Disney Research Spurs “Grand Adventures” With Grandparents

A family confection by Disney
A family confection by Disney // All photos by Maureen Stone

Executives at Walt Disney Parks & Resorts have done their research on the surging grandparent travel market as a prelude to the launch of a new multi-generational Disney vacation travel initiative called “The Gift of the Grand Adventure.” While it was no surprise that Disney research confirmed grandparents as family members with the time, money and motivation to bring their immediate younger relatives on a Disney vacation, there were several eye-opening discoveries. Studying the range and sensitivities of this senior market may help travel agents qualify and sell family clients.

Celebrating National Grandparents Day, Sept. 7th
Celebrating National Grandparents Day, Sept. 7th // All photos by Maureen Stone

Amy Foster, director of consumer insight for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts shared some of her research team’s findings with a Grand Adventure media group enjoying some of the company’s new multi-generational theme park vacation experiences at Walt Disney World.

“We listen to our guests,” said Foster. “In studies of U.S. grandparents we have found that the majority want to vacation with their grandchildren….The majority have vacationed with their grandkids. One out of five have vacationed with their grandchildren on a Disney vacation.”

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Two non-Disney studies in recent months corroborate the potential size of the multi-generation travel market targeted for Disney’s Grand Adventure program. The AAA Travel study released in June of this year and cited by Disney reported that 36 percent of travelers plan to take a multi-generational trip this year, an increase from 34 percent in 2013. 

A September cover story (“The New Grandmothers”) in the AARP Bulletin, a newsletter for 40-million-plus U.S. senior members, said that grandparents will spend $57 billion on their grandchildren this year. It added that 62 percent of the grandparents are still working and that age 47 is average for the first-time grandparent. A photo of the beautiful grandmother and actress Jane Seymour, age 63, playing with her grandsons on the AARP Bulletin cover, conveyed the image of the active grandparent. 

Amy Foster, director of consumer insight for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Amy Foster, director of consumer insight for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts // All photos by Maureen Stone

Memory Making Grandparents

Foster noted that her Disney research group has identified a market segment called “Memory Making Grandparents” who are exclusively interested in vacationing at Disney destinations. They range in age from 45 to 64.  “Their average age is 61 and Disney Parks turns 60 next year,” she said. “They were the first generation to experience Disney Parks. Memories of Disney are part of their families’ narratives that they want to share with their grandchildren.”

Building Ice Castles at the Frozen Funland
Building Ice Castles at the Frozen Funland // All photos by Maureen Stone

Other findings about the Memory Making Grandparents include:

  • 71 percent vacation with their grandchildren compared to 54 percent of all grandparents who travel with their grandchildren.
  • Four out of five vacation with their grandchildren at Disney Parks.
  • They have an average of four grandchildren from pre-school through teens.
  • Their average household income is $80K and they average 18 vacation days.
  • They spend an average of $3,000-plus on each vacation.
  • 66 percent are flexible on the dates of their vacations.
  • 68 percent consider themselves “active whenever possible.”
  • 71 percent consider it “very important” to take at least one major vacation per year.

Travel agents seeking to unlock keys that motivate grandparents and other multi-generational family planners may be interested in Disney research into why its guests go on vacation. Among the findings were that grandparent guests were looking for “a way to bond with children on their level.” Family bonds were described as “like glue” and something the family “can lean on when bad things happen” in the household. Other motivations were to have family fun, enjoy rest and relaxation, escape from the everyday world to a new environment, and create lifetime memories.

Other Disney grandparent guest comments, shown by video, were that a Disney vacation “creates (family) interaction that you don’t get just spending any day together” and “you get to experience Disney through their eyes all over again.” One motivation was for grandparents to return with family members because “we spent our honeymoon at Disney 30 years ago.”

Sarah Sinoff, director of domestic marketing strategy, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts
Sarah Sinoff, director of domestic marketing strategy, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts // All photos by Maureen Stone

The Gift of Grand Adventure

Capitalizing on the appeal of Disney theme park destinations as “the place where multi-generational families can come together and celebrate special moments” or just “come together and play,” Sarah Sinoff, the director of domestic marketing strategy for Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts said the company is this month launching “The Gift of the Grand Adventure.” The first fall discount offers for the promotion are now available for a limited booking window ending October 3. Sinoff added that more details and more multi-generation guest offers will soon follow this year on a dedicated web site found at www.disneyworld.com/grandadventure

Currently the Grand Adventure site has four main sections including: fall travel to a Disney Resort; Disney Deluxe Villas; Attractions and Entertainment, and a “Mom’s Panel” with tips and frequently-asked questions about organizing details of Disney trips geared to family vacation decision makers.

An autumn 30 percent package linked to the Grand Adventure theme is currently being offered at “select” Disney Resort hotels. The fall discount packages must be booked by Oct. 3, 2014, and are valid for nights between Oct. 4 and Nov. 25, and from Nov. 29 through Dec. 23, 2014. There is no minimum number of room nights required, and discounts range from 20 to 30 percent depending upon the property booked. Travel agents and their clients can learn more details about the fall packages at www.disneyworld.disney.go.com/special-offers/resort-hotel-rooms/.

Due to the popularity of fall Disney Parks events, however, travel agents need to encourage their clients to act quickly to avoid disappointment. Guest crowds will be gathering for such fall events as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween, the Epcot Food & Wine Expo and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

1 Bedroom Suite at Boardwalk Villas
1 Bedroom Suite at Boardwalk Villas // All photos by Maureen Stone

In fact, an online check of long weekend dates during the discount period showed many popular family-style Disney hotels, such as the Boardwalk Villas and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness, are selling out quickly. Agents can prove their value by saving clients the hassle of researching the best remaining availability. Note that the Disney web site encourages visitors to contact their travel agent, but also presents the option of calling 407-W-DISNEY to speak to a Disney vacation planner.

A few final Disney grandparent research findings drew giggles from the preview audience, but may be valuable nuggets for travel agents to keep in mind when approaching their clients about a Grand Adventure.

  • 65% of multi-generation family travelers share in the vacation planning.
  • 40% of those families require a group consensus on plans before booking.
  • 65% of family members say “the trip was my idea.”
  • In the majority of family vacations it is the grandparents who initiate and “sponsor” the trip, a polite reference to being the vacation treasurer.

The numbers strongly suggest that the notion of grandparents being too old to physically accompany their grandchildren on a theme park vacation is an idea out of touch with today’s multi-generations.