Is Amelia Island Interested in Attracting Family Vacations?

What disturbs me is that Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach is not even mentioned in what this influential family travel Web site calls the First Coast destination. Ponte Vedra yes, St. Augustine obviously, but no Amelia Island or Fernandina Beach.

amelia-island-family-vacationWith the quiet opening of the Marriott Residence Inn on Sadler last week, Amelia Island has added another welcome name brand to its portfolio of family vacation accommodations. For SearchAmelia it was a reason to once again look at how travel has been changing in the past decades because of family structures, politics and economic disturbances.

In the last few decades, family realities have changed dramatically. While amenities popular with children (like a hotel pool) are still very important when planning a family vacation, the demand for family travel has been affected by the fact that parents from Generation X now head young families. Having had their children substantially later in life, this new generation of parents has different values and concerns than their baby boom parents.

Families look for interesting activities and appropriate services and according to recent findings and economic development, the top three decision factors in planning a family vacation are the following:

• Location: the destination must offer fast, easy access to a variety of family and recreational activities (amusement parks, visitor attractions, beaches, mini golf/putt putt, etc.) or be located near the homes of friends and family.
• Room size: rooms must be spacious enough to allow multiple family members to relax. Families demand amenities like kitchenettes, video games and internet access.
• Hotel services: naturally, a pool is still the most popular attraction, especially when there is no beach in the area. However, game rooms and fitness facilities are increasingly desirable features.

Finally, when the group involves more than one family, teens want their own room; if grandparents are also part of the group, it is vital to be able to reserve neighbouring rooms.

A Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) study confirms that programs for children are very popular with families. Special children’s menus (41%) and hotel discounts for families (30%) are the most popular features, while the availability of toys and video games (22%), supervised activities (13%) and babysitting services (6%) are also well liked by families. Although an average 60% of families take advantage of these types of services when they travel, Generation X parents are more likely to do so, with 71% of those aged 35-44 using children’s programs. This is the highest proportion among all individuals who travel with children.

Who are Generation X parents?
Generation X covers individuals born from 1965 to 1980. Even though the oldest of these are already closing in on their mid 40s, many are parents of young children. A substantial change in family vacation needs is that it is estimated that only 17%-20% of Gen Xers have had a first child by the age of 25, while this percentage jumps to 29-32% among Baby Boomers. In 2002, four out of 10 children (40%) were born to parents aged 30 to 39, compared to 34% in 1991 and 24% in 1981. And the trend continues according to recent surveys.

Looking for work-life balance in a race against time
For Generation X, happiness depends primarily on successfully balancing one’s personal and professional responsibilities. To this end, 80% of parents in this generation would like to spend more time with their families even though, on average, they already spend more time with their children than their parents did.

Shorter, more frequent trips
Popular US Web site, advises on destinations that fit today’s budget cuts especially recognizing that today’s family travel is following the trend towards shorter, more frequent trips. In fact, 35% of those surveyed reported having taken two family vacations during the year, while another 35% reported having taken three or more trips. This frequency had an effect on the duration of family vacations: 75% of them were for a week or less, with 35% of all trips lasting only 2 to 5 days.

What disturbs me is that Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach is not even mentioned in what this influential family travel Web site calls the First Coast destination. Ponte Vedra yes, St. Augustine obviously, but no Amelia Island or Fernandina Beach.

Torn between their personal needs, their desire for time with their spouse and the importance attached to family time, Generation X parents are creating a new demand for family travel. Although both leisure and business travel afford opportunities for personal relaxation and rejuvenating time for couples, they are also becoming ideal occasions to spend quality time with the children.

Family responsive vs. family friendly
In the past family travel was defined as travel for children, while today it is defined as travel with children. The nuance is important for companies who must become responsive to the needs of both parents and children; traditional family friendly outfits, like theme parks and zoos, must now think about the type of experience available to parents so that visits are enjoyable for every member of the family. And before everyone starts screaming Orlando, I should point out that the Theme Park cost for a family of 4 has become quite cost prohibitive. At the same time, to respond to these various needs, some tourism based companies with primarily adult clientele are starting to experiment with new services to show that their facilities can offer everyone, children included, a fun vacation.

Resort complexes in southern destinations were among the first to develop mini club services to offer parents a family vacation experience that cleverly combines time with the children with time alone. Club Med remains a leader in this type of approach, breaking down its various children’s programs according to age: Baby Club (4 to 23 months), Petit Club (2 to 3 years), Mini Club (4 to 10 years) and the new Junior Club for teens (11 to 17 years).

Lacking many of these opportunities, premier resorts like Amelia Island Plantation will have to start looking into possibilities to cater to Gen X, such as a Teenage Golf Course availability, for example. Remember I said: for example; an option study would be welcome, but should enhance and promote what the destination already offers, albeit with some creativity towards Children entertainment. (Life Guard Lessons, Golf lessons, Fishing, Kayaking, Nature Trails etc.)

Major cruise ship companies have quickly adopted this model to attract families. By offering adapted facilities (family staterooms) and appropriate services (organized activities for kids, a water park, arcade, etc.), cruise ships are positioning themselves as the holiday solution that promises something for everyone. And the approach seems to be working: one out of six, or 525,000 of the 3.3 million passengers traveling with Carnival Cruise in 2005 were children. Today the percentage is passing 20.

Smart operators understand the trend and in North America family friendly initiatives have sprung up recently at spas, country inns and business hotels. These include activities aimed directly at children, babysitting services, supervised game areas for both younger children and older children and family suites furnished specifically for the comfort of children and parents.

In conclusion, in the era of Generation X parents, family travel is no longer defined solely by the preferences of children; parents want to have fun too! Accommodation, restaurant, and activity operators on Amelia Island should pay attention to these trends, or else high end, high cost operations like the Plantation and the Ritz will soon find themselves extinct.

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  1. Ndeonas

    Great question to ponder. I think given the present state of our economy and what the near future may hold for us, our local elected officials should be taking every opportunity to attract any and all dollars to our Island and county. Folks we are truly blessed to have the natural resources, the question is are we using them to their max?

  2. yw600

    You're missing the generation which indexes the highest among all living generations in a wide range of travel categories: Interesting blog, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). Jonesers are the dominant generation of travelers.

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report forecast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009. Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

  3. tommylee

    first off I think the essence of the article was Family vacation, meaning that it targets families with children below the age of 18 (and that is stretching the age group for “children”). So generation “Jones” 1954 – 1965 as you mention would be rather old to have young kids running around.

    Not that your remark has no merit but not in the context of the above article.

    Secondly, according to your age range I would also be a GenJones, yet every attempt I undertake to identify what the “qualification for GenJones are” I keep on stumbling over the characteristics of “feeling left” out and “outrage of being under-recognized”. It almost sounds like a child's play: I belong, no you don't belong…. What is this with belonging. Generation qualifications are only broad sense descriptives that have no further meaning than to identify an age group with some quantitative parameters. No more no less. and I most certainly feel not like an “abandoned orphan”. It is what you make out of your life that makes it worthwhile living but if your goal is to “cry” over the “forgotten agegroup” be my guest.

  4. tommylee

    I almost forgot. The connotation to the Jones Gen is rather derogatory if my memory serves me well. Isn't that the sect leader Jim jones that ordered everyone to commit mass suicide in “Jonestown” Guyana in 1978. I believe it was the largest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the events of September 11, 2001.

    I guess that is where the “Jones Gen” must have gotten its frustration from… Recouping credibility.

    No thank you, I have no desire to be categorized under Jones.

  5. yw600

    Actually, you've been misinformed; GenJones isn't about pejorative stuff at all. Very little of what I've read about GenJones has to do with abandonment and being left out. And the name isn't about Jim Jones or anything else negative. Unfortunately, new ideas like this in the internet age often are subject to misinformation.

    The vast majority of what people write and say about GenJones is positive, there is a lot of pride in our generation as we now take over business and political leadership. A generation of practical idealists, with the residual drive and hopefulness to pull the country out of our severe problems. And the name is filled with positive connotations. This op-ed in USA TODAY by the guy who coined the term gives a good overview of the concept and name:

    I strongly identify with GenJones. So do a large majority of those born between '54-'65…each of the polls I've seen about this shows a high percentage saying they identify not with Boom or X, but rather with this generation in-between. And the data across many values and attitude polling makes a compelling case that GenJones and the real Boomers are dramatically different in th context of generational personalities.

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978

  6. Stringdude

    Aren't you a little obsessed by the topic? The story was about documented surveys on how family vacation has been developing; not about GenJones. Thgought the story was right on the mark, no matter which generation brings the most children and teenagers to the table.

  7. yw600

    Obsessed…um, no. Tommylee gave a detailed response to my brief comments about GenJones, so I gave a detailed reaction to his. We GenJonesers are capable of handling more than one topic simultaneously.

  8. tommylee

    It wasn't about misinformation, but then again you confirmed what I said in the first place. The need to belong is greater than the value perceived. It doesn't matter what you call it as long as you call it something, right? So the person that called GenJones didn't now history that well. Nor did the followers that believed in Jim Jones, yet strikingly the age group that was the largest victim of Jonestown Genocide where the GenJones young adults.

    The need to belong was their greatest obsession because they didn't qualify for the Woodstocker's generation and felt very left out.

    Here is the excerpt of the same article you mentioned from USA Today and if this doesn't CRY… you left us out than I don't know if I can read English:

    So who are we? We are practical idealists, forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part. The name “Generation Jones” derives from a number of sources, including our historical anonymity, the “keeping up with the Joneses” competition of our populous birth years, and sensibilities coupling the mainstream with ironic cool. But above all, the name borrows from the slang term “jonesin' ” that we as teens popularized to broadly convey any intense craving.

    Now let's have a look at the “Practical Idealists'” meaning. What is a Practical Idealist. I have been pondering on this for while and overwhelmingly Machiavelli came to mind and I think I was right on the money on that one after doing some research.

    Now if the GenJones is Machiavellian by nature (Practical Idealists) we are in for a ride since it is associated with manipulative acts and philosophies that disregard civil rights and basic human dignity in favor of deception, intimidation and coercion. NOT MY WORDS…

    And looking at the second part of the Quote of the USA TODAY article …But above all, the name borrows from the slang term “jonesin' ” that we as teens popularized to broadly convey any intense craving….

    Intense craving…, so intensely that moral right and thus civil right are at the risk of being traded-in for deceit and coercion.

    Now, my good yw600, is all this “smoke and mirrors” going on in Washington an act of GenJones? because it IS Machiavellian and the Puppetmasters in Washington are playing with fire in making us (or at least trying) all believe that nothing is wrong with the economy and everything will be fine as long as you keep on SPENDING. Now if that is not coercion and deceit, Practical Idealist, than mother earth is really in her right to “shake us off like a bad case of flees” – George Carlin


  9. meghannb

    I am from the baby boom generation 1953 and happy to see a moderate but still upscale hotel the new Marriott has opened on your Island. We are from Canada and found your lovely Island 2 yrs ago and coming again to stay at either the Marriott or Ritz if the price is right. What we love about this Island is that it is quiet, and natural and not crowded. If we wanted more activities we would stay in Orlando as it is we will drive down to Kennedy Space Centre as we have not been there and we know the other parts of Florida from going with our parents when we were teenagers. You need to capitalize on what you have and not spoil it, with a bit of good marketing you will attract lots of people who love nature, unspoiled beaches and a love for the enviornment. You have lovely golf courses and the town of Fernandina is great. Lots of people who love old architecture will love that town and for those who want more action they can always drive to Jacksonville. Capitalize on what you have there are tons of nature lovers out there, people who want to get away from all the noise and glitter of your southern cities, children love to play in the sand, they need time for themselves, and they need to learn that they can entertain themseleves without all the bang of amusement parks. Parents would love to have their children learn about the ocean, the animals that are part of your Island you could certainly build programs around all of these things and more, look no further than your own back yard for great ideas, everything you need is there just package it up and sell it but don't recreate what other cities already have you can make your Island stand out from the rest of them.

  10. Amy Hille

    Amelia Island Plantation highly caters to such family vacations, balancing both family activities to enjoy together and activities for the kids and parents to do apart. Families can enjoy a Segway tour, bike riding or a nature tour together or the kids can attend Just For Kids while the parents have dinner at the Ocean Grill. The recreation department at AIP offers Kids Camp Amelia, Just for Kids, Just for Families, teen activities, and a variety of other programs. We are even offering a great package deal called Family Value Days which includes accommodations, free meals for kids, free Golf & Tennis for Juniors and complimentary recreation! An all encompassing resort property such as the Plantation is a great choice for families because we offer a variety of activities; multiple bedroom accommodations; a gated, secure property; and a selection of vacation packages.

    For more information visit:


    Family Value Days Package:

  11. stringdude

    First of all thanks for bringing the comments back on topic. Secondly I completely agree with your assessment even though that makes less of a conversation. Controversy is usually more animated. But here is the thing that bugs me about today's so-called tourism professionals; they are stuck in the old ways, the old ways being:
    1. They feel the need to go to at least 3 or 4 big tradeshows per year (all expenses paid) to promote my destination. The perks of the job.
    2. They demand impossible budgets to be able to advertise in major trade magazines and on TV around the nation or the world or else all bets about results are off.
    3. Glossy destination brochures and picture perfect videos are also a must, never mind if effective distribution of these tools has been arranged for.

    I have been involved in tourism promotion for 35 years now for entire Caribbean Islands, complete regions in Europe and a handful of yachting destinations around the world; I have done the show circuit for years, from the World Travel Market in London to the ITB in Berlin and Hiswa/Boot and dozens of other ones. I have been on the board of the International Skal Club, a world organization for tourism professionals and I have learned one thing from it all: illusions of grandeur, too big for their britches. Instead of aiming to expand horizontally in visitor attractions that complement what's naturally already available, they all want to expand vertically and add more different attractions aimed at different visitor demographics. This will ultimately clog up the arteries of a community and kill the tourism egg.
    So yes, you are absolutely right, we need to capitalize on what we have and market the niche demographics.
    Wouldn't surprise me however to find out that across the bridge in Yulee a theme-park or two will one day be erected and we will still be overrun. Word is out that we may be looking at a small cruise ship facility several years from now. In the current economy mass resorts like the Ritz and the Plantation may choose any option to survive. “Apres nous le deluge”, may be the ” cri de coeur” for a while.

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