Travel world rolls out carpet for teens


December 27, 1992|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,Contributing Writer

Music video producers court them. So do jeans manufacturers and fast-food chains. Now the travel industry is the latest to acknowledge teen power and is going after them in a big way.

It has commissioned surveys to question teens about their vacation dreams (Australia was tops in a new Holiday Inn survey) and attitudes (they don't want to be with their parents all day, but they don't want to be left behind at home either, Hyatt Hotels reports).

And everyone from resorts to cruise ships to Club Meds are rolling out the red carpet to keep them happy with everything from teens-only discos to teens-only concierges to teens-only evening cruises and teens-only lounges, complete with the latest music videos. Some hotels even are talking about special teen menus and working with partners interested in marketing specifically to this group.

"Teens spend or influence the spending of an estimated $79 billion each year," said Darryl Hartley-Leonard, president of Hyatt Hotels Corp. "Teens are valuable customers for us today and they're our next generation of business travelers."

"There are more teens now," adds Michael Kubin, president of Club Med sales. "The baby boomers' oldest kids are teens now. At our properties, I see a new emphasis on teens."

Club Med, for example, will assign a counselor to the teens visiting a village -- so that it is easier for them to be together as a group, going from activity to activity, even eating together.

Hyatt, an industry leader in programming for children, has just unveiled Rock Hyatt, a comprehensive program for teens ages 13 to 17, that is being offered at all Hyatt resorts. A spokesman says this is the first hotel program designed specifically for teens -- from check-in gifts (including a do-not-disturb sign) to tennis clinics and excursions to a "rock zone" where teens can meet and listen to rock music.

Even Holiday Inn is getting into the act. Besides surveying teens, it is sponsoring "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego," a PBS game show aimed at teens.

Cruise lines provide each "teen cruiser" with a detailed daily sheet of activities: How about a scavenger hunt? A "Pizza Pig Out?" Teen Bingo?

"People are asking for this stuff," says Lloyd Axelrod, a spokesman for Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Clearly, teen-agers are the target of the travel industry's latest salvo aimed at the growing and increasingly important family vacation market. Some 90 million parents and kids are expected to vacation together this year, according to a study done for Better Homes and Gardens by the U.S. Travel Data Center.

As more families travel with their children -- and demand more for them and for their dollar -- the travel industry has increasingly responded with programming and baby-sitting, special meals and giveaways. This summer, for example, both Holiday Inn and Marriott are offering kids-eat-free programs for hotel guests.

Now the industry has learned what parents already knew: "Teens play an important role in deciding where a family will go on vacation," explains Gayle MacIntyre, a spokeswoman for Holiday Inn Worldwide.

That's not to say even if the teens choose, a family automatically will have a great time. In fact, today's busy families, who spend little time together, may find vacations tough going when so much togetherness is thrust on them, says Dr. Lucinda Katz, director of the University of Chicago's K-12 Laboratory School -- and the mother of a teen herself.

"Kids can get bored easily," she says. "And if they're not used to being with their parents, they have to learn to be together."

Indeed, the new Holiday Inn survey reports that 76 percent of families say vacation is the only time they're together for every meal.

Dr. Katz worries that these programs will keep families heading in different directions at precisely the time they should be together. At the same time, she adds, "Parents are looking for places to go where the kids have enough activities so they won't get bored and where it will be conducive to stress-free family time."

That's what the travel industry hopes to provide by offering enough different alternatives to keep even the most difficult teens happy and busy.

"Unhappy teens have a magical ability to communicate that unhappiness to their parents, and if they're miserable, the parents won't be happy either," says Marc Yanofsky, Hyatt's senior vice president of marketing.

According to Hyatt's survey of 500 teens across the country, the vast majority (79 percent) said they want to meet and spend time with other teens on vacation. More than 60 percent said they hope to find romance. Most said they want to shop (93 percent), sightsee (82 percent) and participate in sports (73 percent).

Hyatt used the survey to develop Rock Hyatt at all of its resorts. Teens may take fitness classes at Lake Tahoe, bobsled in Colorado, follow clues to lost pirate's treasure in St. John or kayak in Hawaii. Some activities are free, others may cost upward of $50 for a day's excursion. Of course, there's always lounging by the pool.

Will teens go for these organized programs? "Teens like to be seen by other teens," says Dr. Katz.

"As long as they can be with other teens, they'd go for it," adds Dr. Don Wertlieb, chairman of the Child Study Center at Tufts University in Massachusetts and a well-known expert on teens (as well as a father of one).

Dr. Wertlieb applauds these efforts. "Anything that provides for constructive connections among family members is on the right track," he says.

Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Taking the Kids, c/o The Sun, 2859 Central St., Box No. 119, Evanston, Ill. 60201.

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