Inspired to spread the family travel gospel

FTA Summit crew, September 2015

FTA Summit crew, September 2015

Inspiration is a powerful thing. It’s what lead people to vote for Barack Obama, what has intrigued people about author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and what has compelled people to come together to support Batkid.

As a full-time freelance journalist for the last 18 years, I have spent a whole bunch of my time reporting on other people’s inspiration. Earlier this week, however, as a board member who attended and participated in the first-ever Family Travel Association summit, I was delighted to be the one experiencing the inspiration first-hand.

It wasn’t difficult to be inspired; the summit brought together about 80 of the biggest and boldest thinkers in the world of family travel today. There were experts. There were representatives of big travel companies. There were owners of small travel companies. There were photographers. There were other writers. Almost all of the people present were moms and dads who have traveled with their families.

And everyone descended upon the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch for one reason: To talk about how we can work together to raise awareness of the importance of family travel.

Some people moved me more than others. Like Ida Keiper and Jesemine Jones, the women behind Abeon Travel, a travel consultancy dedicated to assisting families that include children with special needs. And Randy Garfield, the former Disney VP who now devotes his time to the U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off, one of the most important research efforts in the history of the American people. And Margo Peyton, who, through her company, Kids Sea Camp, strives to get children travelers SCUBA-certified so they can explore the underwater world. And travel writing icon Wendy Perrin, who’s been writing about family travel forever and simply is flat-out awesome.

And some ideas left an indelible mark on my brain. Like some of the new family travel data from FTA and Expedia. And the “18 Summers” campaign from Idaho (hint: watch the video). And Jim Pickell’s suggestion for a new equation to measure family travel—an equation that compares meaningfulness of experiences to expenditures. (Pickell, the founder of HomeExchange.com, is a pretty neat dude himself.)

Heck, the conference even provided scientific evidence behind the notion that travel makes you smarter; in an intellectually rollicking concluding seminar, Nancy Sathre-Vogel explained how new places and new experiences stimulate the growth of dendrites in our brains.

(Some of us joked that Sathre-Vogel’s presentation provided the basis for a new ad campaign that evokes 1980s anti-drug ads and contrasts a brain to a brain on family travel.)

In short, there was a lot to keep the brain buzzing.

The next step is making it all count. Technically speaking, the FTA’s mission is to “inspire families to travel—and to travel more—while advocating for travel as an essential part of every child’s education.” Now, however, with one summit under our belts, we need to codify a strategy and figure out how and where we want to be. Personally, I’d like to see the group become an information resource for consumers, a networking/best-practices group for industry insiders, and an advocate for the right issues (such as family passenger rights on airplanes).

What about you? What would you demand/expect from a Family Travel Association? What sorts of activities and endeavors do you think the FTA should pursue? Share your opinions and become a part of the discussion.

New data, new look at family travel

Rainer Jenss inspires the gang at the FTA summit.

Rainer Jenss inspires the gang at the FTA summit.

Today was data day here at the Family Travel Association (FTA) Summit in Emigrant, Montana. That means a couple of my favorite people shared some pretty incredible data about family travel.

The FTA itself was up first, releasing the results of a comprehensive study by the FTA and the NYU School of Professional Studies Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. The study revealed three key data points about family travel:

  • Family travel now accounts for a full one-third of all leisure trips booked in the United States.
  • Survey respondents took an average of 3.53 domestic trips and 1.25 international trips with their children in the past year.
  • Families prefer to travel with their children when the children are between 6 and 12.

Also interesting: the data suggested that there are three distinct types of family travelers: Hassle-free travelers, who prefer travel options that require little effort and research; Cautious travelers, who are more willing to spend time researching their travels and more open to try a wider variety of travel options; and Intrepid travelers, who tend to opt for new destinations each time they travel, are most likely to take the kids out of school for vacations, value travel over material possessions, and like to travel to different cultures and unusual destinations. (If you want to read more about this, Rainer Jenss, who founded the FTA, explained these types beautifully in a recent blog post for the organization’s blog.)

After the FTA’s data came data from Expedia—data that resulted from a separate study and echoed a number of the same points.

The Expedia numbers showed that people who travel with families spend 2.5 times more than couples traveling without them. And that 80 percent of people who take vacations regularly report being happier because of those trips. Other key metrics: 94 percent of respondents take at least one trip with their family per year, and 82 percent said they get more pleasure from vacation than from possessions.

(Expedia also conducted research on what kids think about family travel; that’s worth reading, too.)

What does all of this research tell us the ways families travel? How can we make sense of so many disparate data points? In a market where the vast majority of travelers can’t afford much more than road trips, why should we even care? In a nutshell, the answer is this: BECAUSE WE GO.

The bottom line is that we, as families, travel. In a big way. And we’re traveling more. It doesn’t matter how we travel. It doesn’t matter where we travel. It doesn’t even matter why we feel the need to get away. We’re going. We’re taking our kids. And we’re doing it with increasing frequency—so much so that the trend is on the rise.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past where families were an afterthought on the travel landscape, a customer base that existed but wasn’t big enough to matter. Results from these two studies make it clear that those days are over, that families are becoming a formidable market force which commands attention. The mere existence of the FTA—the very need to have a summit in the first place—is proof of this new reality. Now it’s time for the rest of the travel industry to pay attention.

For consumers, for people like you and me, the message is clear: Keep traveling. As I’ve said a thousand times (including 20 times on this blog), you don’t have to go far from home to expose your children to a brave new world. Family travel is a mindset. It’s time we all embraced this new way of thinking.

%d bloggers like this: