April 27, 2011

USA: Vacation groups that span three generations are growing

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SASKATOON, Saskatchewan / The Star Phoenix / Canada.com / April 26, 2011

By Doreen Hemlock, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Experts call multigenerational travel a hot trend. Last year, 32 percent of U.S. grandparents who took vacations took a trip with their grandchildren, up from 22 percent in 2007. And the number is expected to grow as the U.S. population ages, according to travel guru Peter Yesawich.
Photograph by: Matt Cardy, Getty Images

Grandparents are travelling with their families more, and they’re attracting cruise lines, hotels and theme parks eager for their growing business.

At least 5 million family vacations a year in the U.S. alone span three generations, with grandparents often paying the bill, the U.S. Travel Industry Association has estimated.

Experts call multigenerational travel a hot trend. Last year, 32 percent of U.S. grandparents who took vacations took a trip with their grandchildren, up from 22 percent in 2007. And the number is expected to grow as the U.S. population ages, according to travel guru Peter Yesawich.

Travel companies are reaching out to lure the multigenerational business. Cruises are especially active in marketing, emphasizing activities for all ages, meals included, a preset package price and group discounts. All-inclusive resorts and vacation rentals also are luring the groups of all budgets.

Luxury travel agency Sixth Star Travel of Plantation, Fla., recently booked a four-bedroom villa with a private pool in Indonesia’s Bali for an extended family of six at cost topping $100,000. The family chose the site for their 10-day vacation, in part for the 77-year-old grandmother to more easily practice yoga, said agency owner Jeannie Cartier Sauleau.

Happy Trails Travel of Boca Raton, Fla., arranged for a group of 10 to take a weeklong Caribbean cruise this Christmas. And this summer, it’s booked 23 people on a Bermuda cruise from New York, with the grandparents paying nearly $50,000 for relatives coming from various states, agency co-owner Howard Weiss said.

"If the older generation didn’t pay for the trip, there would be no trip," Weiss said.

New technologies and a tight economy are spurring the trend. As U.S. adults work more, fielding e-mails at night and weekends to keep their jobs, they often look to vacations as a surrogate for family time. "So if you have three or four days off, and you have kids and grandkids, there’s a higher probability they’ll come along with you on vacation," said Yesawich, who heads The Y Partnership in Orlando.

U.S. grandparents also are more active than generations past: more accustomed to travel, more physically fit and more able to afford vacations. Many see their children struggling in two-income households to meet rising costs, when they recall days with greater job security, said family travel specialist Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, who leads WeJustGotBack.com.

"To cope, it’s a common set-up for Grandma and Grandpa to pay for that family trip to Disney World," Rowan Kelleher said.

Many multigeneration families choose cruising for trips because of the activities for all ages. Royal Caribbean’s new mega-ships, Allure and Oasis, are popular for distinct neighborhoods that let one relative relax in a quiet area while another plays Boardwalk games with the kids. And Disney’s new Dream now offers an adults-only area and gourmet dining to appeal beyond children, said Jeff Sherota, senior vice president in Fort Lauderdale for cruisesonly.com, which sells cruise vacations.

"Before, cruise lines tended to cater more to one group: Carnival or Disney to families with kids or for seniors, Celebrity or luxury lines. Now, ships appeal to a larger spectrum," Sherota said.

Mary Lou Ruderman, 38, an accountant living in Pompano Beach, Fla., loves cruise vacations with her husband, son and mother. The three generations have taken two Caribbean cruises around New Year’s and a summer trip to Alaska. They like the option of splitting up for different activities on board and then, coming together at meals to ask each another: "What did you today?" Ruderman said.

Besides cruises, travel agent Weiss steers multigenerational clients to all-inclusive resorts."An all-inclusive is better for kids, because they’re going to want snacks two or three times a day. And a la carte at a hotel, that can run you an extra $100 or $200 a day," said Weiss, who often books all-inclusives in the Dominican Republic.

Some families combine hotel and family stays on their vacation. Alex Miranda, 30, a marketer, took a three-generation "boys-only" trip to Puerto Rico last summer that featured some nights with family there. Alex’s dad, Jose, now 55, helped foot the bill and showed his son and his teenage grandson around.

Yesawich said that to tap the trend, more businesses should take a marketing cue from cruises and all-inclusives. Traditional hotels could offer "multiunit pricing," in which each additional room costs less to encourage larger groups, and they could design programs to let young children eat and drink free.

"The family traveller puts a premium not just on family time but value," Yesawich said. "The cruise lines have that figured out."

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