Meeting the diverse and evolving needs of the luxury family travel market.
With their impressive budgets, sophisticated tastes and globetrotting habits, luxury travelers are a naturally attractive market segment for travel agents. But the concept of luxury can take on a whole new meaning when it comes to planning a family vacation. So how do successful agents get a handle on what families want in an upscale getaway? It’s not a simple task, but it is an important one if advisors want to tap into and retain this valuable client base.
To that end, it’s imperative that agents keep a finger on the pulse of this evolving niche. From destination choice to activities, luxury-seeking families want an increasingly diverse array of vacation opportunities.
The 2018 Virtuoso Luxe Report, for example, notes that modern families are opting for a varied range of destinations, from Mexico to Italy to Orlando—all of which ranked among the top three family destinations in the survey. Wherever they choose to go, chances are that families seeking upscale travel will be looking more than just pampering and luxury; they also want authentic experiences, off-the-beaten-path excitement and unique opportunities for bonding. International destinations like Mexico easily check off multiple boxes.
In addition, the survey highlights several factors that influence how families book and experience luxury travel. Generation Z, the post-millennial generation, now plays a major role in vacation travel decisions, for example. And experiences like cultural immersion, guided tours and adventure travel are more popular than ever.
“Families are now looking for deep cultural immersion and access to natural adventures,” confirms Cheri Burns, a destination specialist at Cox & Kings. “It’s now less about the nicest hotel and more about unique cultural experiences that work as informal schooling and education for the kids.”
The diversification of the market means more opportunities to sell, according Amy Rectenwald, a luxury travel advisor at Largay Travel in Waterbury, Connecticut. “I love this clientele because they make it relatively easy to shine—and that creates amazing family memories and very happy clients,” she says. “If someone has the budget, it's easy to come up with incredible experiences for them, because we either have the personal knowledge of a destination or we know who to work with to make something amazing happen.”
The Definition of Luxury
The very definition of upscale travel has evolved, according to Jennifer Weiss, a luxury travel advisor at Travel Edge in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Luxury used to mean fancy hotels,” Weiss says. “But today it has expanded to encompass everything from staying in an overwater bungalow in Belize to pizza-making classes in Italy, learning about the circle of life on a safari in Africa, and attending a once-in-a-lifetime sporting event like Wimbledon.”
And when it comes to families in particular, “luxury means ease of travel that takes into account the needs and desires of all ages,” Weiss says. “For some, that means dividing and conquering: fishing trips for fathers and sons and spa and shopping for mothers and daughters. It means kids’ clubs that allow couples to have some one-on-one time with each other while the kids are immersed in activities. It is not ‘one size fits all,’ but rather involves making sure that everyone in the family’s needs and happiness are taken into account.”
David Fishman, an agent at Cadillac Travel Group in Southfield, Michigan, notes the rise of two specific aspects of luxury family travel: “The biggest changes that we have seen have been more active vacations for families and more multigenerational travel.” He adds that these travelers require experiences that are specifically “catered to them and their needs.”
Rectenwald also sees adventure travel as an increasingly important aspect of the upscale family travel segment, as well as cruises, which remain a strong seller. Regardless of the type of upscale getaway, she says, family clients “want luxury service and, in most cases, accommodations—but more than anything, they want the special experiences and the memories.”
“It all starts with picking the right type of lodging, where the family will be comfortable,” explains Weiss. “Connecting rooms, of course, but also villas with kitchens and chefs that will allow the family to enjoy some nights in, to unwind.”
And when it comes to choosing top accommodations that also offer easy access to a variety of the other elements luxury-seeking families are after—attentive service, adventure opportunities and unique experiences—it’s no surprise that all-inclusive resorts are a popular choice.
According to Weiss, “Upscale all-inclusive resorts afford families the opportunity to spend time together and apart, enjoying age-specific experiences that include luxury food and accommodations. There is also something very relaxing about knowing that the vacation is paid for in advance, that the quality is going to be appealing to both adults and kids, and that the kids can order as many smoothies and snacks as they would like without worry over the final bill.”
Understanding Family Dynamics
Arranging a luxurious family vacation is decidedly more complex than booking a getaway for a couple or individual. To assure client satisfaction, travel agents must understand and consider the interests and preferences of everyone in the family, and cater to the needs of a variety of age groups.
“I make sure I have many conversations with the client so that I truly understand the bucket list of the parents and what each child enjoys doing the most,” says Weiss. “Then I work closely with my travel partners to make sure that everyone's needs and desires will be met. For instance, on a recent trip I planned, one of the daughters loves to shop and be very active, while the son needs downtime, screen time and relaxation. The parents love wine tasting, but we always need to make sure that other foodie experiences are included that will appeal to the children. So the rhythm of the trip needed to include a lot of variety in order for the needs of the family to be met and for everyone to feel like they had a true vacation.”
When it comes to pleasing all ages, the diversity and quality of the experiences offered at many all-inclusive resorts has improved to make them an easy favorite for upscale family groups.
“Upscale all-inclusive resorts cater to all ages by offering age-specific experiences that are far from the ordinary,” Fishman says. “Catering to all different age groups has traditionally been done very well by cruise lines, and now the all-inclusive resorts are catching on and having different activities for different age groups. This allows parents to have a great experience without worrying about their children, who are also having great experiences. Those childcare professionals give parents that peace of mind.”
Of course with any group, the planning process can easily become complicated and confusing as everyone voices their needs and desires. Agents needs to strike a balance between learning everyone’s needs and having too many cooks in the kitchen. To keep things moving along smoothly, Rectenwald says she aims to understand the overall family dynamics, while simultaneously zeroing in on the key contact. “I try to talk with as many members of the family as possible,” she explains, “but at the same time figure out who the ultimate decision maker is, and work with them.”
Going Above and Beyond
Clients who book luxury vacations understandably expect more when they travel. And families in particular provide myriad opportunities for travel agents to add that “something extra” that can make the experience more memorable.
“For every one of my travelers, I always try to do something special or add a little extra surprise,” says Rectenwald. “I work with the suppliers and see what they recommend during travel, or I will prepare travel packages for them in advance with little goodies.”
When it comes to creating unique upscale family vacations, “picking the right partner is essential for family travel,” says Weiss. “Like me, most of my go-to partners have kids of their own, and understand implicitly what works and what doesn’t work for a family.”
Fishman agrees about the importance of choosing appropriate partners. “We always work with our suppliers to make sure that the experiences are clearly tailored to each family’s individual interests—and to provide positive surprises along the way,” he says. One such example: “A supplier really pulled through for my client when we had the group ride a float through the French Quarter of New Orleans and pass out beads. They felt like rock stars.”
Alfonso Sumano, executive director of the Mexico Tourism Board in New York City, advises agents to ask lots of questions about what suppliers can do to create a truly upscale family experience. “My first recommendation for agents is to be in touch with DMCs and service providers, to check out what types of experiences they have for families,” he says. “For example, there are some DMCs in Mexico that can provide private visits to a museum or an archeological site when no one else is there, with a very well-informed guide.”
Strategic partnerships can also be useful when families need something during the course of their vacation, since top-paying luxury clients may require especially attentive service or expect rapid assistance if something goes wrong. “You have to have relationships with your vendors to salvage a difficult situation,” explains Fishman.
Weiss recommends seeking out suppliers who are experts at dealing with both luxury travel and family travel, so that they can help create the right kind of experience for this niche. “I work with on-site destination experts who specialize in families,” she says. “They are invaluable to me. My best on-sites get to know the preferences of kids on repeat trips. Some want nonstop activity, but others need leisure days built in. The best on-sites help me put together the perfect combination of experiences that will appeal to a whole family.”
In the end, Weiss says that travel agents can prove their value to families by recognizing their needs and helping them to enjoy experiences they couldn’t easily organize on their own. “Today’s families are so very busy, juggling so many responsibilities between home, work, school and activities,” she explains. “The opportunity to spend time as a family exploring the world together is so precious. Creating lifelong memories for them means getting all the details right and taking into account the needs of each and every member of the family. Nothing is more satisfying for me than that.”