Cynthia Billette, president of Columbia Crossroads Tours in Portland, Oregon, recently worked with a family from Australia — two couples with children ages 8, 11 and 14 — who are all coming to the United States and Canada. She says vacationing extended families are more common.
“These families might have a 6-year-old but also a 30-year-old for various reasons, such as they had more children or remarried; so we will do multigenerational tours for a big, diverse family like that,” she said.
How do you satisfy so many varied demands? Hotels and transportation are the keys. Billette tries to book big families with small ones into hotels that welcome children.
“As for the mode of travel, quite often we put them on trains if at all possible, because they can enjoy the scenery and all have their own seats, yet children can stand, wal k around or get food,” she said. “Sometimes we use a motorcoach if there are enough people. We set up the transportation so all are comfortable.”
Billette revealed that some tour guides even double as babysitters so that adults can go see something in which they’re interested but the children aren’t.
Some tour operators might immediately think of Disney World or other major theme parks when brainstorming family vacations, but not Billette.
“I don’t even touch Disneyland or Disney World anymore. The main reason is that so many people have already been there. Parents can take their children there on their own later on,” she said. “We try to put them in a mountain setting or a lake that’s scenic. Adults can fish, and kids can play in the lake. We try to have something for everybody.”
Cruising is also a popular option for families on the go. It’s easy for everyone to relax because they won’t be driving, flying or taking trains from location to location. Family members will always know where they can eat and have an array of fun daily activities from which to choose. Many agents recommend this one-stop family-type of vacation and are grabbing their share of the lucrative cruise market.
As for the business side of tour companies, Billette believes that family groups may not be right for every tour operator. If the company specializes in senior tours or high school and college ski trips, the tour staff may not know how to handle the tapestries of family groups. Every group travels a little differently. Seniors tend to travel more slowly; young children don’t want to ride somewhere all day. So it’s important to be careful of how such diverse groups are blended.
‘A variety of options’
In Salt Lake City, Utah, Western Leisure president Michele Michalewicz is a receptive operator who sells travel components to tour companies. She customizes her trips but admits she doesn’t package trips for families any differently than she does for seniors, alumni or any other group.
However, one family with whom she worked wanted a Western-themed vacation resort. She booked them into Tetons Springs Resort in Idaho. It’s an hour from Yellowstone National Park and near Jackson Hole, Wyo. The resort has it all: 780 acres with stunning views of lakes and mountains to beautiful lodging. There’s a wonderful spa and relaxation center. Guests can ski in the morning and enjoy winter sports and then play golf in the same afternoon.
“There are so many different activities the group can do once they get there,” she said. “There are two days at Yellowstone and a float trip. We also offer options like fly-fishing, white-water rafting or horseback riding.”
Michalewicz has this advice for tour companies serving families:
“Be flexible and not regimented in your itineraries. Maybe everyone doesn’t feel like doing the scheduled activity for that day, so offer a variety of options to the group.”