Cracking the code on family travel


Multigenerational travel is booming, with baby boomers leading the way – for now – to be followed by larger millennial and Gen Z generations, who are changing how families travel. That was the takeaway from a panel titled “Cracking the Code on Family Travel and Millennial Cruising” Wednesday at Seatrade Cruise Global.

Moderator Nancy Schretter, founder and managing editor of Family Travel Network and president of Beacon Group Holdings, provided an overview of family and generational travel in her opening.

Gen Z about to overtake millennials

“Baby boomers control about 70 percent of all disposable income in the U.S.,” Schretter said. “Baby boomers are often accompanied by millennials and Gen Z. Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S., and over 50 percent now have children. And move over millennials – Gen Z, born in the mid-1990s to mid-2010s will become the largest U.S. generation next year. They’ll have a big influence on family vacation decisions.”

She said about 3.6 million children and teens cruised in 2017.

Family value

Christine Esteve, VP marketing and e-commerce for Carnival Cruise Line, said more than 800,000 children cruise with Carnival each year. Many families with young kids are attracted to the brand because half of its departures are short cruises and many can drive to homeports, saving money on airfares.

Bonnie Levengood, SVP marketing for MSC Cruises, said her line attracts families who want to learn something on their vacation and get immersed in an international ambience.

“Roughly half of Americans want only a familiar American experience. They don’t really want to learn, they want to go to the beach or Disney,” Levengood said. “The other half of families, retirees, adults and couples would not find their vacation fulfilling unless they learned something and met people from other parts of the world.”

The world as a classroom

Vicky Garcia, COO of Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, said another trend is homeschooling. “The parents want them to learn that part of the experience is to travel the world. Travel to the Galápagos is a perfect family vacation for 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds. They learn about the experience, independence and about the environment.”

Added Schretter: “For them, the world becomes their classroom.”

Younger river cruisers

Brenda Kyllo, VP strategic alliances for AmaWaterways, noted that the river cruise line targeted the over-65 age group at first. Then it added 25 bicycles to its ships along with wine-themed cruises and connecting staterooms, and began seeing younger people. A few years ago, AmaWaterways partnered with Adventures by Disney for family-focused river cruise trips, which have proven very popular.

“It’s been an evolution for us over the past few years, and now we’re seeing a tremendous number of multigenerational families,” she said. “Our excursions easily personalized for different mobility levels.”

Schretter noted that there is also a “skip gen,” which is grandparents taking trips with grandchildren, while the parents stay at home or go elsewhere.

Kids drive the vacation planning

Esteve said the younger children are often driving the vacation planning. “Nowadays everybody has technology at their hands, and there’s an immense amount of user-generated content,” she said. “Children are coming to their parents saying, ‘I saw this, I’m interested in this.’ They really are driving that first consideration and awareness to the parents, who then go to research what the options are.”

For many kids and teens, high-speed Internet is a must. “It almost becomes a do or die,” Garcia said. “Family travel is not just going to Disney World and eating ice cream. Kids are growing up differently. … It’s more of having to sell what your customer wants or what they’re used to having.”

Levengood said MSC Cruises offers Family Explorer excursions, which include costumed tour guides who escort the children alone and tell stories in an age-appropriate way. Parents then can listen to actual history.

Schretter said millennials now account for 25 percent of the U.S. population, and a study by MMGY Global found more than 55 percent are interested in taking a cruise in the next two years.

Immersive experiences

“They want immersive experiences, like a craft brewery, SkyRide and a ropes course,” Esteve said, referring to Carnival offerings. “They make sure there is Wi-Fi so they’re able to share their experiences back home with friends and family.”

Garcia said millennials want Instagrammable moments. “Millennials love shallow pools so they can sit around sipping a cocktail. They’re foodies, they want gastronomy, they want craft cocktails. They don’t want it to be the old-style cruising, they want new experiences.”

Constant consumption

Levengood said millennials will actually travel multiple times a year – even if they don’t have the money to travel multiple times a year. “The answer is they’re in debt,” she said. “So we’re marketing to somebody who doesn’t actually see a limit. They like the pricier specialty restaurants. They’re constantly consuming.

“The challenge with millennials is the constant consuming of content,” Levengood continued. “We cannot generate content quick enough for them to want to consume.”

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