Many couples lament they stopped traveling once they had kids—yet having children may be the best excuse to take a trip. Gone are the days when a quick trip to Disney was the ultimate kids’ vacation. Today, discerning young explorers and their well-traveled parents want a broader travel experience, and more and more parents are discovering travel is a key teacher.
“Because travel is so immersive and puts children literally right in front of that castle, or geyser, or local tribe, it becomes personal, a real, imprinted experience they’ll never forget,” says Chris Chesak, Executive Director of the Family Trade Association. “I think any parent that has traveled with a child has seen this transformational effect where the child’s eyes stare in wonder, then they start asking a battery of questions, then they reflect on the situation and compare it to their own lives and their own living situation. There are times where you can see the moment where their minds are figuratively ‘blown’ by this exposure to new cultures, history, and geography.”
And research is exceedingly showing family travel is top of mind. A 2015 study conducted by the Family Travel Association and the New York University School of Professional Studies Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism showed family and multigenerational travel has become one of the hottest and fastest-growing segments of the entire tourism industry, with 93 percent of study participants saying they were either “likely” or “very likely” to travel with their families in the next two years. In particular, the study found trips offering an educational or experiential component—including volunteer trips, safaris, national parks and ski and snowboard trips—are emerging as niche products for family travel.
Passport to Learning
Exclusive Resorts Members Lisa and Angel Colmenares took their son Lucian to Los Cabos with The Club when he was a year old. “Angel and I love to travel and rather than change what we love because we were starting a family, we made our son a part of it,” says Lisa. “Even if a child is too young to remember the trip, I think elements of the place—the sounds, the weather, the smells—stay with them.”
When Lucian was eight, the Colmenares family visited the UK with Exclusive Resorts. Their residence in London was located next to Buckingham Palace, which piqued Lucian’s curiosity about the royal family. “He was so interested in the idea of a country having a queen that he wanted a postcard of her to carry about,” recalls Angel. When the family took the train to Scotland, they participated in a falconry class at St. Andrews. While most kids experience wildlife in the pages of National Geographic or at the zoo, Lucian fed an 18-pound bird out of his palm. “Being that close to an animal and having an expert telling you about it was interesting for all three of us,” says Angel.
And the Colmenares family is not alone in acknowledging the life-changing power of travel. Chesak, the father of two girls, recalls when his daughter Lillian, then 10, asked why people’s houses were so different from her own during a trip to Costa Rica. “That resulted in a long conversation about how lucky we are to live in the United States and to have a home that is larger than those of the majority of people’s homes around the world,” he says. On that same trip, he watched as his daughter Sylvia went from being terrified by the idea of going on a zip line, to doing it in tandem with him, then insisting on doing it alone. “She was screaming with joy the whole way down,” he says.
Gina Bach, Exclusive Resorts' Vice President of Experiences, who has been with the company for 10-plus years, adds, “Traveling is a phenomenal way for parents to show their kids the world is a live classroom. From learning up close and personal about wildlife, botany, and marine life in the Galapagos, to grasping geography not from a book but from being on another continent, travel makes maps come alive.” As interest and priorities of Members have shifted, including an emphasis on family travel, the Club’s offerings have evolved. “Our Members’ children have gone to a school in Kenya and not only have a better understanding of how fortunate they are, but those are real people and when Kenya is on the news, their little ears perk up to listen,” Bach adds. “Over the years, we have expanded the Experience Collection from four trips in 2008 to now offering 50+ curated itineraries for couples and families each year.”
As Lucian has gotten older, the Colmenares family has started choosing vacations introducing him to new foods as well as history. Last year, on a trip to Anguilla, the family took a boat to a tiny island for lunch where the locals showed Lucian how to eat a lobster. “This guy told Lucian that Americans leave all the good stuff and then showed him how to eat every piece,” says Lisa. “Lucian became really thoughtful after that about how important it is to use the whole animal.” This year the family went to Tuscany. Angel came home with a deeper knowledge of Italian wine varietals, and Lisa brushed up on her Italian. As for Lucian, “I learned that most of the towns in Tuscany were built in the period of the Etruscans,” he says. “I also learned I love all of the different flavors of gelato."
The Value of Time
Time is money, and for many executives time together with family may be the most valuable of all. During his tenure as CEO of McDonald’s Corporation, Don Thompson admits he didn’t have much time for family vacations. “But Exclusive Resorts made the most of the rare time we did have away together,” he says. “We could trust Exclusive Resorts to execute a memorable, stress-free trip every time.” A Member since 2005, Don believes the Club allowed him to remain connected to his wife, Liz, and their two children Xavier, 23, and Maya, 20, ensuring family time was a priority despite his professional commitments. “The kids grew up with the Club,” says Don. “And in a way, the staff at the Club have become part of our family.” They jokingly refer to their Exclusive Resorts Ambassador Alma Smith as Charlie. “She reminds us of Charlie in Charlie’s Angels,” explains Liz. “She works magic from behind the scenes.”
With their Exclusive Resorts membership, they have taken guys' trips, girls' trips, spring break trips and cruises with Exclusive Resorts' Once-in-a-Lifetime Journeys. Residence 211 in Los Cabos, Mexico, has become a home-away-from-home. “We consistently go back,” says Don. “As soon as I arrive I feel like I can exhale. We love that the ocean is steps from our door and we can hear the waves crashing at the shore. As soon as we walk down to the Beach Club, no less than five people are coming over to give us hugs. The staff know our favorite drink, our favorite food…even where we like our chairs set up. It feels like returning home.”
And family travel isn’t just about the kids, it also helps reconnect with partners and spouses. One year, Don worked with Alma to plan a surprise dinner on the beach in Los Cabos for his and Liz’s 30th wedding anniversary. “Don and the kids led me down to the beach with my eyes closed and they’d set up a pig roast. I knew nothing about it. We had our own staff to pamper us and the entire beach was ours for the evening.” While most teenagers dread vacations with mom and dad, Xavier says he feels lucky he’s gotten to experience the world with them. “My mom and I are total nerds and Exclusive Resorts always sets us up with the most incredible tour guides,” he says. “When we cruised to Europe we had a guide in every port to tell us about the history and architecture. We always had private access to museums and didn’t have to wait in lines.”
“It’s been really special to have my children study art or history and be able to connect what they’ve learned in the pages of a book to reality by visiting the Uffizi Museum in Florence or the Louvre in Paris,” says Liz. “That connection is absolutely priceless.” Education has always been a core value for Liz and Don and is at the heart of their latest venture, the Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education, which funds numerous organizations dedicated to student success. “I love that we learn as a family when we travel with The Club,” says Liz. “Even meals become an education. When we stayed in a renovated farmhouse in Tuscany, a chef came to prepare dinner and Don, who is an excellent cook, was in the kitchen by his side taking notes.”