Making Travel Easier...
For Family and Special Needs Travelers...
As Appearing in Insider Travel Report.com 4/21
Social distancing and changes in consumer travel habits have benefited one industry significantly—one that has not up to now been widely embraced by travel advisors. I’m talking here about RV travel and camping. This segment has been embraced by both family travelers and the special-needs travel community. So, will 2021 be a tipping point?
Perhaps it should be. According to Statista, in 2017 41.8 million people participated in car, backyard or RV camping in the United States. CampgroundViews.com estimates that 20 percent of campground stays were with rented RVs.
Maddie Bourgerie, director of communications & PR for RVshare.com, says her company, the first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace (think Airbnb of RV rentals) in September 2020 reached the milestone of two million days booked since the company’s inception in 2013. That doesn’t even include the revenue generated by its competitors, Outdoorsy and Cruise America. Considering the average rental runs $150 per day or $1,000 per week according to Bourgerie, similar to the cost of a hotel stay, that’s an estimated $42.8 million annually for her company alone. She says that while her company doesn’t currently pay commissions on such rentals, “it is something on our roadmap.”
Those numbers are worth noting. Travel advisors don’t thumb their noses at booking hotel stays, so why RVs? And the niche is booming. In a survey of 2,000 campgrounds and RV parks performed by CampgroundViews.com, nearly two-thirds of respondents stated that their advanced bookings are up 50 percent over average for the 2021 camping season. Twenty-four percent of respondents are seeing advanced bookings up over 80 percent for the same period.
“The outdoors and camping provide a safer alternative to other forms of travel and vacations,” says Mark Koep, founder and CEO of CampgroundViews.com. “We expect 2021 to be the year of camping with record numbers of Americans camping in tents, RVs and glamping accommodations.”
RV park and campground owners expect a surge in new campers in their parks and are already adapting to provide for this audience. “We are sold out every weekend through the middle of July,” says Marcia Neese, owner of Riverwalk RV Park in Jonesville, N.C. “Our guests are excited and happy to have a place to bring their RV and enjoy their family and friends. We have set up remote check-in and implemented a seamless booking system to allow our guests to interact as much or as little as they feel comfortable doing.”
Companies like CampgroundViews.com are bringing a new generation of technology to help campers enjoy their trips. “The timing is perfect as we release campground virtual tours and allow campers to see the roads and sites while being able to click and book specific campsites,” says Koep. “The camping industry is at a critical point in its history with so many now discovering and enjoying the benefits of the great outdoors.”
The market is clearly there. John Morris, founder of Wheelchairtraveler.org, has promoted camping even more since the pandemic since “certain groups of disabled people have a higher risk for serious complications due to the coronavirus, a reality that has further restricted the freedoms of many members of the community,” he says. “For those of us who need assistance during travel, it is more difficult to maintain a safe distance from other people. That alone has led many disabled people to write-off leisure travel for the foreseeable future.” His answer? “I have recommended that disabled travelers visit destinations where social distancing is readily achievable, and I have found that many of my blog's readers are taking road trips to national parks and avoiding the big cities.”
Morris’ website even features a guide to recreational vehicles and he acknowledges that while he knows of no wheelchair-accessible RVs for lease, travelers can rent a wheelchair van or take their own vehicles to parks and other destinations around the country.
RV vacations also are an excellent option for families with children on the autism spectrum. You can more easily provide the comforts of home while you are on the road in an RV than you can in a hotel. “It gives you a lot more control over the sensory stimuli and your schedule,” says Jennifer Hardy of Cruise Planners in Kent, Wash. You can also explore areas that are a little more remote, giving your child the freedom to move and explore more comfortably.”
Part Two of this column will focus on where travel advisors can find the commissionable opportunities in ‘RVs and camping.
As Appearing in Insider Travel Report.com. 4/22/21
April is Autism Acceptance Month. Many travel advisors don’t know much about special-needs travel, but they should. It’s been estimated that one out of 54 children in the United States is on the autistic spectrum and that one out of every 10 families have a special needs child.
Sadly, while special needs travel continues to be one of the fastest-growing family travel segments, it is one that is severely underserved. The question is, why would you want to rule out 10 percent of your prospective clientele?
The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), a global leader in cognitive disorder training and certification--is doing something about the problem. They’ve given travel advisors the ability to become Certified Autism Travel Professionals with the CATP designation.
I’m currently writing a book on special needs travel and I’ve interviewed dozens of advisors who have benefited from this training. Unfortunately, many of the spectrum parents I’ve interviewed still plan travel on their own. Clearly more education is needed and hopefully my book will help in that regard. In the meantime, you can learn more about becoming a CATP at Certified Autism Travel Professional (www.ibcces.org). If you or your clients would like to contribute to my book, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While travel advisors can be certified as CATPs, they need specialized destinations where they can send their clients, ones whose staff members are attuned to the sensory needs of clients on the spectrum. To that end, IBCCES gives properties and venues the ability to become certified as Certified Autism Centers (CAC) and even Advanced Certified Autism Centers (ACAC).
The big news for Autism Acceptance month this year is that Beaches Resorts, which in 2017 was the first resort company in the world to receive the CAC designation and, in 2019, received the ACAC destination, has extended its ACAC accreditation through 2023.
What makes a CAC or ACAC resort different than a typical property? For Beaches Resorts in Jamaica and Turks & Caicos, it means advanced autism training for its staff to increase sensitivity—offered virtually during COVID—with an emphasis on key touch point areas, including kids’ camps, entertainment, front desk/reception, food and beverage and watersports operations. As part of its recertification, Beaches will also expand its training of team members to the airport arrival lounge and reception area in Montego Bay, Jamaica and Providenciales, Turks & Caicos, which offer the first point of contact for Beaches’ arriving guests.
At Beaches, spectrum families will benefit from:
Beaches also will launch a Sensory Stimulation Guide for guests with sensory needs, providing comfort and an understanding of what to expect in each designated area of the resort. The guide, which outlines the degree of sensory stimulation in a specific area or event, allows families to easily plan and navigate their visit based on their individual needs.
Designated Low Sensory Areas also will be identified at all resorts, allowing guests to find comfort in designated spaces should they need a break from sensory stimulation. These locations will be easily identifiable through resort maps, onsite signage and in pre-travel planning materials.
“Like the rest of the world, we know families and autistic individuals are looking forward to traveling, visiting new places, and making new memories as soon as they are able to,” says Myron Pincomb, IBCCES board chairman and CEO.
“They are also looking for organizations that are trained and certified in autism, particularly leaders like Beaches Resorts, who go above and beyond. The professionalism, dedication and enthusiasm of the team at Beaches Resorts is second to none, and we are thrilled to continue our partnership to provide long-lasting support and impact.”
In addition, Beaches Resorts’ industry-leading Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness were created with consideration of guests with sensory disorders. While first meeting rigorous health and safety standards, the resort company ensures the use of low-fragrance cleaners, fragrance-free hand sanitizers and other products to ensure guests with sensory disorders have an enjoyable and safe experience. Complimentary COVID-19 testing also is available to all registered guests at Beaches Resorts prior to their departure.
For more information on Beaches’ longstanding commitment to creating an autism-friendly environment, visit www.beaches.com/all-inclusive/autism-friendly/.
Israel has long attracted visitors of many faiths. Thanks to recent construction and renovation efforts, physically challenged travelers can tour certain areas that were previously off-limits.
Jerusalem's Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in non-COVID years, is normally visited by 10 million visitors each year, but parts were inaccessible to wheelchair travelers. As part of a multi-year project, the East Jerusalem Development Company (PMI) has worked to provide better accessibility to all three of the city’s holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall. Ironically, the virus might have helped speed up progress. Due to diminished tourism during the pandemic, the PMI has been able to take this time to continue making Jerusalem more accessible by adding another kilometer of accessible roads and adding elevators to The Tower of David. They claim that the results have made Jerusalem’s Old City one of the world’s largest accessible historic cities.
The work, which has lasted approximately ten years at a cost of 20 million NIS and in cooperation with seven government agencies, included a mission to enlarge the narrow and picturesque alleys of the city, which can now accommodate wheelchairs, carts, and special emergency vehicles. The coronavirus helped by emptying the alleys of hikers for about two months, allowing the Ministry of Jerusalem and the East Jerusalem Development Company to open another kilometer—a fifth kilometer on Chain Street from the corner of David Street to the Temple Mount—that would have normally taken a year.
Local tour groups are learning to guide accessible groups under the guidance of Ami Meitav from the Public Cooperation Division of the Jerusalem Development Company. Meitav said that thanks to requests facilitate access for the elderly and the disabled, they added building ramps at the entrances to residential complexes, building additional stairs at the entrance to houses, adding a short stair railing and more.
“In recent years, the Old City of Jerusalem has become one of the most accessible ancient cities in the world,” said Moshe Leon Mayor of Jerusalem. “We have the [mandate] to make the Old City and its alleys accessible to anyone and without difference. Jerusalem is renewed for the benefit of all its residents and visitors.”
The Mishnah and the Talmud established regulations and laws for the operation of public area in Jerusalem, including that they would ‘repair the roads and streets that were permeated during the rainy season and thus closed to pilgrims…[they are now] accessible and coordinated for all tourists at the highest level,” said Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage, Rabbi Rafi Peretz.
“Of course, I welcome the project,” said Yad Sara CEO Moishe Cohen. “The accessibility allows access to almost anywhere and…complex work has been done to adapt to the needs of travelers with disabilities…including the topography, sacred sites of various religions…as well as special historical sites…the section of Roman-tiled street on Christian Street and steep stairs where the accessibility angle is [so] sharp… an attendant is needed to help support the chair. We are [also] working to add accessible services in the Jaffa Gate area, adjusting signage to the eye level of a person sitting in a wheelchair, provide scooter rentals and more.”
PMI has produced a printed guidance map available free of charge at the tourist information center at the Jaffa Gate, along with a free dedicated app, available in nine languages, that allows real-time navigation between alleys and sites via a GPS-based system similar to Google Maps.
App demos are available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=caCxEfuw5gI&feature=youtu.be.
For Android: http://play.google.com/store/apps/detaisl?id=pami.accessibility.sayyes
For Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/il/app/accessible-roads-jerusalem/id1434672106?mt=8
In addition, throughout the next two years while renovations continue, the Tower of David Museum will remain open for the public (within the guidelines of the Ministry of Health) with temporary exhibitions, with guided tours of the history, the communities, and the archaeology of Jerusalem, as well as cultural activities. More than half a million people visited the Tower of David Museum last year and the addition of two new elevators will make the ancient citadel accessible to all.
As printed in InsiderTravelReport.com 3/29/21
For some parents, the zoo is not how they want their children to encounter wildlife or experience nature. I recently caught up with Daryl Keywood, CEO at Walthers DMC and of Authentic Travel Africa, a destination management company that has designed trips for almost 40 years for families throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Tanzania. They also regularly send guests to Rwanda and Uganda for gorilla trekking.
Keywood says that childhood is the absolute best time to experience an African safari. “It connects one to the reality of life, resulting in an understanding of the balance in nature,” he says. “Safari can have a profound effect imprinting the importance of the conservation of our planet on young minds. Many senior figures in wildlife conservation today attribute their first safari at an early age as the reason they chose their profession.”
Parents may be less convinced, but Keywood offers many talking points to help with the sale. Here’s what he told me in response to my questions:
What areas of Africa do you recommend for safaris? I would say South Africa is “Africa made easy,” with great infrastructure, easy access in terms of scheduled direct international flights (though hot currently operating due to COVID-19, but Delta and United should resume shortly), as well as scheduled jet service to the most popular Kruger safari areas with a short road transfer to your lodge. South Africa also is relatively affordable especially compared to Botswana and Kenya.
Most of the safari lodges are on private land with lodges adjoining national parks having no boundary fences between the private land and the parks. The big benefit is that off-road safari and night safaris are allowed on private land. Although some concessions in East Africa also offer these, many East African lodges are located within national parks and do not offer off-road or night safaris or the same level of exclusivity.
South Africa also has several malaria-free safari reserves which is great for those who cannot take malaria tablets. Animal density is extremely good—on a three-night safari, you will usually see the Big Five—and generally there will never be more than three safari jeeps at an animal sighting. The Kruger area is renowned for fantastic leopard sightings, and South Africa has 90 percent of the world’s remaining rhino population.
Because the annual great migration seen in the Serengeti and Mara does not occur in South Africa, I would say that ideally one should experience both East Africa and Southern (Botswana, Zambia and South Africa) safaris to enjoy all the iconic experiences.
How realistic is it for travel advisors to try to sell families on the idea of an African safari? On most bucket lists, an African safari is something usually put off until one can afford it. The problem is that at the point where it is affordable, you are encumbered with children and limited vacation time. The conundrum of should one go and leave the kids behind or wait until they are older is no longer a stumbling block when considering a safari. In fact, the opportunity for children to share in the experience adds to it since the restorative power of nature reconnects and bonds families.
How does a safari create those connections and bonds? Enter the family-friendly safari, where the team at Authentic Travel Africa will tailor-make a safari to suit you and yours. From a couple with young children to multi-generational travel, there is a safari experience for everyone. We recently organized an 85th birthday safari for a 20-person extended family, including great grandchildren. Almost every safari booking is customized depending on client preferences. For example, pregnant women or those with very young children will usually request a malaria-free region.
Aren’t accommodations and transport set up mainly for adults? Traditionally lodges are focused on couples, since safaris are often associated with honeymooners and romantic getaways. But recent trends in lodge design recognize families as guests, so family rooms, two-bedroom suites and even family villas are available at many lodges. Although most lodges limit safari drives to youngsters six years and older, exceptions can be made for families traveling together or those opting to book an exclusive use safari vehicle and guide. Safari lodges are mostly small properties, the majority of which comprise 20 or fewer rooms, so social distancing is automatic with the lodges allocating a vehicle for every six guests.
What about keeping kids engaged on safari? There is so much to see and do on safari that even very young children enjoy a trip to the bush. Many lodges are planned around locations where wildlife congregate. That means without even hopping onto a safari vehicle, you can view spectacular animal sightings. It is not uncommon to return from a safari drive to find that elusive elephant drinking at the waterhole right in front of the lodge. Properties that cater to families often incorporate Junior Ranger programs where the younger generation spend time on their own kid’s safari. While larger animals are avoided, there’s an opportunity for the young ones to explore and learn. A kids’ safari might include making plaster casts of lion tracks, learning about threatened wildlife and traditional medicines, how to use the branch of a Gwarrie Tree as a toothbrush, identifying bird calls, learning a few words in the local language, and for the not so young, the basics of photography.
What other benefits or learning experiences can families enjoy? Contributing to and participating in conservation efforts is another aspect that may appeal to families wanting to leave a legacy. With funding resources limited, opportunities to contribute range from rhino darting, where the family can join park veterinarians in a “hands on” activity following the tranquilizer darting of the animal. Once safely asleep, the rhino is measured, the ears notched for identification, blood DNA samples are taken, and microchips inserted into the horn to deter poaching. Research also is needed for Cheetah, endangered African Wild Dog (Painted Wolf) and other species, and can involve fitting a tracking collar or other required interventions.
What’s available just for parents on safari? It’s their vacation too, and a short break from the young ones might be a welcome respite. At most lodges, babysitters can be arranged and so why not book one to enjoy some quiet reading time or a spa visit? And yes, almost all lodges have a small spa or offer in-room treatments. A handful of lodges even offer a Kids Club, of which Sabi Sabi’s Elefun Center is probably the best example. You are not tied to a lodge during your stay and excursions to local villages, schools and even conservation projects can have a significant impact on a young or older person’s perspective.
What changes have you made recently in respect to COVID-19? Each country has its own regulations, but generally a 72-hour PCR test is required prior to arrival. South African regulations are strict with masks required when in public. The standard of COVID protocols is generally high, especially in hotels, lodges and restaurants, with professional staff training and regular testing in place.
As a result of requirements for tests prior to flights back to the U.S., several forward-thinking lodges now offer COVID test services with swabs taken at the lodge a day or two prior to departure. Samples are couriered to a recognized laboratory and the results are then emailed to the guests, minimizing delays or an overnight stay in one of the main centers on the return home. Sabi has a resident nurse on call, not only to assist with taking samples, but also if a guest for any reason feels unwell and requires assistance.
Most safari countries have rolled out their vaccination programs, but these are slower than North America and few will achieve the 67 percent herd immunity target before the end of 2021. But Africa in general has seen far lower infection rates than North America and Europe, probably due to its young population and low population density. Importantly most properties are showing flexibility when it comes to booking conditions, and although traditionally these were very strict, they are now much more flexible.
Are your arrangements commissionable? We generally sell at a net rate to travel advisors but can also offer a commissionable rate if necessary. Also, we do not book international flights to Africa but are more than happy and regularly do assist with domestic and regional flights.
For more information, visit https://authentictravelafrica.com.
.My name is Dawn M. Barclay. My parents were owners of Barclay Travel Ltd. and later, Barclay International Group, and I basically grew up in the travel industry. Along with stints working with both companies and a few other travel-related firms, I've served as a senior editor/reporter at Travel Agent Magazine, a contributing editor at Travel Life, the meetings/incentive editor at Travel Market Report and now, the Contributing Editor for Family Travel and Special Needs Travel at Insider Travel Report. My articles have also appeared in the pages of Jax Fax, GoNomad, and Successful Meetings Magazine. I also write psychological thrillers and romance as D.M. Barr.