Families getting back to nature

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NEW YORK -- For most, adventure travel calls to mind certain imagery: 20- and 30-somethings, white-water rafting, mountain biking and rock climbing.

But Tom Hale, president of Berkeley, Calif.-based BackRoads, saw something entirely different -- the potential for families to enjoy adventure travel together.

Hale, the father of two, believed that "climbing the same hill together or kayaking the same river" enhances the natural camaraderie of a family. So in 1989, Hale introduced a family adventure-travel product for BackRoads. Since that time, what was once a niche market for BackRoads has grown to 200 yearly departures on 34 itineraries.

And family departures are up a healthy 13% so far in 2002, he said. According to Hale, the success of family adventure travel comes from a desire to do things as a family that are different, challenging and memorable. And agents, who account for about 20% of BackRoads' business, are getting in on the act .

Angie Wallace, president of the Travel Agency in Amelia Island, Fla., often works with BackRoads and said she sees family adventure travel taking off as baby boomers seek quality vacations for their families.

"These are families looking for a hands-on experience, and the tour leaders at BackRoads are incredible with children," she said. "They don't just keep them busy, they engage them."

BackRoads promotes kayaking as a way to enhance family camaraderie. Family adventure plans cover the globe and a full range of activities and budgets. For example, BackRoads offers a five-night Grand Canyon camping package at $1,098 per person; a five-night multisport package in Hawaii at $2,398 per person; and a seven-night multisport plan in Japan at $4,798 per person. Packages do not include air fare. BackRoads offers children's discounts of up to 75%, depending on age.

In 2003, BackRoads will "extensively enhance its agent program" with a range of initiatives, including a BackRoads specialist program certified by the Institute of Certified Travel Agents, outside sales support and a direct-mail program, according to Julie Snyder, marketing director at BackRoads.

Another adventure travel operator cashing in on the recent family boom is Country Walkers in Waterbury, Vt.

The outfit designs nature and cultural walking tours for smaller groups, something parents are looking for when they call, according to Carolyn Fox, marketing director for the operator.

"Throughout our 23 years we have depended on travel agents to represent our tours," Fox said. "With family adventure tours, we look to travel agents to bring [this unique product] to the whole family."

This is something Scott Milne, president of Milne Travel American Express in Barre, Vt., said he already does.

Milne said he sells "quite a bit of the rapidly emerging market" of family travel adventure through Country Walkers.

"[Country Walkers] is a homegrown product, one that gets us back to basics and gives families quality time together," Milne said.

According to Milne, an itinerary may include a morning walk but also a challenging sports option for older kids and parents.

Country Walkers' family packages include Glacier Park's Natural Splendor, a five-night nature walk of Montana's national park for $1,998, and South Africa Under Indigo Skies, a 15-night cultural walking tour priced at $5,998 per person. Air fare is not included, and children's discounts are available.

Kaleel Sakakeeny covers family travel for Travel Weekly and TWcrossroads.com. He can be reached at [email protected].

Book It: Backroads
Phone: (800) 462-2848
Web:www.backroads.com
Commission: 10%
Adventures: Boat cruises, fly-fishing, horseback riding, kayaking

Book It: Country Walkers
Phone: (800) 464-9255
Web:www.countrywalkers.com
Commission: 10%
Adventures: horseback riding, riverside barbecues, walking, white-water rafting

A few tips for booking adventure travel

here are a few things agents should know about selling family adventure travel.

• Agents should be sure to understand a family's needs -- such as the ages of the children, physical abilities, temperament and budget.

• Agents should ask family adventure tour operaters about the guides' experience with kids and the kind of equipment necessary for the activities.

• Several Web sites, such as www.iexplore.com and www.familytravelforum.com, offer famiy adventure travel advice.

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