This article first appeared in the November issue of PAX magazine.
Each winter, Canadian families across the country embark on a time-honoured tradition: heading somewhere warm together for a much-needed break from the cold temperatures and often-wild weather.
With the ever-growing number of properties found across a wide range of destinations, families have plenty of choices available to them each year – so as a travel agent, how do you narrow it down for them and make those bookings?
PAX spoke to some of Canada’s largest tour operators to get their insights on the most popular destinations, what families are looking for on their annual winter escapes – and how you can make those travel dreams a reality for your clients.
Mexico and popular Caribbean destinations including the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Jamaica top the list of most popular destinations for families.
In addition to being long established as traditional sun destinations for Canadians in general, each boasts a wide selection of family-friendly resorts from the popular Beaches Resorts locations in Negril and Ocho Rios to unique properties such as Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana and Hotel Xcaret in Riviera Maya.
TravelBrands’ VP of Product Development Elvi Cal notes that outside of the Caribbean and Central America, Orlando is another top-seller; while not traditionally a resort destination, attractions such as Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando (each offering numerous hotels in close proximity to their respective theme parks) consistently draw Canadians to the destination each year.
But there’s also families looking for something different this winter.
According to Transat’s Commercial Director Nicole Bursey, the tour operator has seen an increase in some non-traditional family destinations, such as those in Costa Rica, Honduras and Colombia.
What makes a great family resort? It’s a combination of many different factors and, depending on the ages of children in the group, the answer can vary.
These are just a few of them:
- Family fun factor (water parks for all ages, anyone?)
- Babysitting or nanny services for those with very young children
- Safety and overall cleanliness
- Diverse accommodations (family-sized rooms)
- Unique offerings, like "kids stay free" promos
Overall, it all comes down to providing a comfortable and memorable experience.
What families want
Extended families that play together will want to stay together, which can be accommodated at resorts offering either large family suites or interconnecting suites, says Andrew Dawson, president of tour operations for Sunwing Vacations.
“They’re designed with families in mind with special features, such as rooms that are built to accommodate groups of five or more,” Dawson says. “Plus, you can coordinate flight schedules from different provinces so that you can all meet in the same destination.”
In many cases, a tour operator’s stamp of approval can help travellers decide.
Dana Gain, Air Canada Vacations’ senior director sales, groups and partnerships, tells PAX that by identifying resorts as ‘family-friendly’ with ‘kid-friendly’ activities, the tour operator helps narrow the field for agents helping their clients make a decision.
“Our guests are looking the perfect place to spend time as a family,” says Gain. “It’s about the experience, not the destination. What memories will they come away with? These seem to be the most important questions to answer for families.”
Preparation is key
Before those clients even walk through your door or call your phone, the main piece of advice from tour operators comes down to three words: research, research, research.
By becoming knowledgeable on the subject, you can stand out from the pack and be known as a travel consultant who “will take the time to discover the needs” of a client booking a specific product, says Transat’s Bursey – especially important for families taking their first trip together.
“Travelling with children is a very different experience than travelling with your partner or a group of friends,” Bursey says.
WestJet Vacations’ VP and GM Dave Cecco adds that while the internet is a great resource, a local business development manager is only a phone call away and can provide agents with even greater detail on the various properties and what they have to offer families.
“Know what the family’s needs are and find a hotel that meets it,” he says. “Most hotels have BDMs so you can reach out to them with any questions.”
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