I’m just back from my annual trek to ILTM in Cannes with fresh insight on what’s hot in luxury family travel across the globe. The big trend that is driving everything is the massive shift away from valuing the acquisition of “stuff” toward coveting experiences. This phenomenon is good for our children and good for the travel industry, as exploring new destinations and cultures is a major source for the experiences that everyone wants to have right now. Consumption is purposeful and travelers are more directed than ever in pairing values with travel.
Of course, vacations are still about fun, but they are increasingly also about sustainability and an awareness that our actions have consequences, and with that comes responsibility. Social media enhances all of this as travel continues to be a form of social currency and cool experiences tick all the “like”-gathering boxes.
Here’s a look at the luxury family travel trends for 2018:
What’s interesting is that practically all of the luxury suppliers I interviewed explained that families are meant to actively consume their experiences (at least the age-appropriate ones). Rather than being sequestered away from everyone else, families are simply another demographic now.
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An example is around intuitive dining, one of the top 5 trends Small Luxury Hotels sees across their portfolio right now. The idea is that guests are tired of structured dining at hotels and prefer to eat where they want and when they want … but not give up the quality they’d receive in a restaurant. At Dar Ahlam in Morocco, families love the flexibility to choose where they want to eat around the hotel. For example, they might prioritize the garden so everyone doesn’t have to be on their best behavior through a long meal. The big idea here is that every demographic approaches experiences in different ways and brands are ready and happy to support this deep level of flexibility and personalization.
Likewise, Preferred Hotels and Resorts has reinvented their search criteria, now based entirely on experiences. The idea is that nobody is thinking about star ratings right now as they evaluate where to stay. Instead, travelers — including families — define the kind of experience they want for a given trip and that will change based on the the location and the purpose of the trip. Legend, LVX, Lifestyle, Connect and Residences are all relevant categories within the Preferred portfolio. A family might want Legend, a luxury landmark property within a destination, for one trip, but Connect, a convenient and comfortable property set up to facilitate location connections, for another trip. And of course, Preferred’s Residences program, centered on apartments and villas paired with hotel services, is growing like gangbusters — this continues to be an accommodation style that attracts families.
If there is a single sign that the foodie travel craze includes families, it’s that the ultimate gourmand consortium, Relais & Chateaux, has a sizable and growing list of properties in their portfolio that actively cater to families, as noted on their Family experiences landing page. From Chewton Glen in England (a CB travel agency favorite!) to Soneva Fushi in the Maldives, properties across every market have family options. I was particularly taken with the offerings at Les Barmes de l’Ours in France’s iconic ski destination Val d’Isere. Eleven dedicated family suites are all about pint-size pleasures, and a mini-club for ages 3 and up (available during holiday periods) enables parents to take full advantage of this spectacular destination.
Families around the world could not be happier that one of the continued trends is the growth of large room configurations that support families, including apartments, suites and residences with full hotel amenities. When doing upgrades, we’re seeing hotels opt for fewer, larger rooms. A wonderful example of this is The Peninsula Hotels Group, who reduced their room count from 500 to 250 during their recent top-to-bottom renovation of The Peninsula Beijing, resulting in the largest hotel room inventory in the city. According to to Peninsula’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Carson Glover, multigenerational families love this property as it now offers these optimal room configurations paired with Peninsula’s signature local connections and experiences.
Minor Hotels is booming with 157 properties and counting across 24 countries. Many of their properties have extensive suite and villa inventory, like the Anantara Layan Resort in Phuket, which has 30 rooms and suites paired with 47 villas. All of the accommodations can access three dining rooms, a full spa and a kids’ club.
The Shore Club in Turks & Caicos has built an entire resort around multi-room accommodations that are ideal for families, including 38 suites of all shapes and sizes, as well as three- to six-bedroom independent villas with private pools and staff. Resort amenities include a kids’ club; four pools, including family and adult pools; and a beach with an array of complimentary water sports equipment.
The Arch London has family rooms as well as connecting room and suite options. The home-away-from-home atmosphere in a central location is ideal for independent and extended families alike. Loews Hotels, family-owned with a 60-year history, is one of the few hospitality chains that are consistently family-oriented across their portfolio (Loews Love Kids is their their extensive amenity program). A full 50 percent of the inventory across Loews properties is comprised of connecting rooms.
The examples go on and on, and traveling families could not be happier about it!
Across all luxury travel categories, there’s a move to embrace sustainability and a sense of responsibility in and through travel. Responsible tourism is no longer limited to volunteer or service trips. Families realize that how they travel has an impact and they are making travel decisions accordingly. Likewise, global and local brands are doing their part to meet this demand to travel differently.
A prime example of this in action is National Geographic Expeditions, a very well-respected tour operator dedicated to preserving our planet by merging research and conservation with consumer travel experiences. Moreover, the company is literally giving back to the communities they engage with by funneling 27 percent of proceeds back to the people and places that need it. National Geographic Expeditions offer both all-family experiences and independent student trips for middle and high school students.
Smaller brands are also creating engaging conservation-oriented experiences. Inkaterra is one of National Geographic’s unique lodges. They’ve created an I-Kids program to introduce kids to environmental awareness through excursions and conservation initiatives. Program options include the opportunity to be a guide for a day (ages 6-12), where kids follow an Explorer Guide and learn how to be a leader.
Families continue to show an interest in getting off the usual path. This could mean far-flung destinations and/or engaging with nature. Iceland is a prime example: Ninna Haflidadottir, Director of Marketing for Iceland Luxury, explains that travelers want to escape the “rest of the world” right now, and Iceland is a top place to do this, with unique and immersive tours and experiences that put families in touch with nature. In Iceland, families can disconnect to reconnect.
Sri Lanka is gaining steam as a destination of interest for families looking for exotic culture paired with a plethora of land and water activities. Yala National Park is considered to have the highest density of leopards in the world and is very popular with families looking for deep cultural immersion and natural adventures.
Resorts with extensive kids’ programming are popping up in unexpected places. The Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi has an entire space built out for children ages 4-12, called Generation V. Offering an entertaining and educational experience, Generation V has been carefully designed to allow children to boost their creativity by exploring, playing, learning, making friends and, most importantly, having fun. And that’s not all — children who visit Generation V also receive a unique “charge card” that entitles them to four different fun foods during their stay, including milkshakes and ice cream. Meanwhile, Yas Waterworld and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi are literally on the doorstep.
Off-path doesn’t need to be exotic; it can also mean away from where everyone else is going. Take Ireland, for example. Northern Ireland is gaining momentum — from the Titanic Museum in Belfast to the Causeway coast to multiple filming locations from Game of Thrones, families just want to get out there and enjoy unique and engaging activities together that they can’t do at home.
Several years ago, teen programs were few and far between. Now we’re seeing some quality programming open up, like at the new Four Seasons Megeve, this brand’s first property in the French Alps. In addition to the kids’ club, which caters to ages 3-12, the hotel also hosts an entire teen club for ages 13 and up.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.