Analyses - June 16, 2004



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June 2004


Print Customer segments, Trends,

More and more grandparents are travelling with their grandchildren

A 2003 survey by Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell (YPB&R) found that one-third of grandparents have travelled with their grandchildren in the last twelve months. In the United States, more than 15% of travel includes children with grandparents. About 21% of this intergenerational travel does not include the children’s parents.

Travelling with the family unit

During the last decade, and especially since 9/11, family values have assumed increasing importance. With spare time diminishing, time spent with family often becomes a priority. When we think of family, we sometimes limit ourselves to parents and children, but in reality, grandparents play an important role within the family unit. This feeling of closeness can translate into the older generation going on vacation with their grandchildren.

This socio-demographic development holds the promise of new opportunities, and at the same time means that we need to revise our traditional clientele segmentation. There are already promotional campaigns specifically addressing this pairing. At the Hilton chain, children under 18 can share their grandparents’ room free of charge. In Loews hotels, seniors accompanied by young people are offered discounts, surprises and special activities. Certain travel agencies even specialize in «grandtravel», organizing tours specifically designed for children and their grandparents.

Passing fad or serious trend?

Today’s parents are caught up in the hurly-burly of an active life and in demanding professional careers. The level of family consumption often requires two salaries. Grandparents, who are retired or semi-retired baby-boomers, are delighted to play a role in parenting. They want to take advantage of opportunities to connect with their grandchildren, and vacation activities can offer quality time.

Another phenomenon is the availability of the parties to go on holiday. In the United States, more than 60% of parents approve of their children taking holidays during the school year, and grandparents generally have a lot of spare time. To this availability, add the financial resources of the grandparents, which make it possible to go on holiday with or without the parents. Another factor is the difficulty spouses often have in arranging simultaneous vacation time.

A growing opportunity

The demand will continue to increase as more baby-boomers go into retirement or semi-retirement. In response to the perceived demand, the American Automobile Association (AAA) even published a book, entitled Travel with Your Grandkids, to help grandparents plan their holidays. The book covers several issues, including how to:

  • convince reluctant parents
  • involve grandchildren in planning the trip
  • strengthen the grandparent-grandchild relationship
  • set limits and establish rules

There is a wide range of activities of interest to this segment, from downhill skiing to science museums, golf, cruise-excursions, theme parks and hiking. The heritage or commemorative element could be exploited as it strikes a chord with grandparents who are eager to pass on their knowledge and to tell to their grandchildren about their personal history.

It is also important to consider what is of interest to the children, especially since they, too, have a say in travelling with their grandparents. The majority (56%) of children between 6 and 17 years old say that they would like to take a trip with their grandparents. The youngest (6 – 8) are the most enthusiastic (78%).

Companies that adopt a targeted promotional strategy during slower periods could also get results. Small details like surprise gifts for young children, or activities that capture their interest can act as triggers when the family is planning a vacation. For example, Mexico City offers a little paradise for kids (Ciudad de los Niños). In this theme park, children play the role of grown-ups, sitting in the pilot’s seat in a real American Airlines’ cockpit, making pizzas in a Domino pizzeria, or feeding a dummy baby inside a hospital. And to be totally consistent, children pay the full price of admission, parents pay half price and for grandparents… it’s free!

– White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. «Grandparent/Grandchild Market a Growing Opportunity», October 2003.
– The Philadelphia Inquirer. «Travel with ‘grands’ comes in all flavours», 16 May 2004, p. N02.
– Hugues Court, Paula. «Cruising with Grandchildren», [], 9 September 2003.
– Buhasz, Laszlo. «Marketing to the new senior», The Globe & Mail [], 11 October 2003, p. T2.
– American City Business Journals. «New travel trend: ‘grandtravel’», 8 November 2001.
– Gardyn, Rebecca. «The New Family Vacation», American Demographics, 1 August 2001.

Commentary from Thomas P. Cullen

This is a topic which should be of interest to many aspects of the travel industry. I believe it is a symptom of a global change in the way markets are defined and in motivations to travel.

The “business market” has traditionally been differentiated from the “leisure market”. However, these boundaries are changing, and I believe that the industry can no longer assume the business trip is for business only. Children are not only traveling with grandparents, they are traveling with parents – blue suit moms and dads, who increasingly take kids along on a business or convention trip. Las Vegas entrepreneur Steve Wynn recognized this many years ago when almost single handedly he transformed the topless, sin city gambling mecca to a family friendly convention destination.

The other quantum change is related to the nature of demand drivers. A review of intergenerational travel packages offered by Elderhostle is indicative of this change. The traditional “architectural” tourism is being replaced by learning/educationally motivated travel, cultural travel, and health related travel.

Worldwide business travel probably accounts for 60% of all travel demand. Within 15 years, perhaps sooner, leisure oriented travel will account for 60%, and business only travel declines as a percentage of the total.  

Communications technologies will replace a lot of business travel as a younger, more technology saavy generation of business people grow into decision making positions in industry. The implications for packaging, pricing, positioning and distributions systems for the hotel, airline, and cruise industries are significant.

Thomas P. Cullen

School of Hotel Administration
Cornell University
Travel – It’s Not Just for Adults Anymore
An essay written by Mr. Cullen

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