Travel: There are few other opportunities to embrace a family’s personal culture. Mom and dad, moms and moms, dads and dads, grandparents and grandkids going places together in a way that fits their own style. It’s one of the reasons I love writing about travel and kids and meeting as many families as possible while roaming the nation’s largest state.
But something has been bugging me as I prepare a presentation for an upcoming trade association convention about making family travel, specifically Alaska family travel, work for businesses. Kids and families, you may be surprised to hear, are not the demographics most visitor bureaus and vendors actively seek. Kids and families can be messy, too busy, too loud, too everything for some companies to justify (what they often think) means reorganizing and changing up a visitor formula that has worked for years.
Here’s the deal, though: Families WANT to see Alaska with their children. Not when their children are grown up. Now. When they are toddlers, or elementary school students, or tweens and teens.
Why now? Things are changing. Millennials are an extremely savvy bunch, and they are having kids, and see social purpose as a driver toward where they go and with whom. They want their own offspring to be aware and engaged in the issues that matter. Guess what, folks? Alaska sure as heck matters to a lot of the world right now.
The challenge here are largely cost and information. Anyone who has ever hopped online and tried to find cheap airline tickets to and from Alaska (nevermind those of us who live here and know firsthand how tough it can be to not go into debt flying our kids and ourselves out of state) will immediately be overcome with sticker shock. Kudos to those airlines that try and do come up with creative and affordable ways, if only on a seasonal basis.
In general, a trip to Alaska is perceived by so many as a “once in a lifetime” event that could not possibly be managed beyond that one week aboard a cruise ship that keeps the kids filled up with pizza and activities onboard and maybe one or two lower-cost shore excursions that are under $300 per person. Family travel doesn’t have to be that linear.
I maybe ticked off a few people just there. But perhaps it’s time for that.
My friend Matt Villano, an incredible wordsmith and storyteller recently chatted with me about this issue of family travel meeting the needs of every family and not just those with higher incomes. As I told him during our conversation, “No family should ever feel as if they were forced to ‘settle’ for a lesser vacation experience closer to home or at a bargain price.” We talked about Freda Moon who writes the New York Times’ Frugal Family column and her commitment to honest, real-life destinations with kids of any age.
In my opinion, every place you go with kids is special because you are going there with your family. In Alaska, I challenge vendors, businesses, and individuals to help me provide mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends with the tools for an experience that will potentially change lives. How can we work together as an industry? How can families funnel their needs effectively to you without feeling as if they are ‘settling’ for a lesser product?
Families, I’d love to see you in Alaska. How can I help you get here? What do you need?