The COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted nearly all aspects of family life, from school safety protocols to how we get groceries. Travel has been one of the most profoundly affected industries. But fortunately, travel hasn’t gone away — it just looks different and is changing by the day. Having an experienced professional assisting families with their travel plans has become even more valuable in these unusual times.
Two recent surveys, one conducted by the Family Travel Association in collaboration with NYU and the other by the American Society of Travel Advisors with Sandals Resorts, highlight emerging travel trends that we are experiencing firsthand at Ciao Bambino. We have taken great pride over the past 18 months in staying nimble and helping our clients navigate these twists and turns.
Most people wouldn’t try to write a will without the help of a lawyer. And all the new complex travel rules and regulations are demonstrating the need for professional expertise when travel planning as well. Both surveys indicate this, as one reported that close to half of travelers who rarely used a travel agent before are now more likely to use one. Another survey said 65 percent of respondents plan to use a travel advisor in the next two years, while only 17 percent had used one in the previous two years.
“Travel is not easy right now. People are realizing that. They want to choose an itinerary that isn’t just a mainstream, run-of-the-mill trip to Europe. You need to work with agents who know these destinations,” senior travel advisor Kristi Marcelle says.
Laurel Perry, another senior travel advisor on the Ciao Bambino team, is seeing this firsthand as well. She recently helped clients who had not previously used a travel agent and were heading to Europe for the first time. Their questions ranged from whether they’d be allowed in certain museums to which restaurants were open. They understandably had practical concerns that were not easy to research, and they needed up-to-date information in this ever-changing pandemic landscape.
“Travelers can’t know who is following protocols just from Internet research. Our clients want to be taken care of in a way that mitigates their exposure. As advisors, we are mindful of which suppliers to choose when booking travel for families,” Laurel says.
We work closely with our clients to choose the right destination, book vetted kid-friendly accommodations, arrange private tours and guides, and more, with an itinerary designed for maximum safety and peace of mind. Click to send us a request!
Kristi recently helped an intrepid, well-traveled couple who had been to exotic destinations all over the world, but had never used a travel agent before. So why use one now? Because they had a child!
“I am helping this family with things they haven’t had to think about in their previous travels, like accommodation options where the pool is fenced off and safe. Or where to go in a country like France, where they’ve been many times, that will be fun for their daughter. And how to route the trip so that they’re never in the car or on a train for more than a few hours,” Kristi says.
Agents can also help families understand cancellation terms for each of their bookings and navigate which travel insurance policy offers the most protection for the investment they’re making in their trip. We read the fine print every day and know the details well.
Planning complex international trips has always been a specialty of Ciao Bambino, and we’re still doing a lot of that work. But there has also been a big uptick in interest for domestic destinations in the past year, both because of international travel restrictions and safety concerns.
“I was in the process of helping a family plan a trip to Europe. Due to the pandemic, we were able to rearrange their travel plans, and instead they went to Jackson Hole and still had an amazing experience,” Laurel says.
More than 40 percent of survey respondents said they plan to spend more on domestic travel in the coming months, and more than 80 percent plan to take a multi-day vacation in the U.S. soon. All this demand means availability is tight. Our advisors stay up to speed on which destinations and properties are still taking reservations during popular travel periods. We also love to help our clients get a jump on bookings far in advance with our long-term travel planning services.
And for clients who just don’t know where to go? Our advisors enjoy brainstorming options with clients, taking note of each family’s particular interests and travel preferences.
“I helped clients who are originally from South Africa that wanted exceptional wildlife viewing, but here in the U.S. I suggested Alaska and then planned their trip, and they compared the wildlife spotting to be on par with a safari,” Kristi says.
When it became clear that COVID-19 spread was greatly reduced when outside, our agency was ready to help families embrace spending more time outdoors while traveling. Vacations in America’s tremendous network of national parks may seem simple, but anyone who has tried to book in-park accommodations during peak travel seasons knows otherwise. And now that visits to state and national parks have moved into the top four most popular vacation options for U.S. families, the competition for coveted accommodations and activities is even more intense.
We’ve sourced some exceptional properties and resorts that are just outside the parks, but still immersed in incredibly scenic locations of natural beauty. Our clients love this mix of pampering and activities with easy access to the parks. And we work with vendors who have access to private experiences like glamping. Families are learning that privacy comes at a premium, but it is well worth the expense during times like these.
“I helped a family that was really interested in World War I history with a biking trip through Bavaria and Austria,” Kristi says. “It was great to combine their interests, but still keep the trip almost entirely outdoors.”
And don’t forget dude ranches, another way of planning a mostly outdoor yet still social and fun-filled vacation. Our advisors have visited most of the luxury ranches around the country and we are booking this type of trip constantly, so we’re well versed on inventory.
Safety concerns and fears about the spread of COVID-19 mean that short-term, standalone home rentals are now more popular among families than staying at a resort. But choosing the right rental property from the hundreds or even thousands that pop up on mainstream booking sites is incredibly time consuming, and customers can’t be assured of quality based on reviews alone.
“Online reviews lack context. A family that travels on a very tight budget might rate a property highly, whereas a family accustomed to luxury wouldn’t be impressed at all. There’s just no way to differentiate one review from another,” Laurel explains.
Advisors can also help arrange services that make a rental property still feel like a true vacation, from grocery delivery to chef services to mid-week cleaning. We love to work with property management companies that are available to help their customers when needed, quite different from the level of care a mass booking site provides (which is basically none at all).
The prevalence of working from home and changes in professional schedules are also inspiring families to consider extended travel. Kristi is helping a family with villa accommodations around Europe for a six-week sabbatical.
“I told them upfront that I would only book villas via companies that work with travel agents. I want to make sure that if anything goes wrong, we have recourse to address it. Mass booking sites offer none of that protection or service,” she says.
And for those still committed to beloved resort experiences, Laurel says travel advisors are invaluable for those bookings as well.
“I helped clients with a resort option where each unit is quite private and guests rarely interact with others while onsite. Even their meals were delivered to their outdoor patio,” she says. “We have that firsthand knowledge of these properties and vet most of them personally, as well as the feedback we get from hundreds of clients. That kind of intel is much more reliable than anonymous Internet reviews.”
Many families went a year or more without seeing grandparents, cousins or friends in person, and so visiting each other is now the most popular travel trend among families in the coming year, according to these surveys.
Laurel helped a longtime client plan a trip to the Caribbean with her sister’s family and their grandparents. The three households, including the young cousins, had not been together since the start of the pandemic.
“It was just a beautiful reunion and it makes me emotional to think about the week they spent together at a gorgeous resort after being apart for so long,” she says.
Kristi has helped several clients with destination weddings that were postponed during the initial wave of the pandemic.
“Now I’m working with a group that is headed to a wedding in Venice together. We’re sourcing a place to stay and activities for several families in the days leading up to the wedding. Basically, we’re turning a simple trip to Venice into an Italian trip of a lifetime,” she says.
But the more people who travel with a particular group, the more complicated it can be, from the number of hotel rooms needed to pleasing all the differing ages and interests. We’ve been booking multigenerational travel for years, long before the pandemic began, and we’re putting that experience to good use now more than ever. We can help sift through destination options that will have the most appeal for the entire group, navigate the logistics of reservations and create easy-to-follow itineraries that will keep everyone in the loop throughout the process.
Just as many of us have pivoted to mask wearing and hosting conference calls from our living rooms, so too has the family travel landscape changed in the past two years. Professional travel planning support and expertise through the use of a travel agent is invaluable for busy families, both in making the process easy and in the confidence of knowing the experience will still be exceptional. Parents have worn a lot of hats during the pandemic, but travel agent need not be one more role that falls on their already full plates.
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