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Adventure Travel And Beyond — Summer Vacation’s New Norm

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Summer is here and while schools nationwide are emptying, families across the U.S. are readying for the annual pilgrimage to beaches, national parks, amusement parks, resorts and campgrounds nationwide. And those families heading out by planes, trains and automobiles each summer represent a pretty hefty chunk of change commerce-wise. Depending on the estimate, the average American vacation costs $1,145 per person — meaning a trip for a family of four averages out around $4,500.

How and where people spend their vacation time and money is changing — and quickly.

Increasingly kids and teenagers are choosing the locations, often with an eye toward what Instagrams well, while parents are stepping back.

Way back. In fact so far back that in many cases they aren’t even on the trip.

Why Picking the Perfect Vacation Spot is Becoming Kid Stuff 

According to data from global luxury travel network Virtuoso, families are using a wider lens when it comes to their summer 2019 travel destinations. When looking at what families are mostly selecting for when it comes to choosing their destination, finding action and adventure topped out the list. That represents a gain in ground for action and adventure travel — which in 2018 was only number 2 in the family-specific list tracked in Virtuoso’s Luxe Report.

That gain, according to the report, is largely driven by social media savvy Gen Z consumers, who tend to exert a larger than expected amount of sway in bookings. The younger members of Generation Z, incidentally, are about 10 years old, and the oldest members are college age.

“They may be young, but Gen Zers have strong opinions and exert considerable influence over travel decisions,” the 2019 Virtuoso Luxe Report notes.

And if that sounds crazily young to be directing the annual vacation budget, according to Expedia, merely considering Gen Z’s influence is in fact starting too old. It’s really Generation Alpha — currently still in production and maxed out at the age of 9 — that is really the power behind the travel crown.

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. What Expedia’s study actually says is that those consumers born after 2010 “may be young, but their ideas and opinions and are already influencing family travel decisions.”

The reasoning is 83 percent of respondents of travelers around the world report that they plan trips together as a family. More than half of parents and grandparents also said their Gen Alpha family members attempted to influence family trip planning by showing them online and television media. Another 60 percent of respondents say travel ideas come from both children and adults.

So where is the next generation (and the generation after that) leading us all on vacation? Well that, it seems, depends on what type of traveler one is asking.

The Luxe Report notes the favored locations include as follows: Italy, Mexico, Hawaii, Orlando, England, South Africa, Costa Rica, France, the Dominican Republic and Spain. And if that list sound a bit Europe-heavy, note that is the “average list.” The list of exotic leading destinations for families: Iceland, the Galapagos Island, Cuba, Antarctica, Morocco, Japan, Egypt, Bhutan, Rwanda and India.

If at this point you are trying to struggle to recall any family vacation to Antarctica you’ve ever heard of that wasn’t in the novel “Where’d You Go Bernadette” or if you’ve ever met a single person excited for their family trip to Rwanda this summer — note that Virtuoso does cater to luxury travelers, who may think just a bit more broadly when it comes to global destinations.

Expedia’s survey noted that more middle class range families tend to prioritize trip booking around theme parks and attractions (74 percent), water activities (67 percent), and outdoor activities (55 percent). Cost is a factor in booking — though often not a leading one. Convenience is generally more important than lowest price when selecting transportation and accommodations for family trips. More than half of family travelers select their transportation because it’s the fastest option and approximately 40 percent select their accommodations based on location and family needs.

And even if family vacations aren’t en masse radically shifting toward the Galapagos Islands this summer, the composition of those vacations is shifting. Parents are doing less of the driving when it comes to family vacations — but in fairness, it is because statistically speaking, they are going on fewer of them.

Gramping — the New Face of Family Vacations

While the phenomenon has a lot of names — skip-generation travel, multi-generation travel — our favorite way to describe the phenomenon where grandparents and kids vacation together while mom and dad stay home or go on their own vacation is the term “gramping.”

And gramping, according to both Expedia and Virtuoso, is on the rise.

“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” Sarah Gilliland, whose parents took her twins away on a trip to a national park, told Boomer Magazine.

And it is a win-in that market watchers say is driving the trend putting more travel destination picks into the hands of younger people. Grandparents, famed the world over for allowing children to stay up late and to eat as much chocolate as possible, are unsurprisingly also pretty accommodating travel agents.

“When grandparents are planning the trips, for example,” Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel told Skift, “they are tailoring choices to the grandchildren more so than the parents. It’s about making the kids happy and experiencing the world together as a family — it’s educational and family bonding time. After all, if you pick a destination that the grandkids can’t enjoy, no one will be happy.”

We’d also note that in Expedia’s mixed data on grandparents, 95 percent report that fun and keeping the group happy and entertained is their leading priority when planning a trip — a result we believe was attained by grandparents finding a way to be 110 percent in favor of their grandchildren having fun.

But while Generation Z and Generation Alpha are leading Generation X and baby boomers out on increasingly Instagrammable vacations, you may find yourself wondering what sort of vacations millennials too old to be taken along and too young to have children are taking.

Good news — something better than staycations.

Millennials and The Magic of Mircocations

While millennials are a generation famous for loving new experiences, by the numbers people under the age of  40 take fewer long trips than those in other demographic sets.

But they are taking more short trips, or “microcations” as they are called in the 2019 Vacation Confidence Index, released by Allianz Global Assistance. A microcation is defined as a trip of four nights or less — or what might once have been described as a long weekend.

A little over 72 percent of millennials said they had taken at least one of these “microcations” in 2018, compared to 69 percent of Gen X-ers and 60 percent of baby boomers. The data also indicated that 21 percent of millennials said their longest trips were three to four nights, while 12 percent said they took trips no longer than one or two nights. Nearly one third said they take around three microcations of the course of a year.

“The days of the ubiquitous week-long summer vacation may be disappearing, but we’re happy to see that Americans, especially millennials, are eager to travel more frequently,” said Daniel Durazo, director of communications at Allianz Global Assistance USA, in a statement.

As for why, the survey indicates money is the leading issue. About a quarter of respondents reported they couldn’t afford a stay longer than four nights for a trip, a little over a third reported they preferred to bank and manage time off this way and a little under a third noted trips tended to coincide with special events like weddings.

So what is the lesson to take away from the new world of travel — other than the fairly obvious conclusion that whenever possible one should seek to vacation with their luxury travel-enthused grandparents?

That the great American summer travel tradition is apparently alive and well, and even in style as of 2019. It’s just a style that has changed quite a bit in recent years.

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