Intergenerational travel is flourishing, offering lucrative opportunities for tour operators. Dorine Reistein investigates how you can tap into this market.
Editor’s Note: This article was written Dorine Reinstein for Southern African Tourism Update and is re-run with full permission. While the article is focused on South Africa, it’s posted here as it contains insights valuable in multiple regions.
More than 20% of active travellers are grandparents and of these, 40% have taken a trip with a grandchild during the past year. This is according to research conducted by global travel marketing firm, MMGY Global.
Nancy Schretter, Managing Editor Family Travel Network, says tour operators worldwide have seen double-digit grown for multigenerational travel and this trend is expected to increase substantially. “Over the next 18 years, 77 million Americans will turn 65. They have the time and disposable income to emphasize multigenerational travel.” According to Schretter, baby boomer grandparents are retiring and many are in strong financial and physical shape. They see travel as an excellent way to bond and make lasting lifelong memories with their children and grandchildren.
Product owners in South Africa have recognized the potential of this affluent new group of travellers and understand that one reservation can yield double-digit-sized group bookings. However, family travel has evolved greatly over the years and hotels and lodges need to adapt to the new complexities of intergenerational travel. Gone are the days when a jungle gym and chicken nuggets on the menu were enough to satisfy the needs of traveling families.
Schretter says multigenerational travel has expanded from primarily domestic trips to the beach or amusement parks to international travel – particularly cruises, bucket-list destinations and tours. “We’re seeing a big emphasis on memorable and meaningful experiences, learning, and cross-cultural exchange. Grandparents want their children and grandchildren to experience important, iconic places and destinations – and they want to do it together. South Africa is the ideal destination for this kind of travel. Multigenerational travel is such a great marketing opportunity for South African tour operators, destinations, hotels and lodges.”
Lindy Rousseau, Sales and Marketing Director for Singita, agrees. “The world has become a global stage. Baby boomers who are still the big travellers want to expose their children and grandchildren to the world, to different cultures and experiences. Not just hedonistic travel to the Caribbean any more. They are choosing destinations that offer cultural exposure.”
The main motive for multigenerational trips is for families to spend time together and to create memories. It is therefore not a good idea to isolate the children from the group. Abigail Shaw, Director of Bushbaby Travel, says: “British travellers are looking for shared experiences, so it is not a case of bundling the children off on their own game drive. However, subtle child care is usually greatly appreciated, such as some staff being designated to lead some children’s activities in between game viewing.”
However, despite the fact that multi-generational travellers want to spend as much time as possible together, it is advisable to allow some time to relax, especially for the older generation. Schretter says: “Pacing is very important. I would recommend multi-night stays at places to reduce all the running around, which can be tough on both kids and adults. Build in time to relax so you don’t tire people out.”
Loralie Hicks, Marketing Manager of Your Africa, agrees and says it is important for lodges to build in some time apart to give the older generation the time to refuel. “Game lodges have become very aware of this kind of travel. They cater for children with special programs, such as game drives and ranger programs for the children to do on their own, which gives parents and grandparents a chance to relax or go to the spa, for example.”
A multigenerational trip needs to be straightforward and simple, and offer flexibility for the travellers, according to Rousseau. “Be flexible and take the time to understand the group and customize the experience. There is no one-size-fits-all. Multigenerational groups may have different levels of interest and physical ability. Be able to offer swimming for one, but cooking for the other – opportunities for togetherness but also times for independence.” Rousseau adds that equipping properties with staff who are intuitive can go a long way in proving a memorable experience for multigenerational travellers. “Staff on the ground have to be able to read the needs of parents, children, grandchildren and all the different needs.”
Meeting the needs of seniors
The key, according to Jeffrey Ward, safari honcho at African Safari Consultants LLC, is finding just the right mix of how much time the family want to be together and how much time they want to be apart. “If they grandparents are very old, it can present challenges, especially for a safari. It’s a balance between making it easy for the grandparents to get around while also offering interesting activities for the grandchildren.” He adds that African Safari Consultants will only use lodges and establishments that are guaranteed to be able to accommodate the needs of senior travellers. As a minimum, establishments should comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible design.
Finding the right accommodation for intergenerational travellers is indeed an important consideration. Britt Urbach, Marketing Director for Hills of Africa, says multi-generational groups often opt for villa accommodation. “Many luxury properties in South Africa offer villas or safari houses that are perfect for multigenerational groups. At most luxury villas and safari houses, guests have their own private butler, plunge pool, and chef. This ensures that their entire party is being catered for with first-class service.”
“Hotels that offer self-catering or semi-self-catering apartments are always popular with family groups because they have the luxury of a hotel with the convenience of being able to do their own thing,” agrees Danny Bryer, Director of Sales, Marketing and Revenue for the Protea Hotel Group.
Not all travellers will opts for self-catering facilities though. Dining out is an important part of most holidays but with multi-generational travel, this can present an added challenge for product owners. Schretter explains: Meals can also be an issue with multigenerational travellers, both in terms of timing and what is being served. While authenticity and new experiences are important, there’s also an interest in having some familiar foods. What’s important here is knowing and understanding your guests well in advance so that you can anticipate their needs.”
Understand the client
With all these new dimensions, planning the family vacation has become increasingly complicated. And therein lie both the challenge and the opportunity for travel sellers. There secret to overcoming all the challenges presented by multigenerational travel is simple though – know your client.
“When we’re dealing with travel that involves different generations, a very simple tip that tends to be forgotten by many travel agents, is summed up in one little word: profile,” says Adrano Mellenberg, General Manager, Taks Tour Operadora in Brazil. “What is necessary to bear in mind are the expectations of travellers, each with different interests, focus and limitations. Within this profile of interests, you can create a travel itinerary that meets the desires, needs and expectations of each individual.”
“It’s very important to get a good understanding of the capabilities, interests, expectations, goals and experience of each member of the multigenerational group before booked. This will help to target the group towards the right options or customized experiences and eliminate potential pitfalls,” agrees Schretter. She says it is imperative that tour operators and product owners understand the wants and needs of multigenerational travellers as well as what they can deliver, to be successful in this market.