The Millennial parent, or Millennial family, perspective is one that is not often considered, even though in many countries, the majority of those in this generational cohort have children. Millennials in general remain an appealing target market for the travel industry due to their unique values, behaviors, and preferences (and that’s not to mention the generation’s size and growing spending power). But does being a parent change what we have come to know is true about Millennials?
In this report, Skift Research tackles this question. Drawing from the data from our 2019 Millennial and Gen Z Traveler Survey, we dig into the travel habits and preferences of Millennial parents. From our survey data, we compare Millennial parents to Millennial non-parents in the five countries where responses were collected: the U.S., UK, Australia, China, and India. We identify big trends across the countries, and also point out key differences among the countries where they exist. This data analysis reveals some exciting findings, like Millennial parents are more optimistic about their future travel spending, they’re more interested in many types of trips and trip activities, and they’re more concerned about environmentally responsible travel.
In conjunction with the findings from the survey data, in-depth interviews with family travel experts allow us to contextualize how Millennial parents are changing the family travel segment. We end the report with five best practices for travel industry stakeholders who want to successfully tap into this segment.
Skift Research’s Millennial and Gen Z Traveler Survey 2019 collected responses from respondents ages 16–38 in July 2019 who reside in five countries around the world. Around 1,000 responses each were collected from the U.S. (1,046), China (1,143), and India (1,015), due to the larger size of these markets, and around 500 each were collected from the UK (509) and Australia (523).
To qualify, respondents had to indicate that they had taken at least one leisure trip in the last 12 months. For this project, a leisure trip is defined as at least one night’s paid stay 50 miles or more from home. They also had to indicate their current age as 16 to 38 years old. For all countries, our final responses came from approximately 30% Gen Z (16–22) and 70% Millennials (23–38).
When we resliced the data for this report, we excluded Gen Z respondents, leaving only those who were ages 23 to 38 at the time of the survey. This resulted in final sample sizes of: U.S. N=705, UK N=325, Australia N=353, China N=840, and India N=805.
All surveys except for China were fielded in English to English-speaking respondents, and currencies and other items were localized accordingly. The China survey was translated into simplified Chinese. The surveys were fielded by a trusted third-party consumer panel provider.
What You'll Learn From This Report
- Why family travel is an attractive market from an expenditure perspective
- The current and future scope of Millennial family travel
- How Millennials are changing what “family” means, and therefore what family travel is
- How Millennial parents compare to non-parents in travel spending, booking and planning behavior, and activity preferences across and between countries
- The implications of the above findings for the family travel segment
- Five best practices for travel industry stakeholders, including best-in-class case studies
- Amanda Dunning - Brand Partnership Manager, G Adventures
- Amanda Norcross - Lead Editor of Tripadvisor’s family travel site Family Vacation Critic
- Anne Taylor Hartzell - Founder, Hip Travel Mama and VP of Marketing for Ciao Bambino!
- Lish Kennedy - VP of Global Brand Marketing, Vrbo
- Richard Liddle - CEO & Founder, Two Point Four
Who Are Millennials?
The Millennial generation follows Generation X in the line of generational cohorts. There is some debate about when exactly Gen X transitioned to the Millennial generation as well as when the Millennial generation came to an end. By and large, however, most researchers and culture experts agree that the first Millennials were born in the early 1980s (meaning they are in their late 30s today). The end of the generation — when it transitioned to Generation Z — is placed anywhere from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, making the youngest Millennials anywhere from 19 to 24 years old today. Upon consulting numerous sources, such as the Pew Research Center, as well as our own survey data, Skift Research places the transition from Millennial to Gen Z in 1996, meaning Millennials will be turning 24 to 39 years old in 2020 (they were 23–38 when given our survey).
There are many ways that Millennials are stereotyped (most of which stem from western perceptions), but the thing that truly defines the generation is the fact that members of this cohort came of age during the “digital age,” and therefore have developed a reliance on technology that no generation before them had.
Millennials have long attracted much of the travel industry’s attention, and rightly so. This generation has already surpassed older generations in most markets in terms of their population size and their spending power is continuously increasing. In the U.S. for example, they became the largest generation in the country’s workforce back in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.
It’s important to keep in mind that generational cohorts are useful only to define broad trends, but not to define individuals. It’s crucial not to oversimplify or to think of generational trends as hard-and-fast rules. Because of this, for our Millennial and Gen Z Traveler Survey 2019 report, we examined our survey data by country of residence as well as lifestage in order to uncover more nuance about these generational groups. Having children is also a milestone that heavily impacts how a person travels, and so as the Millennial parent population continues to grow, it’s important to understand how this changes their travel behaviors and preferences.
What Does Family Travel Mean?
The question of what “family travel” actually means is more complicated than it may seem. To unravel family travel, the first term that comes to mind is “immediate family” or “nuclear family,” which evokes an image of a married, heterosexual couple with at least one child. This is often what the travel industry at large has in mind when family travel is discussed.
However, this family structure is becoming less and less common. According to an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) from 2018 by Apartment List, an online platform and research company for renters, there were one million fewer ‘nuclear’ households in the U.S. in 2018 than there were in 2007. Looking at historical data, this analysis found that in 1968, 42% of American households were nuclear, compared to just 22% in 2018. The number of nuclear households in 2018 was the same as it was in 1984, despite the population being 27% smaller then.
Instead of nuclear family households, more people today, even those with children, are living with their parents, other family members, or even with other, unrelated families. In an article about the Apartment List data analysis, Ozy also points out that unmarried couples were not counted as nuclear families until 1995, so this excluded single parents as well as LGBT parents, both of which have also become increasingly common over time in many places (Pew Research reported that in 2019, 23% of children in the U.S. lived in single-parent households, making it the country with the highest rate of kids living in such situations).
There are many contributing factors to the changing structure of families and households, like increasingly high costs of living, as well as more acceptance of alternatives to the traditional nuclear structure in general. Whatever the reason, the changing definition of “family” has crucial ramifications for the travel industry, as it is reflected in who is included in the “family travel” segment. Lish Kennedy, VP of global marketing at Vrbo, told Skift Research that this is a huge driver for a lot of the changes in this segment of this industry, much of which is being driven by Millennials: “Years ago, many would have envisioned ‘family travelers’ to be a trip reflecting a nuclear construct: two parents and their children. Today, family travel encompasses trips that reflect real families — extended families, multigenerational families, skip-generation families, and families who travel with families they’re friends with.”
Multigenerational travel is a trend that the travel industry has kept it’s eye on for a few years now, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Each of our interviewees for this report mentioned it as a key trend in the space. According to Amanda Norcross, lead editor of Tripadvisor’s family travel site Family Vacation Critic, Millennial parents are especially interested in multigenerational travel as a way to “reconnect with extended relatives that maybe you don’t see often,” because they are more likely to live further from these family members.
The new iteration of multigenerational travel is what the Family Travel Association calls “skip-gen travel” or what some refer to as “gramping.” This is when grandparents travel with their grandkids, and Millennial parents are just the right age for their children to be the target market for this trip type.
Even Millennials without kids of their own should not be excluded from the family travel picture. Members of this generation are waiting longer to have kids of their own (which we will discuss more later), but many are aunts, uncles, or have friends with kids with whom they have close relationships. Amanda Dunning, brand partnership manager at G Adventures noted that the tour operator is seeing an increase in bookings by “PANKS and PUNKS” (which stands for professional aunts and uncles, no kids), “who don’t have kids right now, but there are kids in their lives and they want to be able to share those kinds of really incredible experiences together.”
Our survey of Millennials reflects this expanding definition of family travel. About three quarters of Millennial parents report that they traveled with their immediate families. Yet 17–28% say they travel with extended family, and 16–34% with friends, varying by country.
All that being said, the thing to remember is that family travel is not a stagnant, one-dimensional thing. It continuously changes along with the evolving definition of “family.” To ignore these changes risks overgeneralizing and missing key segments of Millennials who don’t fit into the traditional, nuclear family mold, but consider themselves to be family travelers in other ways. This report focuses on the behaviors, values, and preferences of Millennials who have children, but making assumptions about them based on this fact alone should be avoided.
Why Is Travel with Children Important to the Travel Industry?
Families, specifically those with children, constitute an important market for the travel industry to pay attention to for a few reasons, mostly related to the sheer size of the current and potential market. In the U.S., for example, 41% of families have children under the age of 18 in the household according to the Census Bureau’s 2019 Current Population Survey.
Even more notable is the spending power of family travelers. As Amanda Norcross of Family Vacation Critic explained, “When you factor in accommodations and you think about the number of meals and attraction tickets and that sort of thing that each family is purchasing, the cost is really bound to be higher.” Families also often require extra amenities, like rollaway beds, that typically cost more money.
The Skift Research team analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis for our 2019 U.S. Traveler Profile and Key Statistics report. From this analysis, we found that married couples with kids spent $7,919 on average on travel in 2017 (the most recent year for which data is available). While this family type makes up just 16% of all households, they contributed 23% of total travel spending that year.
After adjusting for household size, we found that single people with no children have the highest per-person spending, but control a smaller share of overall travel expenditures compared to those who are married with kids (15% versus 23%). The “married with children” households also have a high travel participation rate relative to other household types at 68%, only being outdone by married households with no children.
The number of children a family has is also an important factor when it comes to travel spending. From our analysis, we found that a household’s expenditure on travel increases with the number of children. This trend stops, however, for families with five or more kids, likely due to the effort and costs to plan travel for so many people to travel much.
For those families with one to four kids, however, the average travel expenditure for 2017 ranged from $6,523 to $7,490. And while households with kids may have lower per-capita spending on travel in comparison to those without kids, their travel participation rates are almost exactly the same.
The Scope of the Millennial Family Travel Market
With all of this being said, it’s clear to see why families with children are an attractive target market for the travel industry. But what about Millennial family travelers in particular? There is a perception that Millennials aren’t having kids like previous generations, but much of that likely stems from the fact that they tend to wait longer to have children. According to Pew Research Center, since 2016, more than one million U.S. Millennials have become a mother each year. In 2016, Millennials accounted for 82% of all births in the U.S. But they are indeed waiting longer than previous generations did to have kids. Pew reports that in 2016, 48% of Millennial women ages 20–35 were moms, while 57% of Gen X women (born between 1965 and 1980) were when they were in the same age range.
Millennials waiting a bit longer to have children bodes well for the future of Millennial family travel. As the younger members of this generation age into their late 20s, early 30s, and beyond in the coming years, we can expect that more and more will have children of their own.
So the future is bright for this market, but what about the present? According to Resonance Consulting’s 2018 Future of U.S. Millennial Travel report, 58% of U.S. Millennials have kids under 18 in the household. Our own survey of Millennial travelers showed similar results, with 53% of U.S.-based Millennials reporting being a primary caretaker of a child under 18. In the other four countries surveyed, the percentage of parents was even higher, with 70% in China and India.
In the “Western” countries we surveyed, more than half of Millennials have more than one kid, while in China and India, having only one is more common right now. Given that most Millennials are still in their prime child-bearing years — and many will be for many more years to come — we can expect that we will see more with two or even three children over the next decade or so.
As Millennials add more children to their families in the coming years, the Millennial family travel market will grow as well. And given that most children of Millennials are currently young, preschool and school-aged children, there is still at least a decade available for parents in this generation to travel with their kids before they turn 18.
And for Millennial travelers who have children, family travel is the main type of travel they partake in. In the five countries surveyed, at least two thirds of Millennial parents say that almost all their vacations are with their kids. As more members of this generation have children in the coming years, the majority of Millennial travel will in fact be Millennial family travel.
Understanding Millennial Parents as Family Travelers
Millennials are a heavily examined generation, and have been for many years. As the first generation to come of age in a tech-centric world, members of this generation set themselves apart in many ways from the generations that came before them. But even though much has been written about them, they aren’t often discussed as parents, even though so many of them are.
Becoming a parent doesn’t completely shift the behaviors, preferences, and values that we have come to expect from Millennials. Having children, however, is bound to cause some priorities to shift, making Millennial parents stand out in some key ways from their generational peers.
Speaking from his own experience as a Millennial parent and his company’s clientele that largely fit in this segment, Richard Liddle, CEO and founder of Two Point Four, a company that creates travel experiences focused on families with kids under six explained, “I think if there’s a trend that is applicable to Millennials, it still applies to Millennial parents. A lot of the time, it’s actually magnified when you become a parent … So things like the fear of missing out, looking for experiences over things, wanting to give back when you travel” are just as important, if not more so, to Millennials with kids compared to those without.
Travel is no exception to this. According to Amanda Norcross of Family Vacation Critic, Millennials are “this generation that really places a high value on travel and experiences and getting out and exploring the world,” and when they have kids, “they’re not leaving the kids at home when they go on these amazing experiences. They’re taking the kids and oftentimes they’re also taking the grandparents and other extended family with them.”
Some research, like the aforementioned study by Resonance Consultancy and MMGY Global’s Portrait of American Travelers, has found that Millennial parents travel more than other groups of travelers and also spend more when they do so. Despite this, some in the industry point out that the family travel market has not changed enough to stay relevant with this young generation of families. Richard Liddle of Two Point Four, says that he feels family travel has “been overlooked. If you look at people coming out of college, people who have retired, or solo travelers, there’s companies out there who are clawing over those groups. But family travel has been quite stagnant for a long time, and it’s just been resorts and cruise ships.”
In order to stay relevant with Millennial parents, it’s crucial that the industry has an understanding of the ways that Millennial parents differ from their generational peers without children. We will now focus on these comparisons, and we will also call out key differences across the countries we surveyed Millennial travelers in as well.
How Do Millennial Parents Travel? Comparisons to Non-Parents and Across Countries
In this section, we will discuss some ways that Millennial parents compare to non-parents in regard to their travel-related behaviors, preferences, and values, across and between the countries we surveyed. We will also discuss what this all means for the new generation of family travel. Please note that while the terms “family” and “family travel” have many possible meanings today, as we discussed above, our data specifically focuses on Millennials with children, and discussion of “family travel” refers to those who travel with children.
As you will see below, there are a number of ways that Millennial parents and non-parents differ from one another. And while having children is surely a contributing factor to these differences, it’s impossible to pinpoint them directly to this one particular characteristic. Others are sure to come into play as well, some of which are highly correlated with having children. For example, across all five countries, our Millennial survey respondents with children tend to be older, are more likely to be married, and also are more likely to have higher household incomes.
Each of these characteristics will have an influence on a person’s travel priorities and behaviors. They are all likely contributors to the differences we observed between Millennial parents and non-parents as much as having or not having kids is.
As we discussed earlier in the report, the average per household travel expenditure for family travelers is higher than other types of travelers. When it comes to Millennial family travelers specifically, our survey indicates that this holds true, due to the larger group size they are responsible for paying for, but also because of their overall higher household incomes.
According to our survey, Millennial parents tend to spend more on accommodations when traveling, which makes sense given that families often require larger rooms or multiple rooms when traveling.
Millennial parents also tend to be more optimistic when it comes to their future travel spending. In all surveyed countries except the UK, parents are more likely than non-parents to say that they expect their spending on travel will increase over the next year compared to the previous year. They are especially optimistic in China and India.
In the UK, parents are more likely to think that their spending will remain about the same in the coming year. Given the political and economic uncertainty in the UK right now, this is still a rather promising sign for an overall strong future for Millennial family travel.
Despite the fact that Millennial parents tend to spend more and are more optimistic about their future spending, they still tend to be budget conscious travelers. In fact, this is something that Millennial parents and non-parents have in common with each other. For both groups, across all five countries, the majority of all Millennials agree that they are budget conscious when they plan travel. Chinese parents are the least likely to agree (although more than half do agree), but given that this subgroup skews more affluent than those in the other countries, it makes sense that they are a bit less concerned with spending.
For family travelers in general, budget is often cited as a key consideration. Given all the extra expenses associated with having children, this is an understandable concern. According to the Family Travel Association’s U.S. Family Travel Survey 2019, 82% of parents say that affordability is the biggest challenge to traveling with kids. The next most-selected barrier, available vacation time, was comparatively only selected by 33% of parents.
And for Millennial parents specifically, many of whom have not yet reached their peak earning potential, budget may be of even larger importance. Amanda Norcross of Family Vacation Critic noted that spending concerns are the biggest barrier for family travelers, especially young families. “Budget,” she said, is “important regardless of what your income is. It can really make or break a family’s decision to travel.”
The Family Travel Association’s survey also found that the top thing that would help encourage parents to use more vacation days for family trips would be having more affordable options, selected by 62% of respondents. Norcross echoed these findings: “I think that’s where the industry really needs to take note. They really need to think about ways to make family travel affordable.”
Even though Millennial parents tend to spend more on travel, this does not necessarily mean they are traveling more often or further from home. Country of residence is a better indicator of trip incidence. The “Western” countries surveyed show similar trip incidence across the board, with little difference between parents and non-parents. In China and India, on the other hand, trip incidence is higher overall, especially among parents, with three-quarters of parents in China reporting they took three or more trips in the past year.
It’s not all that surprising that parenthood doesn’t have a huge bearing on trip frequency. Especially when kids are of school age, which we saw is the case for many Millennial parents, traveling time is usually limited to school breaks. And given that Millennial travelers in general are budget conscious, it makes sense that they wouldn’t be traveling more often given the extra costs of family travel.
When it comes to international versus domestic trips, Millennial parents and non-parents are not so different from each other. The majority of all Millennial survey respondents, with or without kids, only or mostly traveled domestically in the past year. In the UK and Australia, non-parents are actually more likely to have taken all or most trips to destinations outside their own countries, while in India, parents are, but only about one-quarter reported doing so.
So Millennial parents might be inclined to spend more money on travel and most anticipate that their travel spending will increase over the next year, but this is not necessarily a function of the number of trips they’re taking or how far they’re traveling from home. Country of residence has a greater bearing on these things than parenthood does.
Compared to Millennial non-parents, our survey revealed that Millennial parents are more likely to be the primary travel planner for the trips they go on. And given that most of the trips that Millennial parents go on involve their children as well, this means that most of their travel planning is for family vacations. Planning a family vacation brings with it a number of unique challenges that don’t come up in planning other types of trips. For this reason, our survey reveals some key differences between Millennial parents and non-parents when it comes to their trip planning behaviors and preferences.
Planning a family vacation requires a lot of coordination and attention to detail on the part of the planner (or planners). As Lish Kennedy of Vrbo cautioned, “family travel is also incredibly complex and oftentimes, stressful — coordinating multiple schedules, finding accommodations and meeting the needs of everyone in the travel party are complicated tasks.” From deciding on a destination, to planning air travel, and choosing in-destination activities, family vacations need to work for everyone, regardless of age.
For this reason, parents and non-parents have slightly different considerations when planning trips. When it comes to selecting a destination, Millennial parents in the U.S. and UK prioritize “safety” more, while “value for the money” takes precedent for non-parents. In the other countries, the top considerations are shared between parents and non-parents, but there are differences across all five countries.
Tour operators and travel agents understand the complexities of planning family travel first hand. Amanda Dunning of G Adventures explained the amount of research and thought that goes into designing the tour operator’s family itineraries: “when you really break down trip design, you’ve got to think about things like what time do families get up in the morning? How many things are they going to be doing during the day? How much downtime? What kind of hotels are they staying at? Are there pools?”
Planning this type of itinerary requires so much more consideration, she told Skift Research, that it took the company about six months longer to build its National Geographic Family Journeys line of trips compared to a typical G Adventures’ trip. “Just because,” she explained, “we really had to think, ‘Okay, how long is this bus ride? When are we going to break it up and what are the families going to be able to do on that stop? What hotels are we staying at? What meals and what kid friendly options are there?’” From its research into family travel, however, the company also found that even if “everything is planned as perfect as possible, sometimes kids just want to hang out by the pool and whatnot. So building in some of that flexibility is also really, really important.”
Given these extra complexities, we are able to put some of our survey findings into context. There are indications that Millennial parents put more effort into pre-planning all parts of their vacations. For example, in all countries except China (where there is little difference between Millennial parents and non-parents), parents are more likely to indicate that they typically plan all of their vacation activities before leaving home, rather than waiting to plan some or all while they’re in the destination.
Additionally, our survey indicates that Millennial parents turn to a variety of online sources to help plan their leisure trips. While the websites used vary by country, Google, TripAdvisor, Booking.com, and Expedia are top choices in each country (except China, where a unique online ecosystem exists). Those in India are also more likely to use Facebook and Instagram at this stage, as well as Airbnb.
And interestingly, despite the more complicated planning that is typically required for family vacations and the number of websites Millennial parents utilize along the way, this group is actually more likely to mostly or completely use their smartphone compared to non-parents during the research and planning stage, except in China, where the difference between parents and non-parents is less significant, and mobile use is very high in general. We will discuss device preference more in the next section, along with what it means for travel companies.
It’s not just at the research and planning stage that Millennial parents show a higher preference for using their smartphone. Our survey also reveals the same trend when it comes to booking different parts of a trip.
That Millennials in general, and parents in particular, are not averse to booking via mobile is logical given that being technologically native is one of the things that defines this generation. As Kennedy of Vrbo explained, “Their predecessors may have reservations about transacting online, but communicating, searching, shopping and booking travel online are commonplace for Millennials.” Using their smartphones along the journey, she went on, is “completely normal for them, so it’s important to pay attention to these platforms and continually changing technologies.”
According to Amanda Dunning of G Adventures, what it’s really all about is the simplicity of the booking process, and for parents, this may be even more important: “So can we make it more seamless on mobile and even on desktop? Those types of things are also really important to consider. Not just the trip, but also how are people booking it?”
This comfort with technology and quest for simplicity might explain another finding from our survey: Millennial parents are more likely than non-parents to be interested in using voice assistants to book travel than their non-parent peers. Few have used this technology to book in the past (only 7% of parents in the U.S., 3% in the UK, 6% in Australia, 7% in China, and 8% India have done so), and the full expression and capabilities of it are still to be seen, but the high interest they show in using this technology should be noted as an opportunity area to appeal to this generation of family travelers.
Even with this generation’s comfort with technology, however, the goal of simplifying the planning and booking processes has also resulted in a trend in the opposite direction: Millennials are starting to turn to travel agents. Our survey reveals that this is even more evident among Millennial parents.
Anne Taylor Hartzell, founder of Hip Travel Mama and VP of marketing at Ciao Bambino!, a Virtuoso luxury family travel agency, spoke with Skift Research about this trend. After travel has gone so digital, she explained, “the pendulum is swinging a little bit back.” Part of the reason for this trend, she said, is because of how saturated the online space has become with influencers and social media accounts with the purpose of inspiring travel and offering planning ideas and tips. “I still think that time and money are valuable and we’re just so inundated by so many choices.”
The other reason, and the one that is probably most relevant to parents, is the ease and efficiency of using a travel agent. To illustrate this, Taylor Hartzell relayed her own recent experience with trying to book a family vacation to Mexico over a school break, where she needed to figure out how to coordinate flights to get to her child’s soccer tournament in a different city first. “I’m a pretty savvy user,” she said, but still, “I spent probably two Sundays searching for airfare because it was going to be $1,500 for me to book. And I looked at one way tickets, I looked at roundtrip tickets, I looked at everything and miles and points and there’s just so much complexity to that. And then I hadn’t even gotten to my hotel choice and trying to figure out where do we want to stay? What kind of experience do we want?”
This kind of complex scenario is not particularly unique for parents, and helps us understand why even digitally native Millennials are turning to travel advisors: “They want to maximize that time they have with their family,” Taylor Hartzell explained, “and also the money that they’re spending, as well as minimize the hassle.”
Types of Trips
There are certain types of trips that are traditionally associated with family travel, especially cruises and vacations to family-centric, all-inclusive resorts. These types of trips usually offer kids (and parents) some amount of freedom that they may not have otherwise, and often include childcare and socialization opportunities. As Millennial-headed families continue to take up a larger share of the family travel market, they are expanding the scope of what family vacations can be, and are also forcing these traditional options to evolve to keep pace.
This isn’t to say that cruises and all-inclusives will disappear from the picture completely. In fact, our survey shows that Millennial parents are more likely to report that they had gone on a cruise in the past year compared to non-parents. In China and India, the portion of Millennials in general, and parents in particular, who have gone on a cruise in this timeframe is especially large.
Amanda Dunning of G Adventures explained how the curious, experience-thirsty tendencies that Millennials are likely to exhibit are pushing the boundaries of what a family vacation can be: “We’re moving away from those all-inclusives and those cruises or things like that that’s been traditionally what families have thought about. And travelers nowadays are more interested in getting to know a destination and experiencing it … They want to experience the culture and they want to pass those things along to their kids that are traveling with them too.”
Our survey revealed that Millennial parents are more likely than their non-parent peers to have taken other types of vacations. While not all of the trips they reported were necessarily family vacations, these results show us that even if they travel without their children, Millennial parents are more likely to expand their trip horizons beyond a single trip type. For example, in all countries except the U.S., parents are significantly more likely to have gone on a vacation in order to attend a specific event in the destination, and they are also more likely to have taken a wellness trip in the past year than Millennial non-parents are.
Travel Experiences and Activities
Millennials have become known for their prioritization of experiences, and the way they like to travel reflects this (our Millennial and Gen Z Traveler Survey further confirmed this perception). As discussed earlier in the report, being a parent does not seem to diminish this tendency for this generation, and in fact, may amplify it. Millennials don’t want to give up the value they place on experiences, like travel, just because they have children, and at the same time, they are eager to share these experiences with their kids.
Amanda Dunning of G Adventures explained that she sees this often in the tour operator’s Millennial family clientele. Millennials, she noted, “are curious about different places. They want to meet new people, they want to experience the culture, and they want to pass those things along to their kids that are traveling with them too.”
Having truly immersive experiences while traveling is also seen as a way for Millennial parents to help their children learn about other people and cultures and to grow as people. Richard Liddle of Two Point Four spoke about how this was a major influence for him to start his company, which emphasizes experiential travel for families with young children. From traveling with his own young son, he saw how “exposure to different experiences, cultures, food, or customs,” could help kids, “become well-rounded, open-minded” individuals.
Anne Taylor Hartzell of Hip Travel Mama and Ciao Bambino! echoed this sentiment: “It’s hard to show your kids the world and help raise them to be culturally compassionate individuals, if you’re not immersing yourself in the actual culture.” And for Millennials — a generation that has repeatedly been noted for its progressive values — this is sure to be a crucial consideration when it comes to the decisions they make regarding travel.
Our survey data for all Millennials shows an overall penchant for experiences, and some points show how this is at least slightly amplified for parents. For example, the majority of Millennials in all countries surveyed agree that they specifically look for experiences that their friends and family may not have thought of, and parents are more likely to agree with this statement than non-parents. The difference is not huge in every country, like for the U.S., where the level of agreement is virtually the same, but the data still illustrates the importance of unique travel experiences to Millennial parents.
It follows then that Millennial parents are not letting having children impact the specific types of experiences and activities they participate in. Dunning of G Adventures noted that the tour operator is “seeing a real focus on those immersive experiences that allow families to kind of disconnect and actually spend time together” doing “fun things like zip lining or cooking classes” among this demographic. The survey data support this, revealing that in all countries, Millennial parents are at least somewhat more likely than non-parents to have taken part in the different types of activities we inquired about.
All of this isn’t to say that families headed by members of prior generations weren’t interested in these types of activities. It’s more to do with Millennials pushing the boundaries beyond what a traditional family vacation had been, which has been forcing the family travel segment of the industry to change accordingly. Dunning of G Adventures posits that for prior generations, it was more common for families to think, “‘Okay, we’ve got kids now. This is all we can do.’ And I don’t know if the other options were really kind of front and center for families.” Now, however, as consumer demands change, “there are more and more companies offering these types of experiences and breaking it down and making it more accessible for families of all shapes and sizes to go beyond what they thought family travel was.”
In addition to their prioritization of immersive, one-of-a-kind experiences, Millennial parents also indicate that they prioritize meeting people and making connections more while traveling. According to our survey, in the UK, Australia, China, and India, Millennial parents are more likely than non-parents to say that it’s important to them to connect with locals while traveling.
And it’s not just connecting with local people that is a trend among Millennial parents, it’s also connecting with other family vacationers. Anne Taylor Hartzell mentioned to Skift Research that families traveling with other families is a trend that she has observed in her work. And Richard Liddle of Two Point Four has observed that young family travelers “will use travel as an opportunity to make new friends, and for their children to make new friends.” With technology, he explained, “the world’s such a small place now that we feel that we can do that.”
The results of our survey revealed that one of the most consistent areas of difference between Millennial parents and non-parents are those that relate to brand loyalty. The results of the survey reveal that in all countries, parents are more likely than non-parents to agree that staying loyal to brands they like is important to them.
Millennial parents are also more likely than their non-parent peers to be members of travel-related loyalty programs, both those that are tied to a credit card as well as those that are not, like frequent flyer programs.
Millennial parents and non-parents also expressed different reasons as to why they signed up for the travel loyalty programs they are members of. While earning rewards points is a top reason for both groups in all countries, parents are more likely than non-parents to say they were also influenced by the fact that they “really like the company,” and in almost every country surveyed, bragging rights or status seems to be a larger influence for parents compared to non-parents.
That Millennial parents indicate strong levels of brand loyalty that is more likely to be driven by positive feelings about a brand is important for travel companies to note. Anne Taylor Hartzell noted that family travelers in general tend to be more brand loyal than other types of travelers. She explained that “brand loyalty comes down to trust. … And trust, especially for families is really important. One, because you only have so much time on breaks when your kids get into school. So time is really important. But then also there’s money. Travel is a major purchase. You’re talking about airfares, maybe two rooms, expenses for activities for up to four plus people. It’s a significant investment for a lot of families.” For travel brands that are able to win that trust by delivering an excellent service or experience, “they will be able to take that family through its whole 18 years.”
And if a brand has earned this type of trust to be there for families through so many stages of their lives, they are more likely to form emotional connections with customers as well. Lish Kennedy of Vrbo noted that this is a key component to Vrbo’s family travel strategy: “Families have a strong, compelling emotional connection to our brand because they remember making precious memories together with Vrbo.” The company shows how it can help foster these memories through its marketing efforts, which “highlight special moments together, like family reunions, backyard barbecues, or seeing snow for the first time.”
When a brand has won the loyalty of a Millennial parent, they are likely to be rewarded. Our survey indicates that when Millennial parents are members of travel loyalty programs, they are more likely to make every effort to buy from that company compared to non-parents.
Online Behaviors and Preferences
Another reason that travel brands should pay attention to Millennial parents is because they tend to be easier for brands to connect with online and they are more active online when it comes to travel-related activity. According to our survey results, in all countries surveyed — except the UK, where there is little difference between parents and non-parents — parents are more likely than non-parents to say that they are open to sharing some personal information with travel companies in order to receive more relevant offers or personalized services. The difference is especially notable among those in China and India.
Millennial parents are also more likely than non-parents to report that they have left online reviews for any purchase as well as for travel-related purchases specifically. In China and India, over 90% of Millennial parents have done so.
Finally, Millennial parents in all countries surveyed are more likely than non-parents to indicate that they follow travel-related accounts or influencers on social media. And in China and India, Millennial parents are nearly twice as likely to follow these types of accounts compared to Millennial parents in the “Western” countries surveyed.
Our survey data indicates that travel brands have more of a direct line to connect with Millennial parents than they do with non-parents. Travel brands should use this connectivity to their advantage to send Millennial parents marketing messages and offers that are relevant to their preferences and behaviors.
Responsible Travel Views and Behaviors
The final area we compare Millennial parents and non-parents regards their views and behaviors toward responsible travel. Millennials have long been noted for their interest in supporting ethical companies, and our Millennial and Gen Z Traveler Survey 2019 backed this perception up. It also indicated that Gen Z seems to hold similar values.
When looking at the survey data to compare Millennial parents to non-parents, we discovered a striking trend. That is, in general, Millennial parents tend to indicate that they care more about responsible travel than their non-parent peers. This is the case in all countries surveyed except Australia, where parents and non-parents indicate very similar views and behaviors.
The differences are especially evident when it comes to their willingness to pay more to use travel businesses that demonstrate environmental responsibility and also in their past participation in community service projects while traveling.
That Millennial parents seem to prioritize responsible travel more than non-parents could be a case of the preferences and values of Millennials being amplified, as we discussed earlier in the report. It could also be influenced by their children. In a recent article, Skift contributor Samantha Shankman wrote about how members of Gen Z, the successor generation of Millennials — and the generation that many of their children fall into — are influencing their parents to consider environmental and cultural sustainability when they travel. The influence of Gen Z kids is growing but not changing the family travel segment entirely as of yet. Shankman wrote: “the family cruise will still be around, but Gen Z will likely push their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles toward more environmentally friendly experiences.”
And even if it’s not a result of the values of Millennials’ kids themselves, the simple fact of having children is likely to make responsible travel a higher priority. As Richard Liddle of Two Point Four explained, as a parent, “I’m so worried about what state the planet’s going to be in for my son and my grandkids. … It’s a scary scenario.” And so with that fear and sense of responsibility for his child’s future, he has created a Positive Impact Pledge for his company, which encourages travelers to make small changes to benefit the planet, the local communities, and their own families by disconnecting from technology to enjoy quality time together.
Other travel companies are also responding to the prioritization of responsible travel for Millennial families. Anne Taylor Hartzell explained that from her work with Ciao Bambino!, she has observed among the younger family clientele, “more and more people wanting to give back during their vacations.” And so the company is working on “curating a group of trusted people and vendors that can deliver on that.”
Amanda Dunning of G Adventures described how the tour operator has instituted practices and policies, like providing clean water and reusable containers to customers, as well as encouraging partner brands, like hotels, to work toward eliminating plastic waste. These changes have come about from a combination of consumer demand and also the values of the company and its partners, like National Geographic: “We can see that travelers are caring about the environment. They want to know that when they go on a trip, that they’re not having a negative impact … And so as an organization we have to respond to that and make sure that we’ve got our trips that line up with both who we serve, what we stand for, but also what our customers want.”
Best Practices for Attracting Millennial Family Travelers
Based on the results of our survey that we have discussed throughout the report, our interviews with industry experts, and additional research, we have identified five best practices for appealing to Millennial family travelers. In this section, we will briefly discuss each one, while also providing perspectives from stakeholder interviews and case studies.
Remember, families aren’t all the same
As we discussed at the beginning of the report, defining “family travel” is getting increasingly difficult as the meaning of family is becoming less confined by traditional ideas. Even within a smaller segment of family travelers, like families headed by Millennials, huge differences can exist, whether it’s related to their family structure, the age of the children, whether the children have special needs, or something else. Overgeneralizing families can be a detriment.
Travel companies and destinations that are interested in targeting and appealing to Millennial families should figure out what specific types of families are most relevant to them as customers. Lish Kennedy of Vrbo expressed the importance of this understanding to her team: “My advice for other companies is to research, research, research! Our segmentation team has conducted extensive research about our customers and it has surfaced countless invaluable insights that inform our products, marketing strategy, creative direction and messaging.”
Richard Liddle of Two Point Four also emphasized the importance of not labeling all parents and families the same. With this in mind, his company has chosen to pay special attention to some family types that have specific needs: single-parent families and LGBT families.
Two Point Four offers solo-parent-only trips, both as a way to provide opportunities for social connection for parents traveling on their own with kids, and also to address their specific challenges while traveling. Liddle explained, you have to think about things like, “what if you’re a single parent traveling and you get sick? Who looks after the kid? Or if there’s an accident and you got to hospital, and your kid’s left on the side of the street?” In response, Two Point Four incorporates expert childcare into all its trips.
LGBT families are also vulnerable to facing their own obstacles when traveling. Two Point Four worked with a large LGBT publication to understand these challenges and to figure out how to address them. From this partnership, Liddle and his team learned that same-sex couples traveling with children might be viewed with suspicion is some places: “they can run into issues where people think there’s child trafficking going on, or they’re getting stopped in airports and immigration.” Dealing with this can dissuade these families from traveling, so Two Point Four makes efforts to educate its staff and its partners in how to handle and hopefully avoid these situations.
Amanda Norcross of Family Vacation Critic also noted that some stakeholders in the travel industry have taken steps to better accommodate families with special needs children. “What we’ve been seeing more and more of is amusement parks, museums, sporting venues, even airports are catering to those with autism and sensory sensitivities.” Through certification with the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards, employees are taught how to handle travelers with special needs in an understanding and respectful manner. There are also more and more examples of venues that have created designated quiet spaces for people with sensory sensitivities, like the Pittsburgh International Airport, for example.
Clearly, not every travel company will be able to take action to address every potential type of family situation. Like Vrbo’s Kennedy, Two Point Four’s Liddle underscored the importance of having a clear understanding of your specific customers and not straying too much from them: “Stick to your customers,” he advised. “Understand where their pain points are in travel … You’re never going to solve everything, but we certainly try to accommodate and allow for each of those pain points as much as possible.”
Maximize efficiency and trust
For family travelers in general, and Millennial parents in particular, efficiency and trust are paramount. We use the words “efficiency” and “trust” to cover a few different angles. For one, parents tend to be short on time, so in order to win them over, processes must be as efficient and simple as possible, while also giving them the assurance that the needs of their families will be met.
Anne Taylor Hartzell of Hip Travel Mama and Ciao Bambino explained the importance of this using a scenario a hotel might encounter: “There can be a lot of gambling that happens in that process when you book on your own. So making sure that you can accommodate that family when they arrive and they say, ‘Hey, we have two young kids and we need connecting rooms.’”
Travel companies should be able to react to this kind of situation in order to earn the trust of family travelers, and they can also be proactive by taking steps to make the planning and booking processes clearer and easier. Vrbo provides a good case study of this. Based on in-depth consumer and user-experience research, Lish Kennedy explains how the company has “built tools that highlight and merchandise amenities, features, and partnerships that make planning family travel easier.” She explained that using these tools, families can find vacation rentals that suit their needs by filtering by the number of bedrooms and the availability of amenities like cribs and high-chairs. “What’s nearby” lists are also available for Vrbo listings so families can assure that their accommodations will be close to the attractions they plan to visit.
And it’s not just on the individual-trip level that it’s important to maximizing efficiency and trust. Family travelers are also limited by time in other ways, whether it’s school calendars or the simple fact that kids grow up. Taylor Hartzell told us that this is something that Ciao Bambino! is focusing on in its marketing, which stems from a realization that “time is super precious.” Through its #TimetoTravel2020 campaign, the travel agency is creating and sharing content with tips about maximizing the time parents have to travel with their kids.
Get the kids involved
Parents may take a leading role when it comes to planning, booking, and paying for family vacations, but this doesn’t mean that the children should be ignored. According to Lish Kennedy of Vrbo, Millennial families are changing this dynamic: “Primary purchasing decisions used to be centralized to a single parent, but it’s not uncommon for Millennial families to share that responsibility with everyone who’s going on the trip — grandparents, kids, aunties — everyone gets a say.”
In order to facilitate the involvement of everyone, even the kids, Vrbo has created Trip Boards, where travelers can “save their favorite vacation homes in one place and invite others to add to the Trip Board, leave comments and discuss their favorites within one unified experience,” Kennedy explained.
The travel advisor network Virtuoso recently launched its own digital tool, called Wanderlist, to encourage all members of a party to contribute to travel decisions, including young children. Each person rates lists of places and experiences by importance and a travel advisor helps plan travel based on this information.
It’s also important that kids are not overlooked during a trip. Richard Liddle of Two Point Four explained a situation that is all too common: Hotel companies will bring in the most amazing teams of architects, chefs, wellness and fitness specialists, and more to “create the most beautiful hotel with the most amazing restaurants.” But when it comes to thinking about children, “they’ll go, ‘There’s a room there. Just paint it nice colors, and that’ll do for childcare.’”
Travel brands should ask themselves questions, like how children can be involved in those immersive and exciting activities that their Millennial parents crave, and how they can be on the receiving end of those special moments of surprise and delight that companies try to give their customers.
Two Point Four focuses on providing exciting experiences for all members of the family, with a speciality on families with kids younger than five years old. This means that while parents are taking a surf lesson, for example, the children might be doing a beach scavenger hunt under the supervision of one of the company’s childcare providers.
Amanda Norcross of Family Vacation Critic also brought up the Paradisus La Esmeralda in Playa Del Carmen, a Meliá hotel, as a best-in-class example. The hotel features a Family Concierge program, which in addition to offering services to make the trip easier for parents, also places special emphasis on making trips special for kids. All rooms offered in this program come with special amenities for kids like bathrobes and slippers, and offer special, kid-centric treats like turndown service with milk and cookies. The author of an article on the blog Luxe Recess describes how her family’s concierge coordinated daily treats for her kids, like decorated cupcakes, a balloon bubble bath, and an in-room treasure hunt leading to prizes. The hotel also features a variety of supervised activities for kids of all ages, a spa for kids, and more.
Anne Taylor Hartzell of Hip Travel Mama and Ciao Bambino! advises that these types of surprises and delights can really set a travel company apart, but they must “make sure that [they] represent all stages of the parenting journey that a family is on,” and that young children, older children, and teens are all being considered. When that happens, a travel company is more likely to earn that ever-important loyalty that Millennial parents are apt to give.
Utilize strategic partnerships
Another way for stakeholders to show their credibility to Millennial parents is to form strategic business partnerships. Travel brands can partner with companies that have expertise in areas they may be lacking or that have name recognition to families, both of which can help earn the trust of family travelers.
Amanda Dunning of G Adventures explained that both of these things factored into the company’s decision to partner with National Geographic for its line of National Geographic Family Journeys. National Geographic, she explained, “has so much expertise in so many things that are incredible for families to share together.” What the National Geographic brand stands for, in terms of adventure, and wildlife, and conservation is well known to many generations of travelers, “and those are just incredible things to be able to pass along to kids and learn while you’re traveling but in a fun way.”
Partnerships can also help fill in any gaps travel companies might have when it comes to their knowledge of children, how to care for them, and entertain them within the travel framework. Worldwide Kids is an example of a company that does just that. This company works with hospitality companies to help them design, plan, and manage childcare facilities and services.
For the Sani Resort in Greece, for example, Worldwide Kids helped develop its widely recognized kids programming, which is holistic and curated by age group. The resort offers multiple options for childcare including daycare and private nannies, and a variety of classes and activities including a soccer academy, beekeeping demonstrations, and adventure parks.
Walk the responsible travel walk
The previous section of the report ended with an overview of the importance of responsible travel to Millennial parents, along with some case studies of what the companies we interviewed are doing along these lines. We now end the report with this best practice to reemphasize its importance.
Demonstrating responsibility of all kinds — social, environmental, community — is a major plus in the eyes of Millennial travelers, and our survey indicates that having children makes it even more important. With this in mind, our final recommendation to travel brands that want to more successfully appeal to this growing market is to find ways to not only talk about green travel, or positively impacting local communities, but to clearly demonstrate the real steps they are taking toward these goals.
It’s impossible for every company to take on every issue that is related to travel, and different sized companies have different capabilities. This is why Two Point Four, for example, has chosen to focus on its Positive Impact Pledge. Richard Liddle explained, “because we’re a small company, so we’re not able to make any big changes and policies like some of the big companies do. … so, thinking about the small changes that you can make and how, if everybody makes those small changes, it obviously has that bigger impact.”
Companies with more resources can think about how to use them in ways that are more than just pledges to reduce single-use plastics or offset carbon. This isn’t to diminish these types of efforts, but today, for responsibility-minded Millennials and Gen Zs, these initiatives should be table stakes.
G Adventures has thought outside of the box with its non-profit arm, Planeterra. Planeterra works with local partners to establish social enterprises to help lift people out of poverty. The organization then facilitates visits to these enterprises by travelers, including those on G Adventures tours. As Amanda Dunning explained, this model allows “travelers on our tours to actually go and interact with people from the local community and help give back just by traveling to a different destination,” which hits on the type of experiences Millennials (especially parents) crave, while also demonstrating a unique approach to promoting responsible travel.
Endnotes and Further Reading
- Allianz, “Millennial Family Travel Surges Across America,” 2018.
- Family Travel Association and NYU School of Professional Studies, US Family Travel Survey 2019.
- The Future Laboratory, “Why millennial family travel will foster a generation of woke kids,” December 2018.
- Pew Research Center, “More than a million Millennials are becoming moms each year,” May 2018.
- Resonance Consulting, Future of U.S. Millennial Travel, 2018.
- Skift, “How Luxury Hotels Are Keeping Up With Green-Friendly Family Travel Trends,” February 2020.
- Travel Agent Central, “Stats: 44% of Millennials Travel With Kids,” January 2018.
- Travel Market Report, “Millennial Seek Safety and Convenience for Family Vacations,” August 2018.