Family pic 7 May 2021

What matters most to Family Travellers now – report on Big Themes Series by Board member, John Speers

This week as part of the Tourism Society’s Big Thinkers Big Themes series we heard from Andrew Dent, Katie Bowman and Ed Grenby – the new highly awarded editorial team at Family Traveller Magazine as it sets to relaunch across UK, Germany and US. With 7 years of experience specifically with UK families and 20 years with the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, we were delighted to hear their thoughts and see research commissioned for the event revealing what matters most when it comes to family travel as we emerge from the pandemic.

The biggest swing from families to sustainability was seen with 57% preferring accommodation to be eco-friendly against 43% ‘luxurious and lovely’. That’s worth thinking twice about… preferring sustainability over a lovely place to enjoy their well-earned and yearned for break. That’s a tipping point right there.

The concern many had, as the world gets back onto its feet, was environmental issues would take a back seat as necessary practices of health and safety and economic imperatives would rise to the fore. But the majority of families (55%) still feel more concerned to step up sustainability – and that’s in addition to the 43% who feel the same concern as pre-pandemic. That’s a huge shift.
So, with the public clearly demanding it and as travel slowly begins to resume, the challenge we all have is to ensure that travel returns better.

And that’s the nub of the question – what does that actually mean and how can we do it?
There’s always been the pioneers of environmental and local community-oriented travel – the Intrepid and G Adventures of the world and more brilliant operators who have opened up cultures and minds. The opportunity (and imperative) now is to ensure sustainability is embedded into the mainstream as the way we all now travel.

The good news – for the industry and the families – is that 64% of people will take a holiday this year, a little over 40% domestically with the classic favourites of Spain, Italy, France and Greece coming swiftly after. We all need a break after the year that was, but after we’ve all ‘flopped and dropped’ at the pool after throwing the kids in and sat back with a sigh of relief, there’s always that moment of ‘now what?’ – especially after 3 days pool or beachside.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is famous for his Day One principle – the premise and encouragement to act like a startup even as it becomes the largest company in the world. Alternatively, we propose a Day Three to the industry – to not only answer the call of what to do but to encourage the right thing to do at every turn.

So, what is the right thing? If we go back to the Family Traveller research, when asked about ‘what are you looking forward to most when you travel again’, the answer was that people want to explore new places, getting into new experiences outside with friends and families.

This does not mean necessarily getting on the tour bus. It means providing the information, incentive and directions to great local experiences to meet the local culture with money going directly into the hands of great local people. The win/win of supporting the local community with local products and services and having great memorable experiences at the same time.

Katie Bowman in particular talked to navigating travel experiences that kids will remember and experiences that will expand their minds. If may well be ‘educational’, but if it’s seen as that then the kids naturally run a mile. ‘You have to do it by stealth’ and they will ‘learn by osmosis’ as you get out there, engage with local communities and together find and relish the soul of a new place.
The soul of a place can be visible in many ways, but food is a great way in for kids to access a new culture – whether that be the Portuguese custard tart, the croissant or sushi as the best fun way for kids to get into a different culture. Certainly, the most memorable travel experiences with my son, he recalls, is not just eating but learning to cook from the locals and getting out early to buy local ingredients from the market – seeing and smelling the awakening of a new place and people. Priceless bonding over evocative sights, smells and experiences, which just happen to be low cost and regenerative to local people and place.

The Family Traveller research indicated a huge natural rise in multi-generational travel with people wanting shared experiences with their loved ones now more than ever. It’s up to us to provide the right ones to benefit all. That’s not all getting back onto the bus but developing and actively promoting extraordinary experiences for everyone to witness the extraordinary and sustainable delights of meeting the world once again.

Session written up by John Speers, Board Member and Owner of