Every time American society suffers a severe trauma, people re-evaluate their lives and re-prioritize. “Spending time with family” always rises in the list of priorities.
As it relates to the travel industry, every big shock causes an increased demand for family travel. In 2000, when the Wall Street tech bubble burst, the stock market lost a third of its value, causing stock portfolios to plunge in value and some retirement funds to evaporate entirely. It was a devastating blow to many families.
YPB&R’s National Leisure Travel Monitor marketing survey showed that people’s main priority had shifted from making money to travel.
The lesson of the crash was painfully clear. You can work years building up your assets only to see them slip through your hands like water. Your travel experiences with your family, on the other hand, will always be with you.
The terror attacks of September 11, 2001, were another shock that created profound shifts in the American psyche, causing people to place a higher value on quality time with family. In the aftermath, there was a measurable boom in family travel. And, as the world recovered from the shock of 9/11, the trend toward increasing demand for family travel did not die down—but continued to rise.
Now that the world has experienced two years of the COVID pandemic, a disaster that in many ways dwarfs that of 9/11, there is again a rising need for quality time with family. Once again, family travel will get a boost from the disaster.
COVID-19 has been a very different kind of crisis than 9/11. While 9/11 was a devastating shock, it happened quickly; and the world was able to go into a healing mode soon afterward.
COVID, however, has dragged on for two years now, straining the endurance of people across the board. It has caused major disruptions that have rippled throughout our society and economic system and set off chain reactions with unpredictable results. While a relative few were directly affected by the 9/11 attacks, few have been spared from the effects of the COVID pandemic. And the American death toll of COVID is hundreds of times higher than that of 9/11.
Under the onslaught of COVID, many families were forced to stay separated. Many grandparents were unable to see their grandchildren. Many lost family members. With so much death and tragedy in its wake, COVID has certainly caused people to place higher values on their lives, their health and their families. As the effects of the pandemic recede, as we have seen in other areas, we’ll see people making up for lost time. As we have seen before, as it becomes safer to travel again, no doubt the demand for family travel will initially outstrip the capacity of providers to fulfill it.
Another unprecedented effect of COVID was to force many parents to work from home, while still trying to care for young children at home with few school or day care resources to help. “Time spent with family” took on a different meaning. It was highly stressful for those families. In those cases, what is needed now is quality time with family—as in leisure travel. That will be another boost in family travel.
Another advantage of family travel is that a family can travel as a pod, a group of travelers who are known to be safe traveling companions. Pods are one of the ways people have found to mitigate risk of infection while traveling.
For all these reasons, a boom in family travel is inevitable. It’s going to be a very real need of a broad swath of the population. The family travel niche will be challenged to find creative ways to accommodate that need.
These are general trends that are easily discernible by observation in light of history. To focus more closely on the specifics of the current situation, I recently consulted Chitra Stern, founder of Martinhal, the luxury family hotel and residential resorts brand. The company operates four resorts in Portugal.
As children are now becoming vaccinated, families are able to begin considering family travel options again. Stern shared some of the trends she is observing from her vantage point in the family travel market. She offered some useful insights. The following is a summary of her observations.
The Importance of Safety
The word “safety” has taken on a whole new meaning during the time of COVID. All the previous requirements for safety are still as important as ever, such as safe airplanes, and safety from terrorists or thieves. But now, superseding those concerns will be safety from viruses, the unseen enemy that may be in the air wherever there are people. Anti-viral safety requirements are more important than ever.
Chitra Stern believes that families will prefer traveling to countries that have high vaccination rates, and where the public health and hygiene practices are adhered to conscientiously. Stern sees that as a good selling point for her company’s properties, because they are in Portugal.
“Portugal was one of the first countries in the EU, in April 2020, to introduce Clean & Safe certification, and subsequently joined the European Tourism Covid-19 Safety Seal in June 2021,” she said. “I’m proud that in Portugal today nearly 90 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.”
Multi-Generational Milestone Trips
As with many other things during the reign of COVID, many families put off family gatherings, but now, as they become safe again, the demand is likely to come roaring back.
“As grandparents and parents have missed out on so many family celebrations over the past nearly two years, multi-gen stays will be an increasingly popular way to bring the family together to mark milestones in 2022,” said Stern. She expects private settings, such as villa experiences, to be preferred. “We’ve already seen the demand increase for our larger private villas in Martinhal Sagre, Martinhal Cascais and Martinhal Quinta do Lago, where families are celebrating long awaited family reunions.”
At the new Martinhal Residences some groups have joined two larger apartments together to accommodate large family stays.
Personalization and Flexibility Are Priorities
Stern has seen a trend towards considering quality over quantity. Families are choosing to travel fewer times during the year, in order to be able to afford higher quality experiences.
People are preferring accommodations where the offerings are varied, the rates and booking policies are flexible, and personalized services and amenities are available.
Outdoor and Screen-Free Stays
After so much time of confinement, replacing in-person contact with virtual meetings and way too much screen time in general, Stern believes that there will be a demand for people to connect with nature again.
“It is arguably more important than ever to seek out travel experiences that allow families to reconnect with nature and engage in educational activities that encourage screen-free play,” she said.
Living Like a Local—Extended Stays
Stern is seeing a demand for long-term stays, so Martinhal recently launched a series of long-term rental offers, starting from 37 EUR per night, based on a six-month stay.
“We met the demand for serviced villas and apartments that are outfitted with amenities, including full kitchens, washer-dryers, gardens, balconies and many with private swimming pools,” she said. “These offers started off being in-demand among domestic travelers during the height of the pandemic as families looked for a change of scene. And they continue to be booked among those who have increased ‘work-remote’ flexibility.”
Global Mobility—Families on the Move
The rise of remote working during COVID times has opened new possibilities for balancing work, leisure and lifestyle.
“The pandemic gave families the time and opportunity to reflect on their lifestyle choices, and it made moving abroad a reality for many,” said Stern.
Stern is also seeing an increased demand for multi-location living, which can be accommodated by new hotel branded residential projects that are rising around the world. They offer “a turnkey living experience and five-star amenities in the world’s most sought-after locations,” she said, “yet, with none of the maintenance and while being a valuable investment.”
That’s another trend to watch. Any way you look at it, family travel will continue to be a creative and growing market for the foreseeable future.
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.