When opportunity knocks, you answer the door. Family and adventure travel are two of the most lucrative and fastest-growing sectors of the industry. And at this point in the game, if you’re not combining these niche markets by creating rich adventure experiences for families, you may be missing out on a wealth of selling opportunities.

According to the Family Travel Association’s (FTA) “Family Travel Survey 2016,” 95 percent of respondents are either “very likely” or “likely” to travel with their children in the next two years. Sixty percent of respondents have taken a multigenerational trip, and of the 40 percent who have not, 26 percent are considering this option for future vacations.

Similarly, MMYG and Preferred Hotel Group conducted a study, “Multigenerational White Paper,” revealing that 40 percent of leisure travelers have taken at least one multigenerational trip in the last year. As families are living farther away geographically, these trips are a chance for families to connect and spend quality time together.

Meanwhile, the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA) “2016 Industry Snapshot,” indicates that desire for customized experiences remains in high demand, and activities such as cycling and cultural activities topped regional lists. Previously, the ATTA’s 2014 “U.S. Adventure Pulse” study found that a majority of respondents (upward of 65 percent) are adventure travelers or have tried an adventure activity as a secondary activity to a trip in the past.

Taken together, there is clearly a need for travel advisors to step in and craft complex itineraries that not only offer experiential elements but also meet the needs of each and every family member.

“I see families getting a little braver with each trip they take. As they get comfortable with the travel process, they extend themselves to vacations that are more challenging overall in regard to experiences, outdoor adventures and types of destinations,” says Lauren Goldenberg, owner of The Family Traveler LLC. “They hear about trips their friends have taken and then want the same for their family. There is also a trend for more hands-on experiences than in the past—which we love.”

Trend Watch

From volcano-boarding to snorkeling in a lagoon, the word “adventure” means many things to many people, as the ATTA’s “2016 Industry Snapshot” points out. Soft adventure—a distinct area of increased customer interest—includes anything from bird-watching and hiking to immersive cultural experiences and opportunities to mingle with locals.

“The days of just sitting on a beach chair or riding a tour bus to stand in line for a museum are quickly ending,” says Kimberly Wilson Weddy, co-president and co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, Inc. “Instead, families are biking through Europe, learning to kiteboard the Caribbean waters, hiking and kayaking to seeing wildlife or “glamping” at a dude ranch. And when it comes to the culture aspect, families now go shopping for ingredients with a chef before cooking together or meet a museum curator to learn the behind-the-scenes happenings. It’s travel that’s interactive and fun.”

According to Rich Basen, Discover The Palm Beaches senior vice president of marketing, younger families have become increasingly interested in soft adventure vacations and using a travel advisor to book them. “We subscribe to a number of research vehicles, and one of them is MMGY Global’s ‘Portrait of American Travelers,’ ” says Basen. “One of things that we’ve gleaned is that millennials with families are using travel agents to book soft-adventure trips in our county, The Palm Beaches, Florida. One would think that millennials are doing their own planning, but our research tells us that they are going to travel agents more and more. And they really respect the information that travel agents are providing.”

In addition to recommendations from travel advisors and friends and family, travelers are also looking to social media for inspiration.

“The advent of YouTube, GoPro and all types of social media has allowed families to see what is possible in the world,” explains Robert Merlin of SmartFlyer. “Following people on social media really has opened the door to new experiences and destinations that I don't think people were thinking of before—I have had clients call me to say their child saw something on YouTube and they want to go and do it. So we build a trip around that.”

Travel Advisor Checklist

Because an adventure vacation can be so many things (from white-water rafting and ziplining to kayaking, snorkeling and wildlife encounters), it’s imperative for travel planners to thoroughly qualify their family clients. The last thing you would want to do is to craft an itinerary that doesn’t take each family member’s personal interests and abilities into account.

“Knowing your clients' travel expectations—along with their physical activity level—is key,” says Veronica Espinoza, founder and travel advisor, Wander Barefoot. “If a family is traveling with young children, or elder family members, chances are their adventures are going to be limited to what these individuals can accomplish physically. You don’t want to suggest ziplining for grandma—unless you know that’s her thing! I keep in mind each family’s taste for adventure and how active they truly want to be on their trip.”

Here are some qualifying questions to consider when beginning the planning process:

  • What is the age, height and estimated weight of each family member? 
  • How fit is every family member?
  • What sort of adventures and activities have they have enjoyed on other vacations?
  • Do they participate in sports and other fitness activities at home? If so, which ones and how often?
  • Are there any injuries or disabilities that could preclude certain family members from some activities?
  • What is each member of the family hoping to get out of the vacation?
  • What are the children studying in school (so the advisor can suggest destinations that are relevant to their schoolwork)?
  • How would you describe each family member’s travel style?

Of course, one of the most important aspects of travel planning is relationship building. Advisors who work closely with clients through the planning stages—and check in on them during the trip to ensure that everything is perfect, often find that there are more opportunities for booking additional tours and activities once clients are on site at the destination. The more adventure activities they book with you, the more they trust your suggestions and look to you first for creating an adventure vacation that the whole family can enjoy.

“Most people have this misconception that adventure travel is only for the roughing-it types, and the free-spirited 20-somethings out there,” says Espinoza. “But in fact, the biggest family travel trend I’ve seen is the increase in multi-generational adventure travel trips. These types of trips allow families to bond over being active and experiencing something remarkable together.”

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