The theme for 2014 Luxury Family Travel was summarized beautifully by Maxime Braun of the Oetker Collection at last week’s International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) gathering in Cannes, the luxury travel industry’s most important annual meeting of the minds. “Kids are today’s clients, not the clients of tomorrow,” said Braun. Music to our ears at Ciao Bambino!
Braun’s sentiments reflect a growing focus on meaningfully and creatively catering to families at luxury brands around the world. Gone are the days when a cookie at check in and a mini-robe suffice.
I discovered that incredible programming is on tap for 2104, especially for ages 0-12. The buzz at the conference was all about how luxury is increasingly defined as a lifestyle, not a status symbol or something to own. Translation: Memorable, shareable experiences define luxury travel today for travelers of every age.
Brands are increasingly integrating educational elements into their family programming. Video games haven’t fallen by the wayside, but luxury brands are providing engaging opportunities for children to learn about a destination.
> AndBeyond, a leading experiential travel specialist recently launched WILDChild, a mini-learning university where kids are creatively engaged in learning about their environment at AndBeyond safari camps by rewarding them with badges for successfully mastering different bits of information. The goal is for kids to move beyond observation and actively seek and digest knowledge about their experience. A win for all.
> Anantara Golden Triangle in Thailand is home to 25 elephants and extends their Manhout Experience, the opportunity to learn first-hand from an elephant handler about his/her daily work. Kids can feed baby elephants, ride elephants (ages 8 and up), and learn about their care and importance in Thai life.
> The much-loved luxury icon Ritz-Carlton Hotels and Resorts just launched a brand new Ritz Kids program in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau. The complete amenity list will vary between properties, but there will be consistent elements offered to children at every hotel in the Ritz-Carlton portfolio. The new program is based it on four themes: water; which emphasizes the importance of sea life; land, which encourages exploration; environmental responsibility, which is focused on the health of the planet; and culture indigenous to the area, which covers music, customs, history and food.
On a related note, more brands are taking responsibility for connecting travelers — including children — to a destination and the surrounding community.
> Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts embraces green conservation and cultural sensitivity as a core brand value. Their program Seeds for Change and Stay for Good gives guests the opportunity to support local communities while on holiday. A wonderful example is how Banyan Tree Laguna Lang Co supports the fishing villages around them. As well as buying fish for their restaurants, the resort organizes village tours with lessons on the traditional fishing methods, ensuring that the fishermen’s fish production and practices are both preserved and supported. Kids are encouraged to participate.
> At Virgin Limited Edition’s Ulusaba private game reserve in South Africa, Pride n’ Purpose helps disadvantaged communities in the Sabi Sand Reserve including support for 40+ orphans; families can bring supplies and visit local schools.
These efforts also help ensure that despite the pampering and luxurious accommodations, the travel experience is kept “real” and balanced for kids.
Authentic travel continues to be important to luxury travelers and brands are working hard to ensure encounters have a deep and lasting impact on their guests.
> Abercrombie & Kent is the leading brand for group luxury family journeys to exotic destinations. Their Wonders of the Galapagos itinerary for 2014 gets kids really close to wildlife and nature walks are limited to 12 guests for optimal interaction with naturalists.
I was struck by how many brands are developing family programming both inside and outside of the hotel. The concierge desk has always provided things like restaurant recommendations and booking assistance, but today’s efforts go well beyond these straightforward requests.
> Orient-Express Hotels has a dedicated Kids’ Concierge at their six properties in Italy. From crafting a kid-friendly tour of Florence to rafting down the Arno River, the concierge is ready and waiting with activity ideas. This represents a radical industry change! Coming soon is a new website called SmileClub to showcase all the fun for families at their hotels in Italy.
> The Peninsula Hotels recently relaunched their Peninsula Academy program where they showcase destinations just for kids from sessions with an Origami Master in Tokyo to kite making in Shanghai to learning to surf at Xanadu in Southern California.
Not long ago the only attributes that made a city hotel kid-friendly was attitude and room configuration. Not so anymore. We’re seeing brands extend resort programming into city stays. Even the most elegant city hotels are creating kid zones.
> The Kids Are Kings program at the decadent Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland, turns a grand salon into a playroom with organized activities during peak holiday months for families.
It seems no destination is too far for families to travel for a unique experience in 2014.
> Four Seasons Resort Mauritius is a perfect beach complement for a family safari in South Africa. They’ve created every activity imaginable for families with kids of all ages from complimentary waterskiing, non-motorsports rentals and golf, to snorkeling off a private island, to offering an array of kids’ treatments in the spa.
> Luxury Lodges of Australia provides age ratings on their website for their their collection of family-friendly properties. From swimming with whale sharks at SalSalis to cavorting with kangaroos at the Southern Ocean Lodge, far corners of Australia’s wild terrain are accessible to families.
Luxury hoteliers are investing in over-the-top amenities and branding for their wee guests.
> Rosewood Hotel landmark The Carlyle New York partners with author Kelly Florio Kasouf around her top-selling book series, The Super Adventures of Sophie and The City, to make it fun for families to experience New York City through Sophie’s eyes. Their standard Sophie package includes signed copies of books, a specially designed cupcake amenity from Magnolia Bakery, an exclusively designed boudoir pillow by Matouk and an iPad mini to use while following Sophie’s virtual tour of her favorite spots around the city. Meanwhile, “The Super Sophie Experience” also includes Sophie-inspired items by fashion icon Oscar de la Renta and jewelry designer Lulu Frost.
Very exclusive boutique brands are incorporating families in their infrastructure and even the hottest stylish hotels have built families into their plans.
> Aqua Expeditions runs custom-crafted river boat cruises with just 16 suites. The CEO, Francesco Galli Zugaro, has children of his own and ensured that four of their Amazon River staterooms connect to make the ships viable for families. Their new Aqua Mekong ship will offer the same connecting staterooms and kid-focused services.
> The latest property from the Oetker Collection located in the jet-set favorite ski resort of Courcheval is L’Apogée. It opens today (!) with an array of tailored services and what must be the most stylish kids’ club in the Alps.
The proof of the growth in this market is evident by looking at our family-friendly friends at Preferred Hotel Group. Of their 650 properties, 265 are family certified and meet their stringent standards for exceptional family programming. They added 52 hotels to the Preferred Family portfolio in 2013!
2014 promises to be the best year in Luxury Family Travel yet. We are looking forward to seeing what these exceptional luxury brands think of next …
All photos provided by the featured brands
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