Felicity Long
Felicity Long

InsightOnce upon a time, kids were free to romp their way through carefree summer vacations until schools reopened in the fall.

But as we all know, today’s children are another breed entirely, juggling schedules almost as complicated as their parents. So it makes sense that family travel reflects this trend, with the steady growth of so-called edu-tainment programs – that is, vacation experiences that make the most of family leisure time.

Fortunately for young travelers vacationing in Europe - a destination that has frankly lagged behind the Caribbean, Hawaii and the mainland U.S. in targeting families with children - the options are getting cooler by the year. Best of all, some programs are being designed so parents, grandparents, and kids can do them together.

Preferred Hotel Group, for example, is taking aim at multigenerational travel this year and getting serious about fun.

“Today’s travelers aren’t interested in … simply sending their children off to a kids club for the day,” said Rick Stiffler, the company’s vice president of leisure sales. “They are booking stays at hotels and resorts that offer opportunities to share experiences together. This has been a continuous trend over the past few years among well-traveled parents and grandparents looking to further the education of their children through travel.”FelicityLong

In fact, the company is seeing an increase in specific requests for active itineraries that allow the entire group to experience destinations, rather than “just see things,” Stiffler said.

A recent survey Preferred Hotel Group conducted on multigenerational travel found that 60% of travelers considering a family trip reported an interest in visiting Europe, the highest percentage for an international destination, he said.

To meet that need, the Preferred Family collection created a number of activity-driven programs for families in Europe, including fly-fishing lessons at the K Club, a posh 19th century chateau estate near Dublin.

The property enlists a local guide to teach families to bait a hook, cast a rod and reel in fish in the River Liffey. When the adults want to sneak off for a round of golf, the kids can ride horses or learn cricket and archery. Room rates start at $668 per night for a family of four.

Families can learn Italian together at Castello di Casole, a 4,200-acre, all-suite estate in the Tuscan countryside, via 90-minute language sessions that use fun, real-world applications – like ordering dolci and gelato. The property also offers family bike rides, pizza making and ceramic painting. Room rates start at $545, including breakfast; language lessons cost $55.

But no matter what the statistics say about the popularity of these programs, Stiffler recommends that agents pay attention to another trend: families value their children’s opinion when it comes to choosing a vacation destination.

“As agents follow-up with clients after a trip, ask for the whole family’s feedback, not just the adult who booked it,” he said. “Agents can gain valuable insight for future family bookings from the children’s perspective.”

Preferred Hotel Group’s Preferred Family Certification program qualifies hotels based on their offerings for children from infants to teenagers, requiring them to meet comprehensive age-specific criteria in five categories: hotel amenities, facilities, programs, services, and entertainment. The collection includes more than 260 family-friendly hotels in 47 countries.

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