It was the second Wednesday of June, and Twitter users were tweeting in anticipation of a chat about family travel. @LATravelMom helped set the tone: "I'll be tweeting for #TWchats today from my#family vacation."
TWchats, or #TWchats in Twitter-speak, has been gaining traction since its launch in November. On the family-travel chat last month, more than 1,500 tweets about family travel were sent in an hour.
The format is standard for a Twitter chat. A host and group of co-hosts agree on a set of conversation starters that they tweet at prearranged times. Other tweeters then chime in, and the conversation flows as people respond, retweet and reply to other tweets.
Participants add a hashtag to their tweets -- in this case, it's #TWchats -- so anyone who searches that hashtag will see all the tweets scroll onto their screen like a virtual chat or a public instant messenger.
For the family travel chat, Travel Weekly editors were joined by suppliers, travel sellers, family travel bloggers and enthusiasts, Twitter influencers and first-time tweeters.
The medium enables tweeters to connect directly with others. For example, supplier participants included Abercrombie & Kent, Royal Caribbean International, the U.S. Tour Operators Association and several resort brands strong in the Caribbean and Mexico.
The subject of the upcoming chat on July 10 will be "the power of travel agents," focusing on reasons to use an agent to plan travel. Visit www.travelweekly.com/twitterchats for full details.
Top destinations and amenities
To start, participants were asked to contribute the name of the hottest family-travel destination in 2013.
Several people tweeted traditional family vacation ideas: Disney was prominent, and Mexico and the Caribbean were mentioned. New York was suggested by @nycgo, and @mauivisit suggested Maui.
"The hottest destination is definitely the #Caribbean. Easy to get to and lots to do," tweeted Adam Stewart, whose profile on Twitter identifies him as "CEO of world-class companies @sandalsresorts@beachesresorts@ATLUnbeatable and @IslandRoutes."
Others went farther afield: A&K suggested Tanzania and Kenya. And @tmsfamtrav mentioned that Niagara Falls was a popular family getaway.
In response to a tweet by General Tours, Delta Vacations tweeted, "@generaltours, the southern Americas are beautiful and great for family travel, Costa Rica in particular. Pacific or Caribbean side?"
Tips and humor mixed on the next topics: a travel experience or resort feature that's the biggest hit with families, and amenities that families can't live without.
"I vote for a clean, safe pool -- a must!" tweeted @familytravel4um.
"WiFi!!! Included and high speed," said @jasoncolemaninc.
"I must say other kids," tweeted @charlesmccool. "No matter where, my kids want to play with others."
"And a kitchen so we don't have to take small children out for every meal," mentioned @citypass.
"Bathroom maps of every city," said @lufthansa_usa. "Know your options while you're seeing the sights, and in case of 'emergencies.'"
"Ample room for every member of the family without breaking the bank," tweeted @tmsfamtrav, to which @mychaos responded, "Yes! Some family suites are crazy expensive."
Social media plays a major role
Tweeters debated the importance of healthy menus for kids and whether luxury travel fit with families, something about which, not surprisingly, @aktravel_usa had something to say: "Kids + luxury travel = an ideal family trip. Be sure to choose family-friendly programs that include something for everyone."
The conversation shifted to tips for traveling with young children (snacks, preloaded iPad) and then to tips for traveling with tweens and teens. Several tweeters suggested letting older kids take part in the planning, but there were differing opinions on whether WiFi access was a boon or bane for teen travel.
"Never do early boarding for families with small children," said @ouatvacations. "Send spouse on with bags and wait with kids until the last minute to get their energy out."
"Have plenty of food for the teen crowd and disable their cell phones. Family travel tip #1," tweeted @cruisebuzz.
"Chill out and be flexible," tweeted @kidtravel. "Stuff happens and your teen will watch, emulate and learn from you."
Chatters agreed that social media played a role in helping plan travel.
"Social media friends are the new 'friends & family' relied upon for travel recommendations" tweeted @kidtravel.
The session rounded out with a discussion about "how to keep parents sane."
"A babysitter, a glass of wine, a spa treatment, a nice dinner. What am I forgetting?" tweeted @chatstw.
"Sunset on the beach," @kimorlando said on a retweet.
"How about a candlelit dinner for two while the nanny takes over for a few hours?" said @beachesresorts. "A few moments to savor."