t is hot, at least 100 degrees, and my
wife begins to melt. We are walking a true Via Doloroso -- it must
be a 25-degree grade uphill, and we're passing mosaic
representations of the Stations of the Cross, but we're not in a
mood to stop and admire.
On my back is an 8-month-old, a gallon of water, diapers, baby
food, cameras, film. My wife is pushing our 2-year-old up a path of
Roman-era paving stones wide enough for a wheelbarrow, but just too
narrow for an umbrella stroller.
My mother holds back to walk with us, but she's going strong.
We've walked about a mile uphill, and she's barely broken a sweat.
We're at a festival inspired by the book "Under the Tuscan Sun,"
and the Tuscan sun is inspiring less-than-sunny thoughts in me. But
At the end of the path is the Church of Santa Margherita. We
finally reach it, but rather than heading into the dark, cool
interior, my mother buys us refreshment from the little cafe next
door. A gelato for the 2-year-old, panini sandwiches for herself
and my wife, and a beer for me to sip while I feed the baby.
Mother knows best. We enter the church with spirits renewed. And
the church is a wonder. Santa Margherita herself is lying in front
of the altar, looking remarkably well-preserved. Still, we decide
that the 2-year-old, who was scared silly by a cartoon featuring
Yurtle the Turtle, need not get too close a look.
It is my first time traveling with three generations, but I'm
part of a trend: Suppliers from Disney to Tauck are developing
programs to enable children, grandparents and parents to see the
I don't know if our trip was typical, but it encompassed many of
the benefits of this niche. My mother lives half a continent away,
and would be happy in any environment that brings her in contact
with her grandchildren (during the sales process, grandparents are
no doubt the first to see the benefits of family travel).
But I think it would be a mistake to assume that time spent with
grandchildren is reward enough. In my mother's case, the trip's
content had strong appeal. She saw four classical concerts. She
took a Tuscan cooking class. She relaxed for a day in a thermal
spa, and went on wine-tasting tours.
Equally important, our hotel was near a park where the
2-year-old could burn off some energy, and we chose other
activities accordingly. After he endured a multi-hour visit to the
Uffizi Gallery in Florence, we let him loose to climb the 463
stairs to the top of the city's Duomo. Upon encountering the last
-- and steepest -- flight, he muttered something in Italian we
hadn't realized he had picked up. He took in the task ahead of him,
shook his head slowly and said, "Mama mia."
As a family, we also benefited from expanding our collective
memory. For the past 30 or so years, our interactions centered
around holiday gatherings, birthday parties, weddings and funerals.
We've now got a new reference point that refreshes the family
During the trip, I ran into a number of other multigenerational
travelers whose experiences, combined with ours, provided some
insight into how to qualify clients. My conclusion: The amount of a
structure to recommend should be linked to the number of stress
factors you observe when meeting with clients.
If you pick up on family tensions, it's probably best to steer
the family to a trip that is either highly structured or offers
individuals lots of options -- you'll want to keep on-the-road
group decisions to a minimum. A cruise that includes children's
programs would be ideal, as would a packaged tour with a strong
On the other hand, when harmony prevails, the decision-making
process can create closer bonds and a very flexible itinerary would
be more appropriate.
For an agent or supplier, helping create a successful travel
experience forges as strong a bond as you could hope to have with a
client: You're part of the family now.