As family time dwindles, it’s becoming common for adults to vacation with their kids, parents and friends

Think family getaway and the first thing that pops into your head may be Chevy Chase hamming it up as the inept patriarch Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Sure, the majority of travellers aren’t plagued by nearly as many bumps in the road as Clark, but his commitment to family represents today’s ideals. Taking a trip with the kids has become a priority, especially in an increasingly fast-paced world.

“As the sense of compression from contemporary life grows, people seek to spend more time with loved ones when they have leisure time,” explains Peter Yesawich, chairman of the Ypartnership, an Orlando, Fla.-based marketing services company that specializes in the travel industry. In fact, a myriad of industry insiders single out 9/11 as a monumental event that highlighted the importance of quality time with family and friends.

Many hotel companies have recognized the trend and are tapping into this market by attracting family groups with packages, discounts and specialized amenities. “We’ve found our franchisees are modifying their property amenities to draw the family, and value-added amenities go along with that,” says Kevin Maven, director of Franchise Operations for Choice Hotels Canada. “A couple of years ago, the Comfort brand established the Comfort Sunshine Breakfast, which is complimentary, so it provides huge value.” One franchisee, from the chain of some 300 national privately run hotels, has even created a leisure centre complete with mini-golf. They are by no means alone.

Delta Hotels features a webpage of family packages and meal deals; Ontario’s Briars Resort and Spa has group rates and a social coordinator on staff; a Best Western in London, Ont., built an amusement-park-worthy pool and play area, and earlier last year guests at Walt Disney World Resort had the opportunity to buy four nights and get three free during the spring break holidays.

But the family segment has been further defined. According to The National Leisure Travel Monitor, co-authored by Ypartnership and Yankelovich, Inc., a survey of 4,378 Americans (who have similar travel patterns to Canadians) found the number of adults who vacationed with children in a 12-month period rose from 26 per cent in 2000 to 38 per cent in 2008, which is interesting, considering Yesawich’s assertion that only 33 per cent of Americans live with kids. One prominent driver of this increase is multi-generational travel, a trend that’s emerged in the past few years.

“We labelled it [togethering] as a result of a piece of research that we did for Disney that looked at how family travellers were changing their style of travel. We discovered roughly 70 per cent of adults reported they had taken at least one vacation that included relatives or extended family or friends…on at least one occasion in the previous two years,” explains Yesawich.

Disney used the information to create ‘magical gatherings,’ which identified a niche market and led to a range of incentives, including specialized dining, attractions and entertainment for groups travelling together.

This trend is also evident at Miamibased Interval International — an exchange service offered between developers and vacationers across the globe. “Developers are building larger units,” says David Gilbert, executive vicepresident of Resort Sales and Marketing at Interval. “The two-bedroom unit used to be — if you went back just a few short years — the largest unit, and then you started seeing some sporadic units that were three bedrooms. Now, it’s not unusual to have a timeshare with four bedrooms.”

Investing in this market can be fruitful for hoteliers looking to attract the almighty family leisure dollar, but offering guests a pleasant experience also builds brand loyalty. Case in point, Maven bumped into a couple at one Choice location who eagerly recounted news of their road trip to Atlantic Canada with their kids and grandchildren. “They stayed [almost] exclusively at Choice branded properties, and it was because of their confidence in the flag,” he says. “They knew exactly what they were getting in terms of accommodation and amenities and they knew they would have a comfortable and affordable stay.

Of course, dealing with large groups can sometimes cause logistical problems. Disney staff experienced a hiccup a few years back when the company booking system couldn’t accommodate an influx of requests for multiple rooms in a row. “Today, when a guest books with us with their family, we make it seamless for them,” explains Marlie Morrison, the director of Marketing and Sales at Disney Parks and Resorts in Canada. “If they want to have rooms together side-by-side, or if they want an interconnecting room, we can do that. If they want to have a dining experience with a large table, we can accommodate that request, too.”

Airlines have also adjusted online sites to account for large families travelling together.

“Traditionally, when you went online to book a reservation you could only book for up to three or four people travelling in the party, and now a number of these sites have expanded their fields to include up to, for example, eight passengers,” explains Yesawich.

To avoid these challenges, it’s important to stay on top of trends within the segment, something Disney executives who’ve been specializing in family travel for years know well. Recently, they noticed more families celebrating life’s milestones while ‘togethering’ and commissioned the Ypartnership to determine if it was a national trend. It was also important to determine if Canuck travellers were in the same boat. In a survey of 416 Canadian adults, 66 per cent of leisure travellers reported taking a vacation to celebrate an event. For example, Robert Lanoue, a 39-year-old Deloitte business consultant from Toronto, travelled to Orlando to commemorate a special day with his wife, kids, father and mother-inlaw. “It was ‘Nana’s’ 65th birthday, and it was an early birthday present for her to see her kids at Disney World,” says Lanoue. “It was nice to have an extra set of hands, but to get to see them relax and enjoy the kids…was a very special experience. We have done it twice now and would do it again.”

You can be sure that being recognized as a family friendly brand is an excellent way to attract more business. Having a great pool and play areas, games rooms and other daily activities for kids is a good place to start. The Four Seasons hotel in Toronto hired a concierge just for teens, specifically to help younger guests get out and enjoy the city in a safe, chaperoned environment. At the nearby Delta Chelsea — which was recognized as the “Best Family Hotel” by the readers of City Parent in the 11th Annual Readers Selection Awards — children under 17 stay for free when travelling with a parent or guardian and those under six eat for free from its restaurant’s kids menu (seven to 12 year olds eat for half price from the regular menu). Kids even get their own check-in cards, a simple way to have them feel like they’re a bigger part of the travel experience.

And it’s no secret that when it comes to planning family getaways, moms usually make most decisions, so don’t forget about her either. If you can’t afford to build a new hammam, having fresh-cut flowers around your property will go a long way.

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