Family learning about coral reefs at the Aquarium of Niagara in Niagara Falls, NY.

The Secret of Smart Kids and Great Families: Family Travel

What if there was a way to guarantee that your children would love to learn? Ensuring top grades in school and higher income prospects after graduation? And what if all this could be yours along with a happier, stronger family? Studies now show that the secret to all these wonderful outcomes lies in the family travel effect.

TMS Family Travel - Maid of the Mist Tour

Family Travel Think Tank

Last month, I joined nearly 50 influential family travel writers and bloggers who gathered from around the United States and Canada for the TMS Family Travel Conference in Niagara Falls, NY on Sept. 20-22, 2013.

Organized by Travel Media Showcase, Family Travel Forum, Taking the Kids and the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation, the conference drew media from major companies like Trip Advisor, AOL, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times along with representatives of destinations and tourism organizations that value and market to family travelers.  This was the third conference event for TMS Family Travel, which also hosts an annual Family Travel Summit bringing together media and travel providers to explore ideas for better family travel experiences.

By all measures, the family travel summit was a success. Despite a citywide blackout which forced one workshop to be held by the glow of cellphones, more than 21 million social media impressions were generated by conference attendees who toured the Cave of the Winds, rode the Maid of the Mist, and survived a Whirlpool Jet boat ride in addition to visiting wineries, Erie Canal locks, street fairs and local farms.

Certainly, this is a testament to the strength of  the multi-billion dollar family travel industry, now the leading segment of all leisure travel in the United States, with more than 100 million trips taken each year with children under 18.

Apple Picking with Bloggers - TMS Family Travel - Niagara Falls, NY

Travel Generates Big Money

On the eve of the conference, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo discussed initiatives to make tourism a top economic priority in Niagara Falls by developing more attractions to appeal to families and increase their length of stay.  Personally, I was eager to compare my experience on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to the US side which is currently undergoing a major revitalization to position it for today’s sophisticated travelers.

No doubt the revamped tourism icon will see an excellent return on investment. According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel “generates $2.0 trillion in economic output, ranks among the top ten private employers in the country, supports 14.6 million American jobs and contributes more than $129 billion in tax revenues.”

But what blew me away was confirmation of what I’ve been saying all along about the value of fun & educational family travel.

The Travel Effect

“A passport is the new diploma,” noted Keith Bellows of National Geographic Traveler, and a new U.S. Travel Association survey, “Travel Improves Educational Attainment & Future Success” published on its Travel Effect Campaign site suggests that those who took educational trips as kids are more likely to graduate from college and earn more– 12 percent or greater–as adults.

Key Findings:

  • Among those that traveled, 86% believe educational trips made them more intellectually curious inside and outside the classroom.
  • Travel helped more than half (59%) achieve better grades.
  • With each trip, the positive effect of educational travel grew stronger. Nearly all (95%) adults who traveled five or more times were more likely to graduate from high school, and nearly two-thirds (63%) of that group went on to graduate from college.
  • Respondents said their trips were more than simply educational. Learning-focused travel was also fun (98%), engaging (87%) and inspiring (87%).
  • More than half said that educational travel was “transformative.” (54%).
  • Educational travel influenced the career choices of more than half (52%) of those surveyed.
  • Experiencing local culture and history on their trips had a lasting impact (77%)
  • Travel made them a better person (34%).

Travel Effect Infographic

Family Travel Is Priceless

To my mind, far beyond travel’s value for our nation or for our children’s future earning potential, is its value for families. In another Travel Effects survey, “Travel Brings Families Closer Together” well, the title sums it up pretty well.

Key Findings:

  • A strong majority (75%) of parents surveyed stated that the money and time spent on family vacations is justified because the memories are “priceless.”
  • With busy family schedules crammed full of activities, a solid majority of parents (53%) reported that “family vacations are one of the few things that families do together.”
  • Three-quarters (75%) of vacationers older than 55 agreed that they still have “vivid” memories of childhood vacations.
Family learning about coral reefs at the Aquarium of Niagara in Niagara Falls, NY.
Family learning about coral reefs at the Aquarium of Niagara in Niagara Falls, NY.

The Future Is Bright

I’m thrilled to see the attention that is being paid to family travel by the media, travel industry, and local and national government. It’s about time. Recent events starkly illustrate what happens when we let politicians make all the important decisions about natural treasures, whether they’re our national parks or our children’s education.

The future is in our hands. On my part, I’ll continue to provide more and better resources to help plan fun and educational trips. Travel–whether close to home, or far away–can make all the difference in the world to our children, our families, and by extension, to our country.

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