Make the most of this lucrative and growing travel trend.
Once upon a time, luxury travel was the domain of adults, and the focus of the experience was visiting glamorous locales and being surrounded by lavish indulgence. But luxury travel has undergone a transformation in recent years, and one result is the growing popularity of multigenerational vacations among the affluent.
“Without a doubt we’ve seen luxury travel suppliers embrace family and multigen travel as never before,” says Leah Bergner of Coastline Travel Advisors, a Virtuoso member. “More families see travel as education, and as a way to share extraordinary experiences.”
According to the 2017 Virtuoso Luxe Report, multigen vacations top all other travel trends, while traveling with immediate family placed fourth on the list. The Family Travel Association (FTA) says that family and multigenerational travel is a $300 billion market in the U.S—and growing. In a 2016 survey by the association, 87 percent of respondents predicted the family travel market will grow robustly or moderately within the next three to five years.
The factors driving this growth are a mix of economic, demographic and cultural trends. First, there is the expansion of wealth: The estimated 10.8 million millionaires in the U.S. in 2016—up 400,000 from the year before—is the highest number ever. The wealthy travel more and spend more per trip and, not surprisingly, the luxury market is growing almost a third faster than the overall travel industry, according to Virtuoso research.
As for demographics, millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest living generation, but Boomers still hold the spending power. America’s 75 million Baby Boomers (between the ages of 52 and 70), control about 70 percent of all disposable income in the U.S., according to Nielsen.
How is this cohort spending its discretionary dollars? An analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data found that Americans over 50 years of age are investing more than $125 billion per year in personal travel, a statistic that will grow as more Boomers have more time to travel. And, according to AARP’s 2017 travel survey, the top motivation to travel for 57 percent of Boomers is to spend time with family and friends.
“We witnessed an incredible increase in families traveling together soon after 9/11,” says Gina Morovati, a Northstar Cruises travel advisor whose specialties include family travel. “Grandparents and parents didn’t want to be separated from their families. Those who would have never considered traveling with their children and grandchildren hopped on board. That trend has continued to build, especially among the affluent. Many Americans have extended families living in different states. In today’s hectic life, travel is a great way for families to spend quality time together, reconnect and create new shared life experiences.”
Melding Travel Motivations
Affluent Boomers may be motivated to spend on family travel, but what about millennials (ages 18 to 34) and Generation X (35 to 50)? According to Virtuoso research, family life shapes Gen Xer’s travel preferences, with the timing of their trips reflecting school calendars. Multigenerational travel is huge, too, and so is travel to mark special occasions.
When it comes to millennials, their preferences for experience over acquisition, digital over physical, and choice instead of loyalty are well documented. Travel is all about discovery, adventure and unique experiences that help define personal identity.
So certainly, melding all these different motivations can be a challenge—but it all comes down to how you frame and customize the travel experience, according to Morovati. “Multigen travel is a way for families to share unique experiences together,” she says. “They want to make memories together, whether they’re grandparents, parents or young adults. The key is making sure each individual or family has their own space and time to do their own thing.”
Savvy travel agents are refining their marketing approaches to target this lucrative market, and “switching up” the approaches for different demographics is a good practice, Bergner notes. But when it comes to multigenerational travel overall, existing clients are the key to building this type of business.
“Most often it’s an existing client who calls or comes in and says something like, can you make this family trip happen?” Bergner says. And both Bergner and Morovati find that it’s usually a grandparent who is the decision maker or instigator for the trip. “Being in the luxury market for years, our multigen travel growth is coming from our older clients who want to set up a family vacation—and very often they’re looking for a cruise experience,” says Morovati.
A Perfect Match
When it comes to multigenerational travel, cruise companies have led the industry in offering families an enormous range of options, from family suites and connecting staterooms to customized onboard entertainment and activities for different age groups, as well as excursions with a variety of appeals. And as luxury travel has evolved to include all ages, so too have luxury cruise companies jumped into multigen travel in a big way.
“One common misconception is that luxury travel is not suitable for children,” says Carmen Roig, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Crystal. “But in fact, the opposite is true. The tremendous expansion that Crystal began in 2015 and continues today is partly in response to this increase in multigenerational travel, and the fact that there are so many varied types of luxury travelers of all age groups.”
Despite the huge variety of options that cruise companies offer, there are challenges to putting multigen programs together. “Many luxury cruise itineraries are traditionally longer, making it more difficult to accommodate large families’ schedules,” Roig says. Crystal, for one, has responded by developing more seven- and 10-day itineraries, as well as abbreviated Crystal Getaways, which are segments of longer cruises.
Knowing what the options are and tailoring them to meet the needs and schedules of family groups is essential. “In this type of travel, you are definitely not an order taker,” Bergner says. “It’s like pealing back the layers of an onion to get more info and really figure out a vacation that meets everybody’s needs. It’s essential to stay on top of what’s out there in the market, to know the library of options.”
Bergner, a former teacher, will reach out to grandkids to find out what their likes and dislikes are, as well as to the adult children in the family. “I might call the grown daughters and ask what the family interests are and what kind of destination they are looking for. The grandparents may initially suggest the Caribbean, but it turns out the group would really like a European river cruise. It’s all about listening and information-gathering in order to create an extraordinary experience for everyone on the trip.”
Checklist for Multigen Luxury Travel
Creating extraordinary experiences for families is complicated and requires an expert knowledge of travel options as well as a highly consultative approach. For starters, “luxury” means different things to different clients today. But regardless of how luxury is defined, the cardinal rule of successful multigen vacations remains the same: Make it easy for families to be together when they want to bond, and apart when they want to engage in individual activities. That means suggesting experiences that include:
- Destinations that all ages can enjoy together, and that offer activities for the whole group or parts of the grou
- Variety of dining options, including venues with children’s menus and late-night dining
- Entertainment options available for all ages
- Family-friendly accommodations as well as options for connecting rooms
Especially for affluent clients, customizing experiences is another important ingredient for a successful multigen vacation. This means looking at everything from options for private tours and excursions to VIP ground transportation and check-in. “You have to view every part of the travel experience through the multigen perspective,” says Bergner.