Why it's important to expand your family offerings

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Amid the crowded family-travel market, what can hotels and resorts do to stand out? Click. finds out more

The family market is a precious one for hoteliers, and not just because of its potential for multi-room bookings. One recent study estimated that family travel now accounts for almost a third of the world’s outbound tourism, while Lonely Planet found that 93.7% of parents say family vacation options are better now than when they were a child.

No surprise, then, that family-focused offerings are a near-ubiquitous presence at larger hotels or resorts that don’t enforce an age limit – and, just as unsurprisingly, that standing out from the crowd is getting harder. Generic kids clubs no longer suffice, and even children's cookery classes have become commonplace. So, how exactly to catch the eye?

Get creative

Unusual offerings constitute one answer. Take Thailand's Anantara Layan Phuket Resort, and its recently-debuted Junior Hotelier programme, aimed at those aged 8-12 who have outgrown kids’ clubs. Providing a behind-the-scenes insight into hotel life, this sees children help housekeeping with animal towel art and turndown, contribute to the dinner service and assist bar staff in preparing mocktails. A photo and certificate commemorates their achievements.

“There has been a significant shift during the past few years in what clients expect from family holidays to Phuket,” expands Fred Varnier, the resort’s Managing Director. “Rather than relaxing on the beach all week, they’re now looking for original experiences. It's important to be able to offer that.”

The Junior Hotelier programme was inspired by an adroit monitoring of cultural trends. “With several popular reality TV shows focusing on hotels,” Varnier reveals, “we've observed an increasing fascination in what goes on behind the scenes. Our programme could even inspire a child to go into the hospitality business.”

Accentuate local culture

Another method involves hooking your family-focused product onto the wider trend of travellers seeking out immersive, insider-type local experiences – with the aim of better knowing and understanding the culture they’re visiting.

In the Middle East for instance, the Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain offers a Family Pearl Diving Experience for over-12s that, as well as being fun, educates participants on the kingdom’s position at the heart of the global pearling industry. 

Pearl diving in Bahrain, Photo: Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain

Pearl diving in Bahrain, Photo: Bahrain Tourism and Exhibitions Authority (BTEA) 

Families take a private boat out into the Arabian Gulf and, once set with snorkels, are shown how to hunt for natural Bahraini pearls. They can then take their treasure home: the ultimate souvenir.

“We want to educate families, as well as entertain them and to showcase the unique aspects of Bahrain,” says Jeremy Canivet, Director of Sales and Marketing. Additionally, the hotel arranges trips to souks, fishing lessons and masterclasses in Bahraini cuisine for parents and kids.

“Bahrain has become a very popular destination for families,” Canivet continues, “so it’s important that we offer something unique. But it’s also vital to us that families feel like they have learnt something; whether that be about the local culture, food or industry.” Feedback has so far been positive. “Our guests appreciate the fact that, while we have a dedicated kids’ club, these experiences can be enjoyed by the whole family together.”

The feel of home

Over in America, Washington DC’s Mandarin Oriental takes a different tack. Rather than concentrating on steeping their family guests in local culture, the hotel aims to help parents and children enjoy a comforting familiarity.

Accompanying an existing version for adults, the luxury residence’s new Children’s Bedside Reading Programme sees guestrooms pre-stocked with a bespoke selection of age-appropriate, bestselling titles and new releases which smaller readers may take home. A cuddly panda toy is also provided and bedtime hot chocolate can be ordered.

We want to encourage the importance of disconnecting from screens for guests of all ages

“We strive to make sure all of our guests feel at home when staying with us,” discloses Adriaan Radder, General Manager. “For families it can be especially difficult to travel with little ones staying in new surroundings. That’s why we also offer a Younger Fans programme in which children receive their own robes, toiletries and slippers.”

With the Mandarin Oriental also working towards hosting live in-room readings, Radder admits that the programme reflects a health concern, too. “We want to encourage the importance of disconnecting from screens for guests of all ages,” he says.

Be it imaginative insider access, cool cultural immersion, home comforts or health focuses, standing out in the family market remains possible with some enterprise.

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Hero image: credit to Natalya Zaritskaya

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The family-travel market is now estimated to cover a third of the world’s outbound tourism
Standing out is increasingly difficult: kids’ clubs have proliferated and options such as family cookery classes are now commonplace
Enterprising, unique programmes – exemplified by a behind-the-scenes trainee hotelier course for kids - and cultural experiences create a point of difference
Make family guests feel at home by providing services such as bespoke books and bedtime treats