Family travel expert Nancy Schretter spotlights the trend in learning-oriented vacations for family groups in destinations around the world. She quotes representatives of cruise lines, resorts, and tour operators such as Austin Adventures, Abercrombie & Kent and Natural Habitat Adventures.
Today’s parents and grandparents want to have fun and create lasting memories with their families when they travel as a group. Increasingly, though, their travel goals are including something else – education. Travel is being viewed as a key way to supplement children’s schooling and help them learn about the world in an experiential way.
According to American Express, the vast majority of parents surveyed believe it’s important to take an educational family vacation. Last year’s Virtuoso’s survey also confirmed this trend, calling it the “Journey to Global Citizenship.” According to Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch, parents and grandparents are utilizing travel as a way to help children learn and get ahead.
“Kids who have the insight into these cultures, who learn to adapt in unfamiliar surroundings early on, and who gain an understanding of the world around them, will have a certain advantage when it’s time to enter the workforce,” said Upchurch.
Rainer Jenss, founder and president of Family Travel Association, has also observed this trend. “Grandparents, in particular, are aware of the fact that travel is not just recreational, but transformational,” he said. “They have the time and resources to plan vacations for their extended families that focus not just on having fun, but sharing quality time together – which includes opportunities for education and learning.”
Leisure group travel providers are responding to increased market demand for educational family travel. Austin Adventures has noticed this trend building over the last four to five years. The company’s levels of interest and 2015 bookings have shown double-digit increases over last year, according to Dan Austin, president of Austin Adventures.
“Hands down, Yellowstone is our #1 most popular destination for family and multigenerational learning vacations for a lot of reasons,” said Austin. Alaska, the Canadian Rockies and Costa Rica round out Austin Adventures’ top four family learning vacation destinations. Top guides make all the difference on these kinds of educational group trips.
Destinations from Grand Junction, Colorado to Costa Rica are detecting this family and multigenerational group travel trend, too. One of the keys to success for these educational trips is offering a wide range of unique and authentic activities for all ages and interests, something at which Costa Rica excels.
“From volcanoes to howler monkeys and sea turtles, Costa Rica offers families a myriad of opportunities to explore, learn, and get close with nature,” said Alejandro Castro-Alfaro, the Costa Rica Tourism Board’s director of marketing. Some of Costa Rica’s many family-friendly educational activities include rainforest hikes, whale watching, visits to coffee and cacao plantations, and trips to volcanoes.
Gaining Global Understanding and New Skills
The fact that adults now want to leave their children with enriching experiences – not things – may be contributing to the stronger interest in learning-oriented family travel.
“Many of our guests talk about the educational value of travel and a desire to share the life lessons of travel with their children and grandchildren using the world as their classroom,” said Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent USA. Some of the company’s top spots for educational family group vacations include the Galapagos, Africa and Antarctica. College and university alumni travel programs and affinity organizations such as National Geographic also offer these kinds of family-friendly learning expeditions.
Conservation, wildlife biology and ecology are strong areas of interest for family and multigenerational groups, according to Natural Habitat Adventures. The company’s journeys attract families with teens and young adults – and some of these trips have been life-changing. says Ben Bressler, founder and president of Natural Habitat Adventures. “We’ve had parents send us letters about how the polar bears inspired their kids to become climate change advocates.”
Family reunions, milestone multigenerational celebrations and heritage trips can also be triggers for group family learning vacations. Destinations can range from Colorado’s YMCA of the Rockies to halfway around the globe.
“I have never seen such a huge increase in family and multigenerational trips to my homeland Uzbekistan and Central Asia Stans before,” says Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours.
Other family groups choose their destination to acquire specific skills.
“Everyone has a different reason for choosing a ranch vacation, but learning is a big part of it,” said Tyler Beckley, owner of Three Bars Ranch in British Columbia, Canada. Learning together gives family and multigenerational groups something memorable to bond over and share.
“Learning is how we grow, but how we learn is what we’ll remember,” said Beckley. “Ten years from now guests won’t remember what I taught them about riding a horse, but they’ll remember who they learned it with – and anything special that happened along the way.”
Cruise and Resort Opportunities
Almost every sector of the travel industry, both on land and sea, has noticed and responded to this educational family travel trend. Due to strong demand, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has almost tripled their multigenerational family-friendly dates and itineraries for 2016. CroisiEurope is seeing more demand for group bookings and does not have age minimums for children on its river cruises.
Based on its research, industry giant Carnival Cruise Lines is adding more learning experiences to its fun family programs.
“One item that consistently shows up is that parents want their kids to have a good time during their cruise but at the same time learn something new,” said Sarah Reno, vice president of entertainment for Carnival Cruise Lines. “Our Camp Ocean program is a result of this research with more than 200 fun, educational games that immerse children in the wonders of the sea.”
Resorts and hotels are noticing growing interest in educational group family travel as well. The Four Seasons Resorts Lana’i has developed enriching experiential programming, such as its Ho’okipa Cultural Program, complimentary Kids for all Seasons program, and a wealth of family activities so families and multigenerational groups can learn about Hawaiian culture and the history of the island of Lana’i, said Lori Holland, director of public relations. Since art education in the United States has become more limited, Windjammer Landing in St. Lucia has responded with a unique educational program that introduces renowned local St. Lucian artists to families and multigenerational groups.
Educational enrichment for families can be also gleaned through an appreciation of history, nature and service. Nisbet Plantation on the Caribbean island of Nevis offers Heritage Trail tours and excursions to historic points of interest and an active voluntourism program in concert with local schools. Jeanne Pena, social gathering specialist at New York’s Mohonk Mountain House, said the property’s designation as a National Historic Landmark and its Junior Naturalist program also attracts families and multigenerational groups.
Educational family group travel can take place across the globe or around the corner through visits to Washington, D.C., Colonial Williamsburg or top-ranking children’s museums. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the world’s biggest children’s museum, engages family groups with enriching exhibits on China, dinosaurs, and even the impact of children in shaping history. No matter where they happen, families have discovered that these educational group travel options create stronger family bonds, memorable experiences and transformational learning opportunities that last a lifetime.