One of the more interesting travel trends in recent years has been the cross-over between adventure and family travel. We asked Dan Austin, founder and president, Austin Adventures, in Billings, Mont., for his take on who’s going where and with whom. The company has been at the forefront of the family travel boom for decades, although they offer tours for couples, solo travelers and groups of friends, as well. Austin also shared with us his definition of adventure travel, and his answer might surprise you.
What are the top destinations in the United States for families in terms of bookings?
“For the 20th year in a row Yellowstone is No. 1 by double digit margins, followed by Alaska and Yosemite,” Austin said.
What are the top international family destinations by bookings?
“Costa Rica is to our international favorites what Yellowstone is to domestic — it’s the strongest seller by far — followed by the Galapagos and then Peru,” he said.
Has the definition of “family” changed in the last 10 years or so in terms of Austin Adventure clients?
“Not really. I like the 80/20 rule — about 80 percent of our clients are “traditional families,” and the 20 percent is everything from aunts and uncles traveling with nephews and nieces, Skip Gens (grandma and grandpa with the grandkids) and the LGBTQ community,” Austin said, adding the company has seen a good uptick in single parent with child guests.
Do you agree the definition of “adventure travel” shouldn’t scare anyone away? Are there softer adventure options that might be a great fit for kids and grandparents, other than extreme hiking or cycling?
“I always suggest that adventure travel can mean anything from climbing Everest to taking the dog for a walk in the park. The key is what it means to the traveler, then picking a tour operator that sees it the same way. While there are still some pretty “hard core” operators out there, most of us have followed the public demand for “soft” adventure suitable for a wide range of abilities and desires. Of course we usually can arrange longer hiking or biking distances for more avid and experienced families. We might also suggest a private, custom trip, which is a specialty of ours.”
What can an Austin Adventures vacation offer that would be difficult for families to do on their own?
“Often we have access to prime accommodations in the national parks that are booked years in advance,” he said. “Also, I think there is something to be said for the group dynamics; we often hear that it is the groups, the other families and the kids who really make the trip.”
Austin also stressed the number of activities packed into a day can make a difference.
“Since the trips are orchestrated and fine-tuned by regional experts, we know how to get more into a day without feeling rushed. Simple logistics and the ability to do hikes and bike rides that begin at point A and end at point B are possible for us, and not for the average family without hiring shuttle services.”
A knowledge of the best trails, the best spots to view wildlife, the best restaurants and hotels are key to creating an itinerary that makes sense and eliminates wasted steps.
“This creates a stress-free environment with very little decision making by the travelers. They are free to just relax and enjoy.”
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