The 4-1-1 on Booking Family Travel Abroad

Tom and his family at Beaches Turks & Caicos.
Tom and his family at Beaches Turks & Caicos.

One-on-one with Tom Varghese, owner of Travel Tom.

1. When planning family vacations abroad, what are some of the obstacles you encounter?
Tom: The most common obstacles tend to be setting appropriate expectations for families (especially families with more than one child). Most families are surprised by the costs involved, particularly for a European or Asian vacation. Airline tickets during the summer average $1,200-$1,500/person, so, for a family of four, that is between $5,000 to $6,000—just for airline tickets. Another obstacle is maximum room occupancy. Max occupancy for a lot of European hotels is only three. So, for families of four (or five), it’s a challenge finding hotels with rooms large enough to fit one family or, in most cases, we need to book two rooms (which is not exactly ideal for families with young children and no guarantee of room proximity).

2. Are the families that are coming to you for bookings in Asia and Europe going on escorted tours or on their own FIT trip?
Tom: Ninety-five percent of the families that we book are FIT trips. We like to customize each family vacation according to their individual needs—specific cities, quality and style of hotel, and individualized itineraries that are customized to each family’s needs.

3. How long are these trips; are they usually in the summertime; and what’s the average age of the kids?
Tom: For European and Asian family vacations, they typically average 10-14 days depending on client requirements and budget. Since they tend to be longer, I see most of them looking to travel during the summer months. Italy in particular is also popular during Spring Break. Most families that we book have two kids with the average ages between 7 and 12.

4. What’s the average booking window you are seeing?
Tom: Generally speaking, I encourage clients to book Asian and European vacations six to nine months in advance since that is typically when I see the best “promos” listed and most wholesalers will have contracts for the various components (hotels, transfers, rail tickets and tours).

5. Are there many requests for multi-generational bookings or are “immediate family” bookings more popular?
Tom: For Asian and European destinations, they tend to be more “immediate family.” I have had a record year with “multi-generational” bookings in the Caribbean and Mexico. I think Caribbean/Mexico is better suited for multi-generational families primarily due to budgets and logistics (easier to get many families to book for a shorter Caribbean/Mexico trip for four to seven nights rather than European/Asian vacations for 10-14 nights). Last month, I had a multi-generational trip to Mexico spanning four generations with 40 people!

6. What are some of the more popular destinations in Europe? Are some families venturing “off the beaten path”?
Tom: The most popular family destinations to Europe tend to be Italy, France, Spain and Greece. I am finding families are now willing to venture “off the beaten path” more. For example, in the past, clients going to Italy would just do Venice, Florence and Rome. Now, they’ll stay longer in Florence to experience the gems on the outskirts of Florence—from the cobblestone streets in Cinque Terre to the great walled city of Sienna or a wine tasting tour in Chianti.

7. What are some of the more unique experiences for families?
Tom: In Mexico, visit local towns and villages to get a feel for the “local culture.” See some of the historical landmarks like Tulum and Chichen Itza. Do something fun and interesting like swimming with dolphins, or even whale sharks in Holbox! In Saint Lucia, visit small and interesting towns like Soufriere or Morgan Bay. Climb the Piton Mountains. Visit the Volcano and Sulphur Springs. In Spain, instead of just visiting Madrid, take some local tours outside the city like Toledo or Avila and Segovia.

Let’s start a conversation—tell us about your family bookings.
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