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KIDDING AROUND MAKING SENSE EVEN CLUB MED WANTS PART OF THE $13 BILLION SEGMENT

By Published on .

Kids at Club Med? On cruises? In business hotels?!

These are just a few of the traditionally adult bastions that are becoming more family friendly, as travel marketers try to get baby boomers and their broods to expand their vacation options beyond Disney World or a stay at the Holiday Inn.

Las Vegas isn't the only destination to start targeting mom, dad and the kids. Club Med North America, originally created for swinging singles, continues to add new programs to its six family villages-even one aimed at divorced families where he takes the kids one week and she takes them the next.

New cruise lines dedicated to the family market are setting sail, and even business hotels are making special efforts. Travel marketers have good reason to court families.

Fifty-million adults are expected to vacation with their kids this summer, according to Travel Industry Association of America. Nearly half of 1,500 adults surveyed by TIA said they would likely take advantage of special children's meals or menus, videogames and arcades, or hotel discounts.

About a quarter of those people plan to use supervised activities at hotels and resorts, or discounted airfares. A smaller pecentage (17%) plan to use family travel clubs or resorts, babysitting services (10%) and family cruises (6%).

Family vacation travel makes up about $12.7 billion of the $69 billion hotel/motel lodging industry, according to D.K. Shifflet & Associates, a travel consultancy. Family vacations accounted for about 19% of all room nights in 1993, up from 15.6% in 1989.

"Everyone is trying to expand their market, and the market that is growing the most in the next several years is leisure travel versus business travel," says Stan Plog, chairman-CEO of Plog Research.

Businesses still are tight-fisted, he says, but a pent-up demand exists in leisure travel that could last several years.

Half the business at Club Med North America now comes from families, says President Jean-Michel Landau.

All-inclusive vacation resorts allow parents to pay one price for lodging, transportation and meals. Club Med also offers kids-stay-free specials and family escape rates.

"Club Med. Life as it should be" is the theme of print ads and direct mail from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York.

As for cruise lines, two already cater primarily to families and a third is on the way.

American Family Cruises made its maiden voyage in December, presenting competition to Premier Cruise Lines' Big Red Boat. Walt Disney Co. will get into the water with its own cruise line in 1998.

The family market "is one the fastest-growing markets in the travel industry and our segment," says Gary Sain, senior VP-sales and marketing for Premier's Big Red Boat. "The cruise industry has had 28% growth in passengers who bring their families since 1989."

Mass-market cruise lines such as Carnival, Royal Carribbean, Norwegian and Dolphin also offer family programs.

"We carry more families than any other cruise line in the world," says Geri Donnelly, VP-marketing services at Carnival Cruise Lines. "But, we don't position ourselves as a kids' cruise line because we want to let adults have an adult vacation."

Several cruise lines feature popular licensed characters on board and in advertising.

This year, Premier's Big Red Boat welcomed Warner Bros./Looney Tune characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and friends.

Newspaper and radio advertising from Robinson, Yesawich & Pepperdine, Orlando, Fla., is used.

The line formerly featured Walt Disney Co. characters.

Dolphin Cruise Line and Majesty Cruise Line feature Hanna-Barbera characters Fred Flintstone, George Jetson, Yogi Bear and others. Wright & Co., Miami, handles creative for newspaper ads.

Several upscale business hotels, such as Hilton Hotels Corp., and Westin Hotels & Resorts, have jumped into the family market in recent years, following the lead of Hyatt Hotels Corp.'s Camp Hyatt.

That pioneering effort was launched in 1989.

"We're all trying to get our share of [the family market]," says Ed Stahl, VP-director of advertising and marketing programs for ITT Sheraton Corp.

In May, Westin Hotels & Resorts introduced its Kids Club with print ads from Cole & Weber, Seattle.

Hilton Hotels Corp. returns for the second year with its summer Vacation Station promotion at more than 80 of its hotels.

"We've thought of everything" is the theme.

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