Dr Ian Yeoman
Children and families form the closest and most important emotional bond in humans. The relationship is what drives humanity and society, and as such the family is the centre of human activity. As a consequence, family tourism is one of the most important sectors in the tourism industry and constitutes 25% of all trips by domestic tourism in the UK. The market is worth £15 billion, generating over a third of holiday receipts within the wider holiday market . But what are key trends that shape this family market and what does it mean for tourism businesses?
Social structures tend to be slow–moving. Many of the gradual changes that have been taking place in those countries comprising the membership of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development are likely to continue and in some cases intensify their impact on the traditional family. These include higher rates of female participation in the labour market, higher divorce rates, more single parents, rising and longer enrolment in education, growing numbers of elderly, higher numbers of foreign–born population and ethnic diversity, and so forth. From another perspective, future changes may see family relations reconfiguring on new, more sustainable foundations. We may increasingly see networks of loosely connected family members from different marriages, partnerships and generations emerging, who devise fresh approaches to cohesion and solidarity. Growing better integrated ethnic communities may help to instil more positive family values (old and new) into mainstream society.
The most noticeable and well–established trend in British family life has been the decline of the nuclear family and the rise of the single–person–under–pensionable–age household. It is predicted that in the sixty years from 1961 to 2021, households consisting of a couple with children will have declined from about half of all households to around a fifth.
The number of marriages taking place has fallen to a new low in recent years. At the same time, divorce rates have remained relatively stable, which means that the proportion of marriages ending in divorce has been steadily growing. It is undeniable that the growing divorce rate has brought a kind of instability to the family concept.
Life expectancy in the UK currently stands at 78.4 years for men and 82.6 for women. This is a ten year increase for both men and women since 1950 (Yeoman 2008). Society is rapidly ageing; by 2023, over 75s will constitute over a tenth of the population.
According to research by the Future Foundation, half the population claims that they get all or most of their satisfaction from family life, while another 41% state that they experience equal satisfaction from both family life and outside activities. Indeed, only a minority do not cite the family as a prime source of happiness. Family life seems to make us more satisfied as we become older, suggesting that children may be the main source of happiness or that they create new bonds and closeness within the family.
As a consequence of globalisation, there is no corner of the world that remains untouched by migration. As European Union citizens, people in the UK are taking advantage of free movement and are re–settling, often in the preferred destinations of Spain and France. Indeed, the landscape of the UK is changing as inbound migration to Britain has made London for example, a melting pot of international inhabitants from a multitude of countries from anywhere from Poland to Somalia. Simply put people no longer live next door to many of their family members.
The family is not only changing in structure but also in the attitudes which govern relationships. Indeed, family members are becoming more open with each other than ever before. Parents are increasingly including children in any major decision–making and are giving children more autonomy over their personal consumption choices.
The modern family is strong. Why? First, a network transcends time and space. Today's family is likely to experience some level of dispersion as migration becomes more common. A family unit on the other hand, is more linked to actual location. Second, as families become smaller and move around more, new networks of reciprocal support will be built. These networks may include anyone from close friends to distant relatives. Children are increasingly being brought up by non–biological parents.
As each generation of parents become increasingly techno–literate, technology plays an important role in the family network. Skype (www.skype.com)is making speaking to family at the other side of the world easy and free and Facebook (www.facebook.com) is allowing families to see what each other is doing, for example www.astorybeforebed.com provides a platform for families to read interactive stories online using different social media platforms. The internet and wider technology platforms have become facilitators of communication in which distance is no longer a barrier.
Longevity and smaller core families have led to the family becoming more vertical rather than statically horizontal in form. Grandparents are enjoying more time with their grandchildren as they live longer. Consider the following; in 1960 the life expectancy of a woman was 73 and the mean age for giving birth was 27. Presently, the life expectancy for a woman is 81.9 and the age for giving birth is increasingly in their thirties. Present day grandparents can expect to enjoy several more years with their grandchildren than those of the 1960s. The verticalisation of the family is apparent through more grandparents becoming involved in caring for their grandchildren. Where siblings within a larger family would have previously been responsible for baby–sitting duties, grandparents in the vertical family are now taking their place. As Young points out the prominence of these inter–generational relationships plays a central role in the family network due to verticalisation. Indeed, as people live to a greater age and childcare becomes more expensive we expect grandparents to continue to play an active role in their grandchildren's life.
The nuclear family is not the force it was within the majority of the population. However, within certain segments of the population, such as certain Asian community, the nuclear family is still alive and well. Within Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups, the traditional nuclear family still comprises over half of all households. In contrast, people of Black ethnic origin are the least likely to live within a nuclear family arrangement.
Over the past twenty–five years, distrust of companies has been steadily rising. At the moment, over a quarter of consumers feel that companies in the UK are unfair to consumers and nearly half agree that multinational companies cannot be trusted according to research by the Future Foundation. Concurrently, the internet has led to an explosion of global intelligence–sharing.
The phenomenon known as "helicopter parenting" has become well and truly entrenched in the US cultural lexicon. Appearing first in the 1990s, the term is used to describe how some parents "hover" above the lives of their children, ready to swoop at a moment's notice to either intervene in their child's interest or contribute to key life–decisions traditionally taken independently by the young adult.
Higher education attainment is a key attribute of the modern family resulting in a discerning consumer and the choices they make regarding cultural experiences. As a consequence of higher education participation rates, structures in society are changing especially as women participate at a higher rate in higher education compared to men. As a consequence, certain professions are becoming dominated by women. Penn terms this as 'Wordy Women'. For example, in the Church of England, more women than men have being ordained as clergy since 2006. In that year, Church statistics showed that 244 of the 478 clergy ordained were women and 234 men.
In the UK, household disposable income has grown threefold in real terms between the early 1950s and 2008. This is an annual growth rate of 2.5% per annum. To consider trends in family tourism spending it is necessary to consider data on expenditure and consumption of UK households, as out of home expenditure is a key indicator of family tourism, whether it is day trips or overnight stays. According to the 2010 Family Spending report published by the Office of National Statistics average weekly household expenditure in the UK was £455.00, less than in 2008 when it was £471.00. Spending was highest on transport at £58.40 per week.
According to Yeoman obesity is an important trend in a health conscious world to the point that the being healthy is a preoccupation for most consumers. Since the mid 1980s UK consumers' desire for staying fit and well has increased significantly (jumping from 20% to 75%), with consumption of health foods doubling. However, consumer's desire for well–being co–exists with a thirst for indulgence. Consumers take steps to become healthier but are unwilling to sacrifice many aspects of a modern lifestyle which bring us pleasure.
Children seem to adopt the habits and attitudes of what has so far been considered teen–domain at an earlier age then previously – hence the emergence of the 'tween' (preadolescence, that is, the stage between middle childhood and adolescence in human development, in the range of nine to twelve years old). There can be no doubt that both the concepts of 'childhood' and 'youth' are being redefined and that, as consumers, today's kids are very different.
Children are part of the decision making process regarding 'where and what to do on holiday'. As such, tourism businesses need to develop innovative and effective communication methods that engage all family members from the start of the family holiday planning process. This means designing website and brochures for all the family rather than just the key decision makers.
As families are more price sensitive today and will keenly understand differences in service offers, suppliers must be able to segment tourists by value and life cycle in order to build a relationship and encourage repeat purchase at different life stages.
Families have less time to relax and play together, therefore time together becomes the new luxury and tourism is the facilitator of quality time. As a consequence, family tourism has an opportunity to be a social glue increasing the opportunity for family interaction.
As families are more mobile and grandparents live more active and independent lives than any previous generation and as grandparents and grandchildren often live too far apart to see each other regularly, so grandparents are always looking for ways to draw their families together and strengthen the relationship with their grandchildren. Characteristics of the elderly population include lots of free time, willingness to travel and a desire to spend time with their family, especially grandchildren.
The family structure is changing from a horizontal to a vertical model, therefore tourism suppliers need to provide for a diversity of facilities and/or offer a high degree of flexibility such as 'family tickets' that extend beyond the two adults / two children norm. In order to further create value, providers should facilitate the process of bonding by bringing parent/child closer together to share experiences, whether that is through music or hobbies.
Family structures are gradually changing and tourism businesses need to be proactive in responding to this. The four key trends of vertical family structures, less children in society, ageing populations and the family bond will have the most important impact on the future of family tourism. The family bond is a central driving force in society. Grandparents have more time to spend with grandchildren and will spend more money on them as the number of children in society declines. In fact, children will become a luxury themselves as they become scarcer and more important. The family is and will remain a key market for UK tourism and all of the above changes should be noted if businesses are to innovate and thrive in this market sector.
Dr Ian Yeoman is presently writing a book with Dr Heike Schaenzel (Victoria University of Wellington) and Dr Elisa Backer (Ballarat University) called Family Tourism: A Multi Disciplinary Perspective, Channelview, Bristol to be published in 2012.
Previous Viewpoint articles can be found in the Archive here.
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Previous News items can be found here.