sealPurdue News

July 2001

Tourism researchers: Children increasingly drive vacation choices

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Leave the family truckster in the garage. The kids have other plans for this year's vacation.

Children are increasingly involved in planning vacation destinations and choices of attractions, and more vacations are planned around children's interests, say two Purdue University tourism researchers.

"Children, and especially teenagers, have become advisers to their parents on vacation destinations, lodging and length," says Liping A. Cai, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management. Youngsters are logging on to the Internet and scouring the Web for online tourism information.

Cai says there also is a trend toward more educational travel. The number of visits to museums, for example, is up over the past decade. Museums also are offering more hands-on educational experiences.

Alastair M. Morrison, a professor of hospitality and tourism management, cites recent vacation statistics from the Travel Industry of America Association. "Nearly one-half of American adults has included children on their vacations in the last five years," he says. "One in five parents has taken their children out of school for family getaways."

Segments of the tourism industry have begun to note the influence of children on vacation trends.

"Luxury hotels provide separate, supervised activities, such as swimming, to free the parents to follow their interests," Cai says. "Some hotels even provide babysitting."

There also is a trend toward shorter vacations and hybrid trips.

"Time has become a scarcer resource than money," he says. "So we're seeing more business trips with family travel tacked on to the end."

Fewer and fewer people are spending their vacations lying on the beach. Baby boomers, in particular, see this as wasteful, Morrison says.

"Families are more and more looking for new experiences and education," he says. This bodes poorly for tourism sectors such as amusement parks, beaches and resorts.

"The attitude of many parents is that 'If we're going to go somewhere, we're going to learn something,'" Morrison says.

Special interest travel has grown. "The last decade has seen the development of adventure vacations, such as ecotourism and agritourism," says Cai. "There has also been a proliferation of soft adventure travel built around activities such as biking, hiking and fishing."

What do these travel trends portend for the future?

Cai says the senior market is changing because people are living longer and are healthier.

"You could say the new grand tour is grandparents taking their grandchildren on trips," he says. The Travel Industry of America Association reports that grandparent-grandchildren trips now make up 16 percent of recreational travel.

Another trend, according to the travel association, is that 26 percent of family travel centers around family reunions. In fact, Morrison says professional event planners and companies are getting into the family reunion business. And, he says, Purdue's hospitality and tourism students are becoming interested in working in this segment of the tourism business.

"Tourism is growing and evolving," Morrison says. "Baby boomers have a been-there-done-that attitude and are looking for destinations and activities that are personally and culturally enriching."

The Purdue Tourism & Hospitality Research Center has been providing research since 1990 on tourism's economic impact on communities, non-profit and private sector organizations in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania. The center also has supplied many international clients with research, training and planning services.

The tourism center staff includes an interdisciplinary team of faculty members and graduate students from different schools and departments at Purdue who are specialists in tourism. The center is headquartered at the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management in Stone Hall on the West Lafayette campus.

Sources: Alastair M. Morrison, (765)494-7905, after July 13

Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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