June 21, 2024

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Why Isn’t Travel More Kid-Friendly?

5 min read

Data shows that families traveling with children under 18 years of age comprise a sizable portion of the overall travel market and wield significant spending power, yet many travel companies have been slow to cater to their needs. From a lack of larger hotel rooms that can sleep more than two people to airplane seating that makes it difficult for families to affordably sit together, many families feel they are overlooked—despite how much they are willing to spend on travel.

According to recent research from Skift, family travel accounted for 47 percent of all leisure trips taken in the United States during the fourth quarter of 2023. Upwards of 50 million American family members could take vacations each coming year.

This past fall, the Family Travel Association (FTA) released its annual survey, based on responses from 3,370 U.S.-based parents and grandparents who travel, and found that respondents dropped an average of $6,750 annually on family vacations in 2022, with 18 percent spending more than $20,000 annually. Skift determined similar annual spends from family travelers.

Bébé Voyage, a global online community for parents and caregivers, revealed that more than half of respondents in its 2023 survey of members had three to five trips planned, and 25 percent had more than six trips planned within the coming year. Just over half of the respondents planned to spend between two weeks and a month away from home within the following year; nearly a quarter planned to travel between one and two months in the coming year.

Despite these impressive travel intentions and budgets, traveling families don’t always find that their needs are being met.

“Families do not always feel the industry offers good value for money and are annoyed with hidden fees and extras,” said Lynn Minnaert, professor and head of subject, tourism and languages at Edinburgh Napier University and a lead researcher for the FTA survey. “Another major annoyance is that airlines make it difficult [and] expensive for families to sit together. Hotels often lack family rooms and connected rooms, which is a particular issue for larger families.”

Because it isn’t always easy to find hotel rooms that can accommodate families, Katelyn Brown, a travel consultant at Ciao Bambino, a family-focused travel agency, keeps a spreadsheet of rooms at select properties that she knows can sleep more than two people. That way she knows exactly which rooms to request when booking hotels for clients.

According to research by Rachel Meng, founder of Hotel Bambinee—a startup that aims to create more child-centered hotel experiences in urban centers, both through building its own hotels and consulting with existing properties—the top three amenities that parents would like to see in urban hotels are connecting rooms, a café in the hotel serving kids meals, and an indoor play space. What’s more, 85 percent of respondents to a Hotel Bambinee survey of 250 U.S.-based parents said they would be willing to pay a premium for these amenities.

Additional data from Booking.com provides further evidence that families are a critical segment. Booking.com found that 57 percent of Americans say family time is their top travel motivation for 2024.

Why isn’t travel more kid-friendly?

“Despite the projections for significant growth, many travel players have not fully leveraged the potential of the family travel market,” notes Oleg Segal, CEO of travel booking platform DealA. Most travel brands are simply not evolving their offerings and marketing to accommodate the modern family.

So why aren’t travel brands doing more to court families? For one, the dynamic nature of families does not always make them an easy target market, says Ritesh Raj, COO of CuddlyNest, a global accommodations booking platform.“The uniqueness of each family characterized by their distinct preferences, varying budgets, and diverse needs presents a significant challenge for travel providers,” says Raj.

To appeal more to families, travel companies need to better understand their evolving needs and wants. Raj adds, “The attempt to offer a one-size-fits-all solution often falls short.”

For instance, families have interests that extend far beyond theme parks and what may be considered typical family attractions. While more than half of families plan to take a beach trip in the coming year, theme parks only ranked sixth in FTA’s 2023 survey. Visiting family and friends, museum or cultural attractions, city vacations, and events (such as concerts and sporting events) all came out ahead of theme parks in terms of the trips families are actively planning. Right behind theme parks were national or state parks and other types of nature vacations.

These findings track with Maija de Rijk-Uys’ experience as managing director of Africa specialist Go2africa. “Families book a variety of trips ranging from safaris and beach holidays to cultural tours and adventure activities,” de Rijk-Uys says. “Family travelers have consistently been top safari-goers, primarily in the U.S. market.”

A colorful kids bedroom with a bunk bed, red elephant chair, bookshelves and green space-like chandelier in a London Kid & Coe vacation rental

Kid & Coe is a vacation rental and accommodation booking platform that curates and vets listings, like this London flat, with kids in mind.

Focusing more on families

Some travel companies have started to recognize the immense potential in the family segment. Baby gear rental company BabyQuip has capitalized on making family travel more seamless. The company hit $16 million in gross merchandise value in 2023, highlighting the growing demand for family-focused travel services.

Luxury hotel brands like the Four Seasons have made families a core pillar of their business through customized kid amenities, tailored dining options, kids’ club services, and flexible room arrangements. As Monica Domantay, lifestyle creative director at Four Seasons New York Downtown, explains, “We want to ensure we make families and children feel comfortable, at ease, and without worry throughout their stay.” At the New York property, children are welcomed with a book, The Amazing Adventures of Aya and Pete in New York, a plush Pete doll, and a custom map of New York City, encouraging younger guests to explore the Big Apple and document their favorite experiences during the trip.

“Family travel is booming, with parents bringing kids on bucket-list trips from a young age,” says Jordi Lippe-McGraw, founder of family travel gear brand PakRêve. “This trend demands high-quality travel products designed for sophisticated families who value style and convenience on their global adventures.”

Gear companies are already taking note. Most major stroller brands have a model that folds up small enough to fit in the overhead bin on a plane. And there is a cottage industry of fly beds—which allow a toddler to sleep on a long flight—not to mention ride-on luggage, entertainment kits, and other accessories all geared towards tiny globetrotters.

The parent-run team at Kid & Coe has created an entire vacation-home rental brand around the concept of vetting properties for its catalog based on an internal checklist of family-friendly amenities and whether they themselves would feel comfortable staying there with their kids.

Ultimately, if travel brands can evolve their services to cater to families, they can capture lifelong clients starting at the earliest ages. After all, the youngest travelers will eventually become globetrotting adults.


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