts were instrumental in the passing of the Families Flying Together Act, though the act’s implementation has been stalled.
At this year’s summit, the focus was on inclusion as it relates to age, race, ability and more in the family travel space. Speakers included Kristen Bonilla of Visit California; Julia Dimon, a television personality and family travel influencer; Stephan Chase of Chase Intel; and Kevin Thomsen of Red Trunk Project, among others.
The summit had a broader international reach this year, with members from as far away as Australia, Africa and Europe in attendance. In fact, Chitra Stern, owner and founder of Portuguese-based Martinhal Family Hotels and Resorts, was named FTA Person of the Year. The association has grown from 12 to 318 people in three years and shows little signs of slowing down.
The goals for 2018 focus less directly on increasing membership and more on increasing the FTA’s advocacy efforts to ensure that families understand how transformative traveling can be. Part of that push focuses on greater recognition that all families should feel included, Jenss says.
“Google ‘family travel,’ and at least the first 50 images that appear are of white families,” he said.
Diversification will also be exemplified in the FTA’s commitment to members, according to Jenss. A new travel agent program is rolling out over the coming months under the guidance of Sally Black, founder of VacationKids.com.
“We’ve discovered that agents have just as much of a need to be inspired and informed as consumers,” Jenss said. “We’re really excited to bring agents into the fold and to get more boots on the street selling a variety of services to families.”
The new travel agent program will include basic training to help agents who are starting out and want to learn how to best serve families; a resource center; networking platforms; and varied levels of membership depending on needs and experience.
Also announced at the event were the results of recent research initiatives in partnership with New York University’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism and Strottman International; a new partnership with Family Traveller magazine; and continued work with The New York Times Travel Show as the power behind its Family Travel Pavilion.
The overall goal of the FTA, Jenss says, is to influence and impact families in a positive way and to continue to help members deliver transformative travel experiences to all types of families.