In response to the booming demand for private family group travel, top tour operators are innovating and adapting their private family travel options.
Family travel continues to be a market niche worthy of focus. In a travel world turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, the family travel market segment is recognized as one of the bright spots that will help lead the way forward. A September 2020 Skift-McKinsey research report noted that “in the medium to long run, the family-vacation segment will likely continue to be the engine propelling demand for leisure travel.”
Today’s families are excited about traveling together, but they want to do it in the safest possible way. That often means traveling exclusively with their own vacation pod made up of family members, multiple families, or even a like-minded crew of trusted friends. As a result, tour operators are seeing strong demand for private family trips and have significantly ramped up their private group tour options.
Leading family-friendly tour operators including Austin Adventures, Adventures by Disney, G Adventures, Intrepid Travel and Trafalgar are offering memorable private group tours for families. The exclusivity of these tours helps families feel comfortable booking a trip in the current environment, providing hassle-free ways to explore the globe solely with loved ones and friends. These tour operators have also adapted to the challenging new landscape by introducing new domestic destinations, more flexible policies and travel protections, and innovative twists on the private tour concept to meet travelers’ needs.
The popularity of private group tours is nothing new for Montana-based Austin Adventures. “Growth in private travel has been the #1 growth sector for us for a decade,” said Dan Austin, CEO and founder of Austin Adventures. “As a direct result of COVID, we saw private travel explode in the third quarter of 2020 and it’s setting a record pace for 2021.”
Austin Adventures offers a wide range of private travel options for families and multigenerational groups. Vacationers can take over one of the company’s scheduled departures as an exclusive private tour, or Austin Adventures can custom build a trip tailored to the group’s ideal destination, itinerary and type of lodging. Approximately 80% of the company’s bookings for private and custom family tours are currently from families and multigenerational groups and about 20% are multiple families traveling together.
Exclusive private tours for family groups of 8-10 or more can typically be offered with no upcharge, but Austin Adventures can also accommodate smaller groups with adjustments in pricing. “Right now we are seeing unprecedented requests for domestic adventures, with the Rockies and Alaska being the top two destinations,” Austin said. The company also introduced an innovative custom “Homestay” program in a number of locations, offering families private retreats at elite homes with planned itineraries, private guides, and special personalized activities customized to their group’s ages and interests.
Adventures by Disney is known for offering families highly immersive group vacation experiences in more than 35 destinations on all seven continents. Last fall, the company introduced new Private Adventures for departures in 2021. These special private Adventures by Disney vacations are ideal for families, friends and multigenerational groups seeking unique experiences, family-friendly accommodations, insider access, and hassle-free travel with plenty of flexibility.
Adventures by Disney’s Private Adventures can accommodate up to 12 guests and are being offered in Costa Rica, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Peru. There are no minimum age requirements for most of these private vacations, making them particularly appealing to families with young children who want to travel the world together. These private trips offer a number of advantages for families including increased flexibility in travel dates and daily schedules, as well as more time with local Private Adventure Guide(s) who bring destinations to life through engaging storytelling, authentic experiences and opportunities for family fun. Groups of more than 12 family and friends can also arrange private tour departures to Adventures by Disney’s many destinations around the globe.
In response to the dramatically changing travel environment, G Adventures expanded its product offerings last summer by launching a new collection of more than 80 “Book Your Bubble” private tours. “We’ve seen an uptick in interest from families who want to get back on the road, but are understandably concerned about the risks that may carry,” said Ben Perlo, G Adventures’ U.S. managing director. “That’s why we created the collection of Book Your Bubble trips, as well as modified our booking and re-booking policies.” The company has seen a big increase in demand for private group travel, particularly for these new tours.
G Adventures’ Book Your Bubble trips make private tours more flexible and affordable for families. Groups of 8 travelers have the eighth guest’s fare discounted by 50% and those booking with 12 receive the 12th spot for free. In addition, G Adventures’ flexible ‘cancel and rebook’ options provide families with additional confidence when booking. All G Adventures private tours are led by a local chief experience officer (CEO) who provides added local knowledge, insights and safety recommendations.
Families have additional opportunities for private group travel with G Adventures, including taking over an existing off-the-rack itinerary departure or creating their own uniquely customized trip. Destinations in South America and Central America, such as Costa Rica and Peru, are currently most popular with U.S. travelers. New Pre-Screening COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols have also been added to all tours. “We know how important and enriching traveling with your family can be, so we’ve responded by creating ways to make that happen in a safe and comfortable way,” Perlo said.
Global tour operator Intrepid Travel has also experienced unprecedented demand for its family tours. From August to November of 2020, 25% of Intrepid’s top 25 itinerary bookings were family-themed tours compared to just 12% during the same period in 2019. Intrepid Travel’s family tour of Vietnam is the most popular trip with global travelers, while North American families are also interested in adventures in Middle East destinations such as Jordan and Egypt.
In light of the record-setting demand for family tours, Intrepid Travel created four new Retreat-style family tours with a focus on safety, quality, sustainability and savoring the ‘slow travel’ approach to vacations. Based in Morocco, Turkey and England, these Family Retreats allow families to immerse themselves in one location in select accommodations and enjoy activities and experiences in nearby communities. “Each Family Retreat itinerary has been designed to benefit local communities affected by the pandemic, while also providing enriching activities for children and parents,” said Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s managing director of North America.
Intrepid Travel’s family-themed itineraries are also available as Tailor-Made private group tours, which are experiencing strong demand. “In the past year, our Tailor-Made product across the board has become more popular, as exploring within your own ‘bubble’ is increasingly interesting to groups of travelers,” said Berna. Alaska was also recently added as a new Family Adventure destination as well, offering both summer and winter itineraries.
Family-friendly Trafalgar has responded to the challenging environment by adapting its product offerings to meet the exceptional interest in private family group travel. “In our ever-changing world, the desire to stick with an inner circle is more prevalent than ever,” said Trafalgar USA President Melissa DaSilva. “We launched private trips last year to meet the strong demand to travel with only family and friends, while allowing our guests to still tap into the same destination expertise, local knowledge and hassle-free itineraries that they’ve come to know and love.”
Groups of 12 or more can reserve their own private Trafalgar exclusive departure and Trafalgar’s Travel Protection program makes bookings worry-free for families. Trafalgar’s private tours include expert guides, accommodations, ground transportation, many meals and “Be My Guest” experiences with locals. All private tours are accompanied by a dedicated On-Road team including a Travel Director and Driver.
Popular Trafalgar private family tours include the history-filled ‘Wild West Cowboys & Buffalos” itinerary in the western U.S. and Costa Rica’s ‘Monkeys, Jungles & Volcanoes’ trip, providing opportunities for adventurous thrills and authentic local interactions. “Travel is one of life’s greatest teachers, and our family itineraries are a great way to learn new skills, discover history in a new light and experience different cultures in a personal way,” DaSilva said. Trafalgar’s Travel Protection plans also help give families peace of mind when booking group trips.
Nancy Schretter has been a leader in family and multigenerational travel for more than 20 years, covering these topics for her own publications as well as for leading magazines, newspapers, television and radio programs, and online travel sites. She is also a consultant and frequent speaker at travel industry conferences and events.
Header photo credit: Austin Adventures