Make sure you’re maximising your family bookings with a guide to avoiding some of the pitfalls
Amanda Matthews has been a travel agent for 25 years, including the past seven as owner and managing director of Designer Travel. As well as overseeing a network of 46 homeworkers and a high street agency in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, she is mum to boys aged 12 and eight.
Here she shares her top tips for designing the best family breaks.
The first thing you need to do is to go into depth with your customer about what they are looking for and how old their children are. That determines where you should look for suitable recommendations.
It is a consultative process, but you can’t just take everything they say in black and white. Ask them questions – the more you ask in advance, the more suitable recommendations you can make.
A client might say, for example, that they don’t want to go to Turkey. But if they want water slides and all-inclusives, the destination is going to give them the most choice, so find out why they say they don’t want it.
A Flying Start
A lot of families, particularly with young children, don’t want to fly far, so they will want to stick to the Spanish mainland, Portugal or Italy. But some don’t have a problem with going farther afield, especially in the winter, so this opens up Dubai, Egypt or the Canary Islands.
In the summer, Europe takes centre stage, although there is a huge trend towards people going to Mauritius in summer because it can be cheaper to go to a luxury hotel in the low season in Mauritius than to some luxury resorts in Europe in the height of summer. So if clients are happy to fly a little farther, they can get a bargain.
I took my family to Mauritius last year and the weather was 25C – perfect for us. The beaches are amazing and hotels such as Beachcomber often do free all-inclusive upgrades at that time of year. I recently booked two adults and five kids for a week in August at Le Victoria, for about £7,000.
We find people think it’s completely out of their price range, but when you tell them the offers, they are just blown away and it becomes a serious option – provided they can get their head around the flight.The key is putting yourself in the customer’s shoes: if you were that client with that budget, where would you go?
If you have the right product for families, you will have a high conversion rate, but if you haven’t looked into it properly, someone else will have done more than you.
It’s not just about picking out the obvious hotels. You might need to guarantee interconnecting rooms, so you want to book through operators such as Classic Collection or direct with the hotel.
Flight times and transfers are also a concern. We would rarely offer a night flight to families with little children, even if it’s cheaper, because it’s just not suitable. If they were on a tight budget, we would offer the option, but we would look at ways of making it easier, such as booking late check-out.
There are other ways to save, though. When you are dynamically packaging, don’t automatically price in luggage for everyone.
A family of five, for example, might need only three cases, so that could save £80. But we would always recommend pre-booking seats together because that cuts out a lot of hassle at the airport.
Next, you have to think about how easy airport transfers are, and whether there will be children’s seats in the car. Then it’s about space in the accommodation – are they going to be cramped into a room with the kids on camp beds? If there is a room that gives them more space, it is worth looking at.
The most challenging thing is when families have more than two children because interconnecting or family rooms that sleep more than four aren’t easy to find. If you’ve got two children, about 80% of accommodation will be fine, but if you’ve got three kids, the proportion drops to 30%.
A lot of newer resorts offer the facilities of a luxury property but in apartments and bigger units, especially in Portugal, Cyprus and Lanzarote. Places such as Monte Santo in the Algarve or Ikos Olivia in Halkidiki, which is opening in May, are really trying to think about what families want.
Once the holiday is booked, don’t file it away and think it’s done. You have to think in advance about what could go wrong and try to solve it.
If your clients are at Sani Resort in Greece and don’t book their activities in advance, they are going to be disappointed. If you don’t offer it as part of your service, you must at least inform your clients what they should be doing – that’s customer care.
Families going to Walt Disney World in Florida can register an account and pre-book their fast-passes. In New York, if they are going to take in more than a few sights, there are passes with Attraction World and Do Something Different that will save them money and allow them to jump the queues.
When your clients are on their holiday, you want them to be in the know, whether that is being aware of a change in visa restrictions or the way in which Disney works, or knowing that you get the best views from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at sunset but that you have to book in advance.
In that way, you have earned your stripes as being better than the internet. It’s this knowledge that will separate you from another travel agent.
The biggest change we have seen is families looking for all-inclusives but still wanting a choice of restaurants and branded drinks. It’s very difficult to judge on star ratings because a five-star in Egypt isn’t the same as a five-star in the Maldives, so we always use the reviews on TripAdvisor and Gazetteers. I also remind people that you get what you pay for.
If you’re looking after this market, you should be as knowledgeable about these properties as suppliers, because that’s where you really add value to the client. We have a responsibility to narrow down the search before we ring a tour operator, so we need to do our homework.
I would have four or five hotels in my head, look at which flights are available and compare it against dynamic packaging. Once you’ve got a property in mind – say the Princesa Yaiza in Lanzarote – you would know which suppliers have the best rates and go straight to them, which could save hundreds of pounds and even make the difference in securing the booking.
There’s also a slow migration of families trying cruise, and now that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises have some all-inclusive short trips, it’s far more attractive.
Families are more adventurous too, so trying a mix of culture and fly-and-flop is on the increase. We get people wanting city breaks to Marrakech or Paris, and more twin centres calling at Dubai and Abu Dhabi en route to Mauritius, or spending time in Malaysia before a family holiday in Bali.
Emirates and Etihad have opened up so many destinations from the north, and people are more open to suggestions about what to do.
It’s all about treating families as individuals. We have huge repeat bookings and that’s because we are competitive on price and we go out of our way to make sure our clients have everything they need.
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