FOCUS: TRAVEL - Keepin' it in the family vacation. Recent economicwoes haven't cut into the family vacation market. Sherri DeatherageGreen reports on how destinations are attracting kiddie bucks

When families hit the road or the tarmac this summer, their final

destinations may not have been the parents' first choices.

According to Travel Industry Association of America (TIAA) projections,

families will tag along on 60% of the 230 million trips Americans are

expected to take this summer. In an annual survey conducted by

Orlando-based advertising and PR agency Yesawich, Pepperdine and Brown

(YP&B), 68% of parents said their children greatly influenced their

choice of destination, while only 37% of the kids interviewed felt they

held much sway over vacation plans.

Not surprisingly, children wield the most influence in theme-park

selection, with the wonderful world of Disney reigning supreme. Other

attractions, cities, and countries, however, effectively use PR and

other communications tools to challenge Mickey and Minnie.

But PR alone can't create family-friendly vacation destinations, the

experts agree. Word of mouth carries a lot of weight with trip planners,

and if a tropical getaway touted as a children's paradise doesn't live

up to its billing, families won't flock there for long.

This difference between presentation and reality is neatly illustrated

by the experience in Las Vegas in the '90s. Although PR people

representing attractions in the area deny that the city was ever

specifically marketed to families, there was an attempt to reposition

Vegas as an entertainment and vacation city rather than just a gambling

center. This necessitated a friendlier attitude toward families and

children; two theme parks opened (in Circus Curcus and the MGM Grand,

although the latter has since closed), and efforts were made to cater to

families, if not target them directly.

But what you see in Vegas may be the biggest turn-off to

vacation-planning parents, which no amount of PR can overcome:

full-color brochures for truly adult adventures commonly litter the

sidewalks. Some casinos are wrangling in court to stop the flesh

marketing, but rulings have so far been inconclusive.

Playing it safe

Las Vegas' weakness illustrates the top concern of family travelers:

safety, both physical and emotional. In the nation's gambling capital,

casinos partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited

Children on a guest education campaign about appropriate child


Publicizing crime reduction helped boost family tourism in New York

City, notes Nell Barrett, SVP of communications for NYC & Co., the

city's tourism marketing organization. The FBI's ranking of the Big

Apple as the safest large city in America makes prime PR fodder.

Government relations also played a role in cleaning up the city. The

Times Square Business Improvement District, for example, lobbied state

legislators for more restrictions on sex-related businesses, says

operations VP Bob Esposito.

PT&Co. is also playing the safety card in its PR work for South


The agency didn't initially plan to promote the country as a family

destination, but after visiting South Africa, senior counselor Maddy

Cohen decided to add family-focused pieces to the press kit.

Post-apartheid political stability makes South Africa a good choice for

safaris, she claims. "There are other countries that have absolutely

wonderful game viewing, but they are not countries I'd be comfortable

taking my kids to," Cohen says.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't realize that apartheid ended eight

years ago, Cohen notes, so PR must focus on education. PT&Co. has also

established a crisis committee that meets monthly to plot strategy for

counteracting negative messages and potential problems.

Cost and space also should be considered in PR messages targeting family

travelers. Parents want as much room as they can afford, says YP&B

account supervisor Will Wellons.

"It's one thing for something to look great and feel wonderful, but if

they can't afford it, it won't make for a very good family vacation,"

Wellons says. With this in mind, YP&B crafted releases for ResortQuest

International that favorably compared the cost of staying at one of its

rental homes to that of checking into a hotel.

Family time

Marketers miss the boat when they assume parents want vacations from

their kids, says Rene Mack, a principal at BSMG Worldwide (soon to

become part of Weber Shandwick).

When both parents work and the kids run from soccer practice to violin

lessons, the family vacation provides a rare opportunity for "quality

time." PR efforts, therefore, should emphasize things parents and kids

can do together.

YP&B's research lists "visiting friends and relatives" as the most

common reason for family travel. Also, a quarter of summer travelers

attend family reunions, according to the TIAA.

The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission (CVC) aggressively courts

family reunions, especially among African Americans, says marketing SVP

Carole Moody. In addition to advertising in Ebony, the organization

touts St. Louis' central location and free attractions at black expos in

Midwestern cities. The CVC then sends out reunion-planning checklists to

likely prospects. In 2000, 206 family reunions accounted for 15,000

hotel room nights in St. Louis, compared to 84 and 8,100 respectively in

1994. The commission will expand its efforts beyond the African American

demographic this year, Moody says.

The togetherness strategy doesn't work for all vacations, however. "I

think adults, to a great degree, perceive a cruise as their vacation,"

observes Tim Gallagher, VP of PR for Carnival Corp. in Miami. That's why

cruise lines provide and promote lots of supervised activities for


Reaching parents and kids

The most common media relations ploy for drumming up tourism coverage is

the press trip. Destinations wanting to lure families encourage or

require travel writers to bring their own children, or simply borrow

some for the junkets.

Some get the kids directly involved. Alison Ross, a VP at Peter Martin

Associates in Boston, had reporters' children write stories while

touring Jamaica. The kid-written pieces ran in Jamaican papers, as well

as in the children's hometowns, Ross said.

In addition to targeting media relations efforts to the typical magazine

and Sunday travel editors, BSMG's Mack recently chartered what he called

a "tween" media tour. Tweens, or younger teenagers, are old enough to

effectively lobby for their favorite destinations, so Mack invited

editors of magazines like Cosmo Girl and Tiger Beat to the Bahamas.

PR practitioners must be careful when targeting youngsters directly,

however. Parents don't want their kids exposed to too much commercial

hype, and kids can spot a phony a mile away, Mack says. "You have to be

very real and very truthful," he says.

Kids want the gift, not the wrapping paper. Materials geared toward them

should focus on native culture or tourist activities as seen through the

eyes of other children. Handouts for kids should be educational, like

BSMG's free Bahamian kids maps, or just plain cool and devoid of hotel

phone numbers or amusement park coupons. Media placements should be

noncommercial, like Peter Martin Associates' successful pitch to Sesame

Street for a feature on a Rastafarian girl.

Partnering with kid-focused brands also can be an effective marketing

strategy. The Bahamas negotiated a two-year exclusive destination

alliance with Nickelodeon because of the cable channel's legitimacy and

credibility with children and their parents. The Bahamas campaign hit on

two topics important to kids: music and environmental stewardship. The

islands were associated with the Teen Nick Festival concert tour and the

Big Help social service program.

When repositioning themselves for kid appeal, destinations should be

careful not to alienate their core audience of adult vacationers.

Successful programs create a "live and let live atmosphere," Mack says.

Las Vegas' reticence to fully embrace families stems partly from the

traditional gambler's aversion to children in the city, notes Alan

Feldman, SVP of public affairs at the city's MGM Mirage.

Ultimately, whether the kids want to believe it or not, parents do make

the final decisions on where to spend those two hard-earned weeks of

paid vacation.

"The kids are never the primary focus of the PR campaign," Ross


Carnival's Gallagher agrees, "If you give the children the option of

where to go, they're not going to pick a cruise."


Traditionally seen as romantic getaways or scuba playgrounds, the

Caribbean islands realized in the last decade that more adults were

bringing their children along for romps through paradise. The Bahamas

and the Jamaica Tourist Board in particular capitalized on the trend

with successful PR campaigns.

Destination: Islands of the Bahamas

Agency: BSMG Worldwide

Goal: Increase the number and duration of family trips to the


Strategy: Publicize the Bahamas as the leading overseas travel

destination for American families

Tactics: Through a two-year, exclusive destination alliance with

Nickelodeon, the Islands of the Bahamas:

- Sponsored Teen Nick Festival concerts. Handed out free holographic

cards at the shows with pictures of a dolphin kissing a trainer.

- Sponsored a traveling Big Help exhibit on ocean and reef ecology that

encouraged kids to volunteer at local aquariums and for cleanup


- Episodes of Slime Time Live and Nick Games and Sports were filmed in

the Bahamas.

- Targeted press releases to Sunday travel editors at major papers like

The New York Times and the Boston Globe and hosted a media tour for

"tween" magazines editors.

Results: The percentage of vacationers in the Bahamas visiting with

families jumped from 22% to 37%.

Destination: Jamaica

Agency: Peter Martin Associates

Goal: Reposition Jamaica as an ideal family destination - not just a

couples getaway.

Strategy: Partnering with popular children's brands and with recognized

family-travel experts.

Tactics: - Formed promotional alliances with McDonald's, Gymboree, and

the Dreamworks film Mouse Hunt

- Hosted a family press trip to which journalists were invited to bring

along children. The kids also wrote articles placed in newspapers in

Jamaica and in their home towns.

- Chose a Rastafarian girl and successfully pitched a profile on her to

Sesame Street.

- Conducted a satellite media tour from the island with spokesman Bill

McCoy and his daughter. McCoy is a former editor with prestigious

parenting and travel magazines.

Results: Jamaican hotels reported increased family bookings, and have

begun expanding facilities for kids.

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