Family travel has officially returned. And they want an advisor's assistance

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The annual report from the Family Travel Association focused on the effects that the Covid-19 pandemic as well as growing economic uncertainty have had on family travel habits.
The annual report from the Family Travel Association focused on the effects that the Covid-19 pandemic as well as growing economic uncertainty have had on family travel habits. Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

A return of family vacations in big cities and international destinations, as well as travel in bigger and more extended groups, are among the notable findings of the 2022 U.S. Family Travel Survey.

But also chief among the trends the survey found this year was the growing importance of the travel advisor.

The annual report from the Family Travel Association focused on the effects that the Covid-19 pandemic as well as growing economic uncertainty have had on family travel habits. 

But while the role of travel advisors and their importance in the family trip-planning process emerged as one of the strongest findings of this year's survey, Peter Bopp, head of research for the association, said some of the underlying reasons for that don't directly stem from Covid. 

"We have seen increased interest in using travel advisors driven by families engaged in more complex travel planning, such as trips to unfamiliar destinations," Bopp said. "They seek out advisors for their knowledge and expertise, help planning major itineraries and activities and dealing with the complexities of planning multigenerational and extended family trips."

The survey found that 25% of respondents have used a travel advisor to book at least one family trip in the last three years, an 8-point increase over 2021.

Family travel has officially returned. And they want an advisor's assistance

The number of respondents who expressed openness to using a travel advisor this year was 56%. It was down from the 2021 survey, when 65% said they were willing to use travel advisors to help navigate the challenges of cancellations, rebookings and other pandemic-era issues. But the 2022 figure was still up 3 points from the 2019 survey, and Bopp said it was significant and a higher response compared with previous studies.

Overall, the survey, now in its seventh year, revealed that families are more aware of some of the blind spots in their trip-planning process, and they want to avoid those going forward. 

"The experiences of cancellations, delays and closing of destinations to travel during the pandemic is showing a lasting impact on families as they plan future travel," Bopp said, adding that families are looking for peace of mind and assurance in their planning. That includes, he said, "being more attentive to cancellation policies, buying travel insurance and being open to working with a travel advisor to sort through the complexities of their vacation planning."

Back to cities

The study found that there is a marked increase in group travel.

It found growing interest in multigenerational travel with grandparents; extended family trips with siblings, cousins and other family members; and travel with unrelated families, which Bopp said are all "positive signs for family travel growing in these important market segments."

Other significant trends from the study were the increase in families returning to big cities, traveling farther from home on international trips and returning to indoor spaces and events, such as museum visits, as families put less priority on pandemic-era trends like outdoor vacations, nature-focused trips and traveling locally.

Travel advisors and suppliers are citing similar trends in their own bookings. 

Michelle Allen, owner of Travel Magic in Basking Ridge, N.J., said her bookings for multigenerational travel have been on the upswing this year, especially for theme parks and bucket-list destinations. Her numbers for Walt Disney World alone are up 30% from last year at this time, and interest is also up for Disney cruises and land tours with Adventures by Disney. "I returned from Portugal with Adventures by Disney in August and marketed a bit more than usual," she said. "I ended up booking four trips for families that had never done ABD before to Italy, Japan, Alaska and Greece." 

Family travel has officially returned. And they want an advisor's assistance

Red Savannah, a luxury and custom travel tour operator, said the company has seen "continual growth" in its family travel sector, with increased interest in skip-generation travel -- grandparents traveling with grandkids -- and one-on-one travel between a parent and one child.

Abercrombie & Kent said the Family Travel Association's findings were in line with its own booking patterns. For example, while the American West was very popular over the past two summers, now that restrictions have eased the operator is seeing increased family interest in international trips, such as African safaris and Machu Picchu in Peru.

Bopp said the trends point to a return to 2019-era travel. 

"Families have returned to many pre-pandemic travel behaviors faster than might have been expected," he said. "The notion that we were going to see permanent shifts in family travel, such as more local, drivable trips vs. distant journeys requiring air travel, have not held. 

"The rebound of interest in international travel and the return to indoor and city activities where social distancing is difficult is also a powerful sign of return."

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