A family travel expert discusses the boom in multigenerational family vacations tied to milestone events like birthdays, anniversaries and graduations.

Families and multigenerational groups are increasingly traveling together to celebrate milestone events. Almost two-thirds of leisure travelers took a celebration vacation last year according to the MMGY Portrait of American Travelers study. Among multigenerational travelers, the number climbs to as high as 80%. These trips typically mark special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, reunions, graduations and destination weddings. Coming-of-age trips are popular as well.

Industry experts expect this trend to continue to grow. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s often difficult for parents and children to spend quality time together. Travel is increasingly viewed as the best way for family members to celebrate major life events, bond and create shared memories. Families are also living farther apart than any time in history, so a celebration vacation can often be the easiest option for multigenerational families to gather in one place.

It’s not just parents and grandparents who are traveling with children, however. PANKs, Professional Aunts with No Kids, are also celebrating milestone family events with their nieces and nephews. In addition, the growth of today’s “she-conomy” with women as the key decision makers is supporting this celebration vacation trend.

“Women want to invest in relationships with their families and loved ones,” says Dorothy Dowling of Best Western International, “and they place a high value on vacations as a way to strengthen these relationships.” Planning typically takes place far in advance to coordinate schedules, often one of the most difficult aspects of these kinds of trips.

Celebration Vacation Fun for Everyone

Choosing venues that provide flexibility and a wide variety of activities to please all family members is critical to celebration vacation success. Tour operators, ranch owners and cruise executives mentioned this as key, since vivid memories are made through shared experiences.

“When I talk with decision makers planning family celebration vacations, they’re always mindful of trying to keep every member of the family very happy,” says Tyler Beckley, owner of Three Bars Ranch in British Columbia, Canada. “By doing things that are new or different, you create an experience for people with memories that last a lifetime.”

Beckley also cites the importance of keeping grandparents happy and involved in multigenerational celebration vacations – a feeling echoed by Erik Elvejord of Holland America Line. “While families want to make sure that the kids involved are happy, they often plan multigenerational celebration vacations to make sure that the matriarchs and patriarchs are having an incredible time.”

Certain destinations also meet this criterion. Kurt Kutay, president of Wildland Adventures, says Costa Rica is popular for family celebration vacations because “it’s easy, safe and family-friendly for all generations to enjoy wildlife and outdoor activities, plus there are lovely accommodations.” Africa, Turkey and the Galapagos are also top choices for family celebration trips, says Kutay. According to travel planners, Maui, Cancun and Orlando are other destinations with a broad range of family activities.

Value-Added Multigenerational Packages

Many firms in the travel industry are catering to the family celebration vacation market with packages, services and opportunities for personalization. Disney spotted this trend early on and added a wide variety of customized services for family celebration vacations. Holland America offers a family reunion package that includes exclusive amenities and upgrades, while Carnival Cruise Lines provides a Group Fun Points program with flexible amenities for celebrating family groups.

“Many family groups plan a group shore excursion with our Group Event Planning department,” says a spokesperson from Carnival Cruise Lines. Special group photo appointments, complimentary celebratory lunch events and private receptions are also available through both cruise lines.

Resorts such as Curacao’s Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort and Mexico’s Velas Resorts offer family reunion packages with added value for guests. Many properties also have staff on hand to help create unique celebrations, eliminating many of the planning worries associated with family celebrations. Family-friendly tour operators such as Thomson Family Adventures and Wildland Adventures cater to family celebrations with custom-planned events and experiences, including opportunities to create a community legacy to commemorate their trip.

Leaving a legacy can be a powerful celebratory event for families. At five Ohio State Park Lodges operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, family reunion guests can plant a tree and then chart its growth year after year. Families staying at Colorado’s Lost Valley Ranch create their own brand and have it seared into the dining room’s wood paneling. Check marks show how often they’ve returned.

Leaving Room for Family Time

Families often like to spread out on their celebration vacations, seeking out villa-style accommodations and venues available for large group rentals. The beachfront Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, for example, is well-suited for family celebration vacations. The resort offers one-, two- and three-bedroom suites, and its events staff arrange unique touches and events for reunions, milestone birthdays and anniversaries, and coming-of-age festivities.

Other properties such Maui’s Destination Resorts Hawaii also cater to celebrating families with a wide variety of villa accommodations, enabling the entire family to be housed together. The company’s Ho’okipa Team takes care of small event planning and special requests. Thomson Family Adventures has recognized this trend and often builds villa stays into their family celebration vacation arrangements.

Full venue charters can also be popular for large family reunions and multigenerational celebrations. Paul Gauguin Cruises reports that sometimes family groups will charter an entire ship. “They can have the whole ship to themselves and it makes for a wonderful memory,” says Vanessa Bloy.

Three Bars Ranch also can be rented out for private family celebrations and tailors the entire experience to their guests. “Time together is what builds families,” says Tyler Beckley, “and at Three Bars everyone gets a vacation.”

Acknowledging family milestones through shared travel experiences is important. After all, says Wildland Adventures’ Kurt Kutay, celebrating life’s moments together can be the greatest gift of all.

−By Nancy Schretter

Nancy Schretter is the founder and managing editor of the Family Travel Network (www.familytravelnetwork.com) and an industry consultant in family and multigenerational travel.