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With several weeks of summer still left, having a family vacation is still a possibility. But parents traveling with kids are getting smarter about how they're spending their money. If the industry wants to attract this billion dollar sector, appealing to their kids is the smart way to go.

After a year and a half of lockdowns, virtual schools, canceled family reunions, and avoiding crowds, trends show the easing of some travel restrictions is allowing more families to venture out for a much-needed summer vacation.

This is good news for the travel and tourism industries with U.S. family travel alone traditionally generating billions of dollars in revenue. 

“Family travel is one of the biggest segments of the tourism industry with 100 million Americans planning to enjoy a holiday with their loved ones in the summer months and 70 percent of U.S. families ‘very likely’ to have one in the next year,” said the 2020-2021 Family Travel Statistics published by the UK’s Condor Ferries, offering ferry services to passengers and vehicles in the UK and France. 

“The number of families taking time away together are expected to rise to 376 million trips annually by 2022,” the Condor statistics said. 

Trends show the pandemic and the rise of the Delta variant are increasing the stressful nature of planning a safe vacation, suits everyone’s needs, and makes people happy.

Enter travel agents. As many families are nervous about planning trips due to Covid, they’re turning to a resource they may not have considered in the past: travel agents. This year’s “The American Express Travel: Global Travel Trends” report revealed that 59 percent of travelers surveyed plan to use a travel advisor to book their next vacation. Meanwhile, a survey from the American Society of Travel Advisors and Sandals Resorts found that 44 percent say they are more likely to use a travel advisor following the pandemic.

While traveling during a pandemic can prove stressful and challenging, it’s not impossible.

Forty-seven percent of parents have traveled with kids during the pandemic, said a recent study of 1,010 U.S.-based parents conducted by VacationRenter, a company listing holiday rentals from a variety of sites in one place. 

For example, being able to safely reunite with her grandchildren living in Saint Louis and the Washington, D.C. area was an important factor in planning a multigenerational family vacation this summer in Virginia Beach, said Catherine Troisi, Ph.D., an infectious disease epidemiologist with UTHealth school of public health in Houston, Texas.

Taking precautions during their flights with small children, the family of 10 opted to rent a vacation home for their holiday, the second most popular form of accommodation for families. the study showed.

Trends show children have a major influence on parents final decisions for vacation destinations, activities, and accommodations

Overall, 34 percent of parents prefer staying in a hotel when traveling with kids because of hotel perks including Netflix. Hotel suites are the third most popular accommodation choice, the study said. 

However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for families traveling with children throughout the pandemic. Study results show 48 percent of parents had their trip postponed, 46 percent experienced cancellations, 31 percent ended up changing destinations, and 27 percent switched modes of transportation.

The most popular form of travel remains road trips for the flexibility, sense of security, and cost-effectiveness they offer.  

Sixty-two percent of parents said they prefer road trips to any other form of travel with 57 percent choosing an SUV as their mode of transportation, said the VacationRenter study,

“When heading on a road trip – especially when kids are involved – you need all the space you can get. SUVs offer just that, and many come with foldable seats, allowing for even more storage room. They also typically come with loads of safety features, ensuring the well-being of your family for the duration of the drive,” the study said.

Whether it’s in the family car, a rental car, or an RV camper, long road trips are an excellent way for families to connect and explore new adventures together, but the CDC warns frequently stopping for food, gas, or restroom breaks increases risks of coming into contact with others and surfaces.  

As the industry is recovering, cracks are beginning to show with many experiencing labor shortages leading to flight cancellations, closures, or less than satisfactory stays. 

“To put these travel planning issues into perspective, the tourism industry has lost out on more than $750 billion in revenue due to the pandemic,” the study said.

Some of the challenges parents experienced included limited testing for children, closed attractions, quarantine requirements, limited food choices, and an inability to comply with mask mandates.

Many families like Troisi’s experienced success while traveling with kids, with 19 percent of parents completing their trips as planned, the study said.

Taking the time to plan your vacation and include children in the planning aspects of the trip helps kids become more engaged and excited. It also lets parents relax and enjoy themselves, said a 2020 Marriott Bonvoy Bold from Chase Survey study.

One-fifth of parents surveyed by Marriot Bonvoy said planning a vacation is difficult, yet the study found 86 percent of parents currently include their kids in the holiday planning process. 

As more families are planning trips themselves on the internet, Marriott Bonvoy by Chase has launched an interactive family travel planning page with tips for traveling with kids by age, free activity downloads, and the ability to create personalized avatars.  

The pandemic has brought about new trends. 

When planning your travel, Troisi recommends looking at where you’re thinking of traveling to and what the current situation looks like in that community.

If you are traveling with anyone unvaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several recommendations including checking Covid-19 prevention practices for your accommodations and restaurants before you go.

While traveling by car is safer, Troisi said, the best options for social distancing as a family while traveling by plane include flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday when planes are less likely to be full. Waiting to board at a nearby empty gate, sitting towards the back where there’s less foot traffic minimizing the potential spread, and avoid drinking, eating, or using the restroom, she added.   

Flying, however, may not be for everybody. Only 26 percent of parents surveyed chose flying as their preferred mode of transportation, the VacationRenter study found.

Three out of four parents chose to take a longer flight versus shorter ones with multiple layovers. Parents surveyed said the longest flight they would feel comfortable traveling in with kids is five hours and on average the youngest age parents would fly with is 3 years-old, the VacationRenter study said. 

Utmost on parents’ minds is keeping their families safe while traveling and having fun, but the uncertainties of Covid-19 make it hard to plan travel by air, the study said.

Parents enjoy sharing new adventures with their kids on family holidays. The Statue of Liberty in New York City topped the list of best historical landmarks to visit with kids followed by Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, and Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, California, the VacationRenter study said.  

The survey findings show some of the best national parks to visit with kids include Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smokey Mountains. Popular destinations include the top three Florida, California, and New York.  

Top trending fun outings for kids include visiting family, the zoo, aquarium, amusement parks, and swimming, the VacationRenter study said. 

Troisi recommends avoiding crowded areas like theme parks, but encourages outside activities and continuing precautions while traveling including wearing a mask correctly even if vaccinated, washing hands, using hand sanitizers, and antibacterial wipes. While waning, her suggestions are pandemic trends remaining for some families traveling with kids.  

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Tags: airlines, coronavirus recovery, family travel, transportation, travel and transport, travel trends

Photo credit: A family enjoys a vacation on the beach. Lecreusois / Skift/Pixabay

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