Family Travel all about 'Quality Time'

From the Chicago Tribune a while back

Family travel all about 'quality time'
BY ALFRED BORCOVER Special to the Tribune November 18, 2007

It's all about QT. Kids are busy with soccer, basketball, baseball, music lessons, video games and camp, not to mention school. Parents are overburdened at work and equally busy on weekends trying to hold lives together. QT -- quality time -- with children seems to be catch-as-catch-can. And pretty soon months have rushed by without the family having fun together.That's where family travel comes in. Not just jumping in the van and sightseeing helter-skelter, kids rolling their eyeballs every time you drag them into a museum. But doing things kids want to do, having a shared adventure blended with an educational experience. Or just splashing around together at a lake or ocean beach.

Travel with children has been on a steady climb since 2000, and even more so in the last seven years. According to Washington-based Travel Industry Association figures, the number of leisure vacations with children has risen nearly 14 percent, to 208.3 million trips in 2006 from 183.1 million in 2000. Some of these trips are taken with grandparents.
"From 2001 through 2004, the primary reason [for the growth] was the residual psychological impact of 9/11," said Peter Yesawich, chairman and CEO of Ypartnership, an Orlando-based travel research and marketing firm. "People became far more introspective. Money, which was the focus of the late 1990s, was no longer all important. All-important was quality time with loved ones, a sense of parental guilt.

"Yesawich continued: "We began to see another reason [for family travel]: work habits that have become increasingly frenetic. The workday has gotten longer because of technology -- cell phones, PDAs and ceaseless e-mails. If you look at households where you have mom, dad and kids, 60 percent of those are where mom and dad are both working full time."

Yesawich said a pressure-cooker basically has evolved because mom and dad are struggling to keep up with their work obligations, "which means they feel guilty they don't have time to spend with their kids, which in turn translates into the conclusion, 'well, when we get three or four days to take a vacation, the kids are coming along.'"About those vacations. Yesawich said the No. 1 family getaway involves visiting friends and relatives. Beyond that, he said, priorities include anything that has to do with water -- beach and lake vacations and water parks, followed by theme parks and cruises, increasingly popular with families.

About 80 percent of vacationers in the U.S. take at least one trip a year by car, especially true for families who are cost conscious. Only half of vacationers fly. When you're traveling with kids, you look for the best deals, he said.

But what's truly essential when planning a family vacation is involving the kids. What you don't want are bored children and constant kvetching. When Yesawich conducted his annual National Leisure Monitor survey in January, sampling 1,882 leisure travelers, he found that kids play a significant role in determining where the vacations will be taken, where the family will stay and what they're going to do. "Kids go online and help plan vacations," Yesawich said. "

Kids save part of their allowance to participate in vacations. They are invested emotionally in the trip. One out of every two decisions is influenced by children, which is quite remarkable."For families looking for special shared-experience vacations, package vacations are growing as quickly as the whole travel-with-children boom. While growing, tours and family adventure packages are a "very thin slice" of the family travel market, Yesawich noted. Overwhelmingly, people are packing up the family car for their trips, he said."

Over the last three years alone, the family travel end of our business is up 30 to 40 percent," said Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures, an outdoors adventure-oriented tour operator based in Billings, Mont. "It makes up about 50 to 55 percent of our business." Austin-Lehman's family tour packages focus on the Pacific Coast and Northwest, California, the Rocky Mountains and the Southwestern U.S. A few go to Central and South America, and one to Africa. All have physical components such as biking, hiking, kayaking and rafting as well as cultural activities."It's a way for families to maximize what little time they have," Austin said. "

Whether it be with us or whomever, a package tour, where you've got experts who have vetted the places to stay, the proper trails and routes so you're not taking a lot of misdirections, is going to give you the most bang for your buck."As for kids, Austin said, they're in the outdoors and experiencing new things. "We wear them out a little bit. They may go for four or five days before they realize the place their staying doesn't have TV." (; 800-575-1540)

Paula Weissman, a 44-year-old stay-at-home mom from Long Grove, said she found Austin-Lehman on the Internet while searching for family vacation ideas when her children -- now 15, 13 and 11 -- were too young for such adventure trips. When the time was ripe, Weissman and her husband, Ken, now 47, a businessman, took their kids, who love the outdoors, to Yellowstone. "It integrated physical activity, a diverse itinerary with seeing, learning and doing. We didn't know what to expect. We were exhausted at the end of each day." Undaunted, the following year they went to Alaska and then the Canadian Rockies, trips etched in their family memories.Tauck, a tour company since 1925 and most notably for seniors, jumped into the family travel pool in 2002 with six offerings, said Joanne Gardner, marketing manager for Tauck Bridges, its family brand. The family market has been growing by 15 percent a year, she noted. Starting in 2008, the Norwalk, Conn.-based firm will add four more programs, bringing its portfolio to 13 all-inclusive multigenerational packages on four continents. ( ; 800-788-7885.)

At the high end of the family market is Oak Brook-based Abercrombie & Kent. "We've seen a 22 percent increase in the number of families traveling with us in 2007 compared to 2006," said George Morgan-Granville, president of A&K in the U.S. Its biggest increases have been to the Galapagos and Egypt. But its newest 2008 tour, especially hot for kids, is the Lewis & Clark Montana Adventure, which includes a night in a canvas tepee, and canoeing and hiking in the White Cliffs region with a local Blackfeet historian and guide. ( ; 800-652-8607.)

Butterfield & Robinson (; 866-551-9090), best known for its bicycle tours, and Country Walkers (; 800-464-9255) now offer a wide variety of family trips geared for children -- with their parents or grandparents, of course.


Julie said...

If your family is looking for a great bicyling trip in Italy or France I recommend ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours. A lot less expensive than Butterfield and Robinson and family owned!

James said...

You have raised some good points about travel with the kids, great post and good read.