Experiencing a destination and actually enjoying it becomes trickier when small children get added to the mix of potential problems that can arise while traveling, and some destinations and attractions don’t apply enough focus and resources toward handling them.
The new Family Travel Association team knows family travel can be a hard sell for some parents, and part of the problem is destinations and publications not giving enough credence to family travel, says Rainer Jenss, the association’s founder.
A former publisher of National Geographic Kids, Jenss quit his job to travel around the world with his family from July 2008 to August 2009. The experience led him to create the new organization to bring together travel brands and publications as members to promote awareness and coverage of family travel. It also reinforces the educational benefits children receive from these trips.
Jenss stresses the association “not a start-up,” but rather an aggregator of family oriented content coming from media partners such as Travel + Leisure, Expedia and Afar. For now, the organization is B2B-focused, but will be consumer-facing within a year, he said.
“Travel + Leisure had a narrow view of [family travel], since it’s a challenge to write about,” Jenss said. “One of the goals with this is to create recognition of travel writers with our media partners. Right now, I’m not sure if most people could name a writer, besides bloggers, who covers family travel at a magazine.”
Jenss is working with Scholastic, an association member, on a goal to put a vacation travel planner in every student’s backpack in the U.S. for 2015 and hopes to “get into as many schools as possible.”
“When I approached Alaska tourism about joining the association, they told me ‘we don’t target families, our average visitor is age 52,’” he said. “They finally decided to join after some convincing. I Love New York, on the other hand, joined the association so they could do more to attract families and because it’s one of their highest priorities.”
Some travel magazines, though, might find it “sexier” to feature couples and exotic places rather than destinations more emendable to families. They also aren’t thinking about who their audiences really are, says Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, a family vacation expert at About.com.
“It’s just more fun to write about exotic places, and I don’t think they’re watching very carefully to be honest,” Kelleher said. “The travel industry puts a lot of ink towards flying, but the vast majority of family vacations are road trips of six or seven hours or less.”
Jenss says Orlando and California, both Disney locations, and Arizona are promoting traveling with kids. Kelleher adds she’s impressed with Daytona Beach, Florida’s efforts to attract families generally, and adds that Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania typifies the type of vacations families take today.
“Families used to generally take one long trip in the summer, now they take shorter, more frequent trips throughout the year,” Kelleher said. “At Great Wolf Lodge, there’s a lot to do under one roof that makes it perfect for an overnight or weekend family getaway. There’s no doubt families are taking more trips, but publications aren’t covering that.”
U.S. families spend an average of $1,894 on summer vacations, and flying a family of four, for example, isn’t always feasible on that budget.
Family travel gets more realistic in advertising when family friendly tourism brands strive to attract families within their drive-market, according to Kelleher.
“Ads for family travel are coming from brands aligned with luxury high-ends, and you do see a lot more luxury brands putting money behind families,” she said. “Extended-stay hotels and HomeAway are doing a lot of family marketing and speaking with their content to families. It’s very hard to think of other destinations besides Orlando and San Diego that would do huge national campaigns.”
Corporate annual membership in the association costs $5,000, while tourism and travel trade company membership is $2,500, retail/media/lodging membership is $1,000 and individual memberships are $500.
The association partnered with New York University to do a study, still in the works, on challenges facing families when planning travel, and it would explore what the industry can do to help parents simplify the process.
Jenss also founded Smart Family Travel Inc. in 2011, and sold that concept to Scholastic. In fall 2015, the association plans to hold its first summit at the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch in Montana.