Advice for a recovering tourism industry

As New Zealand recovers from COVID-19, tourism operators would be wise to consider how to benefit from better understanding the complex purchasing decisions of families, write Associate Professor Ian Yeoman and colleagues.

Estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $12 billion, family tourism represents a large and growing market for domestic tourism in New Zealand and the trend has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

It is a market driven by the increasing importance placed on promoting family togetherness, keeping family bonds alive and creating family memories.

Families act as the emotional glue of society and are usually our first port of contact when in distress or in need of support. The special relationship grandchildren have with their grandparents is particularly important, filled with humour and less tension, often providing much-needed stability in times of turmoil.

Friends can also become de-facto families—for immigrants who do not have their own families in New Zealand, as well as for other types of people, such as those who did not marry or have children and those who have had significant family disagreements.

Why do we holiday with families? 

Family holidays are primarily about (re)connecting with loved ones, creating fun memories, photo opportunities and a family story/legacy. This helps families to bond and communicate more, which is especially important in times of uncertainty.

Theoretically, families could have a holiday at home, but it has been proven during the past lockdown weeks that being constantly at home in contested spaces can lead to tensions. Travelling away from home allows families to leave some of the stress and tensions behind and focus more on fun experiences, which is particularly important for disadvantaged or single-parent families.

Holidays are often the only times for non-resident parents, usually fathers, to interact with their children, (re)build and maintain family relations and experience parenthood.

What do families do on holiday? 

Families like to engage in fun and novel activities, often ones they have not got a chance to engage in during everyday life. This could be camping physical activities or water activities, but can also include more mundane activities such as playing board and card games.

Sharing meals takes on a priority, as there is more time to eat together and go to restaurants or cafes to try novel dishes or even just new ice cream flavours.

Photo opportunities are also important for ongoing memories and ‘family story’ creation.

What are the key trends associated with family tourism?

The trends that will drive family tourism include changing family structures, with often smaller core families and people living longer.

Grandparents are enjoying multi-generation holidays and more time with their grandchildren. Eager to grow up, children are zealously trying to emulate the consumer habits of those older than them. This is often referred to as “age compression” or “children growing older, younger”.

It is recognised that the definition of family has changed, so most people refer to “families” rather than “the family”, as different family members are likely to perceive the composition of their family in different ways.

The continuing change in gender roles and parenting behaviour can have significant influences on family holiday experiences, with, for example, fathers more actively involved with their children. 

Visiting friends and relatives (VFR) v leisure holidays? 

VFR has proven the most resilient form of tourism, as people will always travel to connect with their families and friends, even in a recession. Think about special anniversaries, birthdays and even funerals (or memorials) or just catching up with loved ones and reuniting grandchildren with their grandparents.

VFR takes precedence over leisure holidays but often people try to combine both, by having a leisure holiday but making sure to drop in on relatives or invite them to come along.

Although economic downturns tend to be associated with reduced consumer confidence and fewer holidays (which tend to be considered a luxury by many people), VFR travel is not considered in the same way. If there are milestone birthdays, graduations, funerals or weddings, fewer people adopt the same economic thinking, because they are driven to attend as it is considered essential.

What about family tourism and the domestic market?

The primary form of tourism for families is domestic, especially in New Zealand. There are many affordable places for families to go to and have a fun holiday, for example Department of Conservation campgrounds. New Zealanders see the annual summer holiday by the beach or lake as a well-loved Kiwi icon and symbol of Kiwi identity.

However, many families have also been priced out of the opportunity to show their children more of the country, for example most children in Auckland have never been to the South Island but might have visited Australia because this is seen as cheaper.

Families are seen as more price-sensitive and budget-minded but this is not true for all of them. There are also those that usually go on an overseas trip in winter to seek sun but might, because of travel restrictions, consider a snow holiday, providing opportunities for domestic winter holidays.

What does this mean for the COVID-19 recovery strategy?

Encouraging domestic family tourism can provide an opportunity to reimagine the tourism industry, especially with more family-friendly pricing and incentives.

There is an opportunity to make domestic tourism more accessible for all families, particularly those struggling at the moment, with government subsidies to allow disadvantaged families to visit tourism activities and attractions at a reduced or free price and help struggling tourism businesses.

This is the concept of social tourism, defined as “tourism with an added moral value, of which the primary aim is to benefit either the host or the visitor”.

Another idea is a family discount card that allows cheaper prices for attractions and activities previously priced for an international market, for example Hobbiton.

Similarly, there are many ways for operators to capitalise on the frequent and longer stays often associated with VFR travel. While VFRs are often assumed to stay with friends or relatives, this is not always the case. Many choose commercial accommodation and can be a substantial market segment to those operators who tap into it.

In addition, VFRs do not always dine at their friends’ or relatives’ house. They often dine out, as well as go shopping and do activities. The VFR travel party, together with the host’s travel party, can result in a sizeable group and be lucrative for cafes, restaurants and other operators that can connect with it.

What is the opportunity? 

Businesses within tourism industries would benefit from better understanding the complex purchasing decisions as families become more democratic and destination choice and holiday activities are discussed among all members, including children.

However, children cannot be considered a homogenous group and age can be a big differentiator. This should lead to more creative and innovative marketing campaigns that engage the young tourists at their appropriate ages and with the help of social media for the tech-savvy teenagers, especially as they are the next generation of tourists.

Investing into the travelling children of today will then shape the future of tourism.

Associate Professors Ian Yeoman (Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington), Heike Schanzel (AUT) and Elisa Zentveld (Federation University, Australia) are editors of the book Family Tourism.

Read the original article on Newsroom.