Tom Armstrong, corporate communications manager of tour operator Tauck World Discovery, is the first to acknowledge that planning a family vacation can be stressful. “You only have a certain window of when and where you can go. You don’t want to feel that you’ve made a mistake,” he says. Adding lots of details (what restaurants to eat in, what museums to see) and extra charges (from all those restaurants and museums) can turn what should be a fun getaway into a painful memory. To that end, Tauck introduced Tauck Bridges in 2003, a collection of more than a dozen travel packages that are designed specifically for families.
Some of the more popular itineraries Tauck offers are European river cruises, which Armstrong says is an area “growing by leaps and bounds.” Asia, Africa and South America are also popular destinations for families. “One of our more popular trips every year is our family safari in Tanzania,” Armstrong says.
Of all Tauck Bridges’ destinations, however, Europe has shown the highest increase in tourism. To keep up with demand, the company has added four new Bridges trips to Europe in the past two years—more than any other region. Among these is an eight-day cruise along the Danube, a trip from Budapest to Vienna with a stop in Graz, a tour of Rome and Sorrento and a tour of major Spanish cities.
“Europe is a destination that’s very rich in culture,” Armstrong says. “And parents have a sense of that—they correctly reason that bringing their kids to Europe is going to be an enriching and educational experience, as well as a lot of fun for the family.…It’s not purely escapist entertainment. It’s a chance for them to engage with a different culture with a very, very rich history, and experience different cuisine, different art—all those things. At the same time, even though you’re providing all those educational experiences, it’s also a lot of fun.”
When Bridges launched in 2003, the operators were surprised at the diverse families that joined them for journeys. “We anticipated, as you would expect, that the bulk of the business would be parents traveling with their kids,” Armstrong says. Instead, nuclear-family travel only makes up one-third of Bridges’ business. “We also do a fair amount of business with grandparents traveling with grandchildren, and three generations—grandparents, parents and children—all traveling together. In fact, the volume of business is actually split about evenly between those three groups.”
Another interesting statistic is that half of Bridges’ clientele is return business. After an initial trip within the U.S. or North America in general, guests return ready to visit Europe. “They’ve had good experiences with Tauck in the past,” says Armstrong, “so it’s like they’re graduating beyond North America and exploring different destinations, including Europe, with us.”
A History of Touring
Tauck was founded in 1925 when Arthur Tauck, a young salesman, brought six people with him on a business trip through some lesser-known areas of New England and Canada. Because he knew the area well, Arthur could serve as a tour guide during the mornings while he made business calls in the afternoon, giving his guests free time to explore communities they would otherwise not know to visit. Nearly 85 years later, Tauck still places great value on the tour directors employed by the company.
“They average over 10 years’ experience with the company,” Armstrong says, “and that is due to the fact that we pay them a very competitive wage. They’re all eligible for full benefits ranging from health care to retirement plans. We treat them as full-blown Tauck employees so that they’re able to build a career with us, and they regard the company with great loyalty.” Such dedicated employees, he continues, develop a greater expertise than someone hired for the short term, and know not only about any given destination, but how to guide different kinds of groups.
A pre-arranged tour can help eliminate a good amount of the stress of a family vacation: The family only needs to choose a destination and dates, and the tour operators can handle booking the hotels, restaurants and any sightseeing and attraction arrangements. But on top of that, Armstrong adds, is a simple economic value. On a tour, almost all aspects are included in the pre-set price, from accommodations and food to attractions and tips. “There’s a peace of mind that comes with knowing before you even leave what you’ll be paying for your vacation,” he says.
Tauck packages can also prove useful for agents, as they earn their commissions on that pre-set price rather than the individual components. Even if an agent books a complete vacation for a family, he or she will not see any commission from a museum ticket. But if that ticket is included in the price of the total tour, it will be included in the commission. “All of the things that are reflected in the cost of the tour are reflected in the tour price, and it’s that tour price that drives the agent’s commission, so they’re earning commission on a large number of things they wouldn’t earn commission on otherwise,” Armstrong says.
In the end, the trust a client places in his or her agent is the same trust they must have for their tour operator. “People have limited vacation dollars, they have limited vacation time,” Armstrong says. “And when you choose to spend it, you’re really investing that. If you don’t have a good experience, you’re not going to repeat it.”