Families have caught up after Covid. What motivates them to travel today?

Family travel habits are evolving post-Covid as pandemic-driven trends start to wane and new ones begin to crystallize.

Making up for lost time was a big travel motivator that arose from the pandemic, but it is no longer the top reason to travel for a number of people, including families, according to industry surveys. 

Instead, simply making time to spend with family through more meaningful travel experiences, and in smaller groups, has become more prevalent in family bookings this year, with suppliers expecting these behaviors to grow in 2024.

Custom-travel specialist Audley Travel said 72% of its clients cited checking off long-awaited experiences from their bucket list as a top reason behind wanting to travel in 2022. That figure dropped to 36% in 2023.

According to a Deloitte 2023 holiday travel survey, travel motivated by time lost during the pandemic dropped seven points between the summer and the start of the holiday travel season at Thanksgiving, from 19% of respondents to 12%.

Meanwhile, the Family Travel Association’s 2023 study found that among the grandparents surveyed, the top motivation for taking a multigenerational trip was that it is a great way to bond as a family (76%), followed by enjoying spending extended time with grandchildren (63%). And 82% of survey respondents overall said that travel brings their family closer. 

New reasons for family travel

As these motivators take hold, so too have new family travel patterns. 

“I am seeing a lot of kids graduating from high school, their parents are about to be empty nesters and so a family of four, a family of six want a small, privatized group because they think this is their last chance to have these experiences,” said Christina Turrini, a Frosch Travel advisor based in Larkspur, Calif. “They want to make these memories last before the kids go off to college.”

Time with loved ones was the top travel motivator in the Deloitte survey, rising from 47% over the summer to 58% by the end of September, while celebrating personal milestones was the reason behind 24% of trips at Audley Travel this year. 

Celebration travel — trips centered around birthdays, graduations and other milestones — is on the rise among Tauck clients.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of families using our Tauck Bridges trips to mark milestone moments and celebrations, such as major birthdays and school graduations,” said Julia O’Brien, vice president of marketing for Tauck. “For many grandparents, it’s become a tradition to bring each grandchild on a Bridges trip when they reach that same milestone.”

Downsizing groups, upsizing fun 

Smaller group trips with immediate family members are more prevalent in 2023 bookings, advisors say, providing more intimate family bonding experiences than large family groups might offer. 

Trips between one parent or grandparent and their child or children, whether young or adult, are also growing in popularity.

“What I’m seeing is a lot of mother-son trips, which is really nice,” said Laurence Pinckney, CEO of ZenBiz Travel & Events in New York. “I have two or three of those trips right now — a son taking his partner and mother on a trip over Christmas.”

Luxury yacht and custom travel specialist Pelorus has noticed that children’s interests are leading the way when it comes to planning family trips, more so than in previous years.

As a result, education, adventure and more conscious travel experiences are at the center of those trips.

“I’ve finished the first of a three-year series of planned trips in which considerations guided by the children are based on what school topics they are studying, including foreign languages,” said Jimmy Carroll, co-founder of Pelorus.

The company is also seeing an uptick in families wanting to learn new skills — or upskilling — on trips, through experiences such as karate with a martial arts master in Japan.

Pinckney is also seeing more in multigenerational safari bookings. 

“This year, we have three or four families doing South Africa for Christmas and New Year’s, which is exciting because normally I book adults on those trips,” Pinckney said. “With kids, it’s a totally different curated experience. Family-friendly safaris are much more sensitive to how kids are, there’s more control over where you take them, like petting zoos and more cultural experiences.”

Hyper-personalization for large groups

Despite greater interest in smaller family trips, large, multigenerational family groups, which boomed once Covid-related travel restrictions lifted last year, remain popular.

And those larger groups are giving rise to the newer trend of group hyper-personalization. 

Pelorus co-founder Geordie Mackay-Lewis predicts that 2024 will see more effort made to meet everyone’s needs and interests on large family group trips, from the youngest to the oldest. 

“We see 2024 being the year family travel becomes all about hyper-personalization, really getting to know clients and their intent to the finite level to plan something no other family will experience and that is completely bespoke,” Mackay-Lewis said. “Time off is precious, and it needs to be spent on experiences and memories that will be treasured for a lifetime.”  

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