Survey: Affordability Continues to be a Cause of Diminished Family Travel

NEW YORK—Each year, the NYU School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality and the Family Travel Association (FTA) collaborate on research regarding trends in family travel—a $160-billion industry.

The 2019 edition of the “Family Travel Survey,” now in its fifth year of publication, polled a total of 1,580 parents and 1,168 grandparents. It revealed some interesting trends—Asian-American families have emerged as a promising segment in the market, but overall, parent intent to travel with children is down for the third year in a row. This is due to the high cost of traveling.

“Parents know family vacations are very important, but the strain of paying for travel weighs heavily on the American household budget,” noted Lynn Minnaert, academic director and clinical associate professor at the Tisch Center of Hospitality, who served as the lead researcher for the survey.

The data confirms 82% of parents agree that affordability is the main reason they forgo taking family vacations. When the survey was first conducted in 2015, 93% of parents indicated that they were planning to travel with their family in the coming years. Since 2017, that percentage has decreased. This year, only 70% of parent respondents intend to travel with their children in the next few years.

On a more positive note, according to the survey, “Gramping” or skip-generational travel is a growing travel option for families. The survey examined two types of travel with grandparents: skip-generational travel (grandparents traveling with their grandchildren, without the parents present), and multigenerational travel (travel with grandparents, parents and grandchildren). One of the key findings is that skip-generational travel is more common and often takes the form of shorter trips. In contrast, multigenerational travel occurs less frequently, but the average spending on these types of vacations is usually higher because of their longer duration.

Minnaert elaborated that “in the instance of skip-generational travel, there is a stronger focus on activities and attractions, and grandparents tend to worry more about keeping the children safe and healthy during their time away. Multigenerational travel is more about enjoying quality time as a family—beach and lake/mountain vacations are more common, with accommodations that include kitchen facilities for families to prepare and eat meals together.”

Rainer Jenss, founder of the Family Travel Association, added, “Today’s grandparents are taking advantage of the fact that they are living healthier, longer lives, and are vacationing with their grandkids, either traveling with their children and grandchildren, or giving parents time off by taking their grandkids away themselves.”

The survey also indicated that Asian-American families are emerging as a strong segment for family travel. These families tend to spend more on family travel, and are more likely to increase their spending on both domestic and international travel.

Key Highlights

Seventy-seven percent of parent respondents have traveled with their children in the past three years, and 70% are planning to travel with their children in the coming three years. The average annual spending on family travel across parent respondents was $3,835. The median amount was $2,435.

Affordability is the most dominant challenge for respondents, and is a major reason why parents with access to paid vacation days do not use more of them for family travel.

Fifty-three percent of the parent respondents have taken a multigenerational trip in the past. Sixty-five percent of them plan to take, or would consider taking, a multigenerational trip in the future. Multigenerational trips usually are organized by the parents and grandparents together, and the costs are typically shared.

Grandparent respondents are less likely to have traveled by plane with grandchildren in the past three years for multigenerational than for skip-generational travel (24% vs. 34%). Participants in multigenerational travel also are less likely to use online booking tools than participants in skip-generational travel (20% vs. 33%).

Grandparents, on average, value amenities for children more on skip-generational trips than parents do on family vacations (72% vs. 65%). Grandparents on skip-generational trips are twice as likely to worry about keeping the children safe and healthy while traveling compared to parents (42% vs. 21%).

Sixteen percent of parent respondents have used a travel agent to plan and book a trip in the past three years. Of the grandparent respondents, 8% have used a travel agent to plan and book a skip-generational trip in the past three years.

For parents, Facebook is the most commonly used social media platform (79%), followed by Instagram (60%) and Pinterest (52%). Only 9% of parent respondents are not active on any social media. For grandparent respondents, Facebook also is the most commonly used social media platform (78%), followed by Instagram (42%) and Pinterest (32%). Seventeen percent of grandparent respondents are not active on any social media.