The make-or-break impact of Generation Z on family travel and the importance of addressing clients’ emotional needs surfaced as key issues last week during a panel discussion among travel advisors at Virtuoso Travel Week.
The role that EQ (emotional quotient) plays in travel planning was not just the panel focus, but a central theme during Virtuoso’s annual gathering in Las Vegas.
Noting that “travel makes you smarter and pushes you out of your comfort zone,” moderator Terrie Hanson, Virtuoso’s senior vice president of marketing, asked the panel, “How do you work with EQ and emotional intelligence?”
For Anne Scully, president of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia, it’s about listening carefully to the client and then going the extra mile to create experiences with emotional impact. A particularly dramatic example of this occurred when planning a trip to Normandy for a client whose father had been killed on D-Day.
“He wanted to bring his family, which included 16 grandchildren, to commemorate the grandfather and great-grandfather they never knew,” Scully said. “We had a wreath created with all of the family names. When they arrived, they were greeted by the mayor who gave them a scroll detailing the father’s sacrifice. It wasn’t just a trip to France, but a powerful memory.”
For Charlotte Harris, director of Hong Kong-based Charlotte Travel, it’s about listening and paying attention to body language.
“It’s about how clients speak to you and gaining a vision of who they are,” she said. “You have to understand the culture and upbringing of a client. For instance, how parents portray love is different in Hong Kong than in the U.S. I take in all the details and communicate their needs to my suppliers.”
Addressing the emotional needs of clients can also involve addressing their fears, something Cate Caruso, owner of True Places Travels in Vancouver, Washington, found recently when handling a request from a client who wanted to plan a surprise trip to Europe for her husband.
“She said her husband was afraid to fly, which is a very common concern among travelers,” Caruso said. “So we found a way to mitigate this.”
As is her practice when clients return from a trip, Caruso asked the woman what she and her husband had learned about themselves from the trip.
“She told me they had reconnected and that they loved being together—that was something they had forgotten in the midst of their busy lives,” she said.
Serving Gen Z
The impact of young people on family travel decisions and what travel advisors need to know to serve this increasingly influential market was also addressed by the panel.
For Scully, the influence of Generation Z came into full force while planning a $250,000 family trip that was to include gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
“I lost the booking because, although the parents were keen on it, the children said they didn’t believe gorillas should be involved with tourism,” she said. “It was also the kids, not the parents, who were concerned about spending that much money.”
Making sure that family travel plans address the needs of Generation Z has become crucial, said Scully, who was careful to do just that while planning a recent trip to Italy.
“The parents were all about wanting to see the churches and museums, but I could see the kids were not enthused,” she said. “It became obvious that the 21-year-old daughter was just doing the trip to please her parents.”
Scully made it a point to ask the daughter what she wanted to experience during the trip and to present some suggestions.
“She perked up when I asked if she’d like to cycle through the vineyards,” Sculley said. “Each family member wants something different and you have to address this. It’s important to read the signs.”
Despite the challenges, Scully said it’s important for travel advisors to reach out to Generation Z and learn who they are what they want.
“A lot of young people don’t realize what they can get from travel,” she said. “Travel is very important for this generation—they need to get into nature and away from games.”
For Harris, young people are an important part of her market because international travel is common among school-age children in Hong Kong.
“Every child does an international trip and often these trips are about giving back to the local community,” she said. “In some cases, the parents did these type of trips when they were young and want to pass the experience on to their children.”
When asked about overtourism, the panel agreed that travel advisors have an important part to play in mitigating its impact.
“It’s our responsibility,” said Phillipe Brown, founder of London-based Brown and Hudson. “We need to learn more about the off-the-beaten-path gems and present them to our clients. And, in some cases, we need to find to ways to make even uninteresting places more interesting by finding great things for them to see and do.”
Sculley added that it’s not always about the destination, but about the time of year it’s visited.
“I never send anyone to the Amalfi Coast during the summer,” she said. “Clients often don’t realize this unless you tell them. We need to educate our clients about overtourism. It’s definitely part of our role.”
Harris is finding that suggesting places that are off the tourist radar is met with little resistance, especially among younger clients.
“Millennials in particular are looking for something new and different,” she said. “They want to go somewhere no one else has been.”