Tourism and Families

This week we are publishing Family Tourism edited by Heike Schänzel, Ian Yeoman and Elisa Backer. Here, Heike summarises some of the main themes of the book and discusses the importance of the family holiday.

Families with dependent children represent a significant proportion of the population and an important current and future market for tourism providers. Children and families form the closest and most important emotional bond in humans and it is this relationship that drives demand in tourism. It is estimated that families account for about 30% of the leisure travel market around the world.

Family travel (defined as that undertaken by adults, including grandparents, with children) is predicted to grow at a faster rate than all other forms of leisure travel, mainly because it represents a way to reunite the family and for family members to spend time with each other, away from the demands of work and school. Families seem to put a high priority on taking holidays. For many families an annual holiday is now seen as essential rather than a luxury.

Family canoeing holiday

Increasing importance is placed on families spending time together because of the perception in society that parents are too busy and have less time to relax, play and communicate with their children. This is despite most family time studies suggesting that parents are now more involved in their children’s lives than previous generations.

Family holidays are perceived as opportunities for ‘quality family time’ that allow bonding to ensure the happiness and togetherness of the family, away from the distractions of everyday life. In fact, holidays are often the only time the whole family spends together for an extended period and seemingly offer a balance to family life at home.

The reasons that families go on holiday then differs from those of general holidaying individuals. Family holidays are less about an escape or break ‘from’ home routines and more about spending time ‘with’ the family (including extended family) doing novel activities and creating positive memories. For children it is also imperative that family holidays involve social fun. Family holidays serve the purpose of (re)connecting people through tourism and can be seen as a social practice that involves networking, family capital formation and social obligation. However, holidays can also give rise to intra-family conflicts and added stresses that require much better understanding to ensure the holiday experience is a positive one for all family members.

Family on the beach

There are several demographic trends that are slowly changing the structures in society leading to more complex and diverse family models. The resulting changes include increasing longevity leading to stronger multigenerational ties; trends to smaller families leading to stronger social networks outside the immediate family; and increasing blurring between various forms of partnerships.

Tourism providers may increasingly see networks of loosely connected and geographically dispersed family members from different marriages, partnerships and generations emerging, who use holidays as ways to reconnect and add meaning to their lives. Fewer children in society mean they become more important and the focus across the generations. Grandtravel (travel with grandchildren) and other re-connection breaks that offer the chance to create lasting memories will increasingly become fundamental to family life in the future. Family travel and visiting friends or relatives (VFR) travel are then more resilient than other forms of tourism, as people will always travel to reconnect. It is thus high time that family tourism receives the attention it deserves in the academic literature.

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