Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Marketing Family Vacations: What Recreation Professionals Should Know

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Marketing Family Vacations: What Recreation Professionals Should Know

Article excerpt

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IN THE 1970S, CLARE GUNN SUGGESTED that the supply side of the tourism industry included four components: attractions, which serve as the pull factors compelling most tourists to travel; transportation including service stations, bus lines, airlines; other services such as accommodations, restaurants, and retailers; and information/promotion agencies such as destination marketing organizations. Speaking to the first component of Gunn's model, John Crompton, of Texas A&M University, recently argued, "almost all of the attractions are developed, and in most cases are operated, by the public sector or nonprofit organizations. A large portion of them are likely to be the responsibility of park and recreation agencies."

According to this line of thought, then pleasure travel is a business that the public sector drives, and park and recreation agencies are central to that business. This is the antithesis of the general public's and the tourism field's conventional wisdom.

Because many recreation professionals continue to view tourism more as economic activity than as leisure activity that might concern us or the people we normally serve, we often relegate it to the margins of our professional consciousness rather than considering it central to our mission. As such, family vacations, have not been widely studied in the recreation literature. Previous studies of family vacations have focused largely on two topics: family decision making and the division of family work.

This study explored meanings of family vacations and applied what we learned to informing park and recreation agency practice. Fifteen families were recruited from public schools (12 two-parent and 3 single-parent). Each family had at least one child in 5th, 6th, or 7th grade to assure substantial input from children and because children of this age are old enough to respond to in-depth questions but not so old to have ceased traveling with their parents. We conducted interviews with most/all family members. Respondents were interviewed twice before their vacation and at least once after their vacation. There was great variety with respect to issues discussed and types of vacations taken, ranging from weekend getaways to international trips.

From hundreds of pages of typed transcripts, we developed themes and sub-themes focusing on meanings and values. Four "positive" themes emerged: creating memories, togetherness, escape, and education. In addition, three "negative" themes emerged: work and workloads, spatial proximity (too much togetherness), and divergent travel styles and preferences.

* Creating memories. Creating positive family memories for their children was an urgent long-term goal for the parents, associated with strengthening the family unit. Parents strove to use vacations as time spent time together as a family before the older children began "leaving the nest."

Despite our vast potential, people working in recreation delivery contexts may fall short in facilitating memories among visitors because we are not part of the attraction mix. It is worth asking whether local parks, facilities, and special events are promoted at service facilities travelers are likely to frequent. Do you work with hotels, restaurants, campgrounds, grocery stores, and service stations? Many park and recreation agencies do nothing in this regard; others provide hard-copy brochures in lobbies of service establishments. More aggressive agencies ensure that local amenities including park and recreation services are the default channel on hotel television sets. Does your agency's website have a homepage link specifically for out-of-town visitors? Young adults and teens, especially, use this medium for both pre-trip and on-site planning.

* Togetherness. Given North Americans' cluttered daily routines, family vacations may represent a last bastion of family togetherness. Consider the influence of two-plus vehicles-per-family households. …

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