Getting on top of the latest trend in accommodation services usually costs money.
Children’s facilities are no different and over the years hotels, motels, resorts and holiday parks have invested millions of dollars on infrastructure to lure families to their properties and keep them coming back for more. But things may be changing. The pace of modern life sees mums and dads away from the house (and kids) for longer and longer chunks of time and the shorter length of holidays means that families have less time for boredom.
“When I look back historically children’s facilities have been all about tennis courts, pools and playgrounds and a lot of resorts have put in very large kids’ clubs that were certainly of interest for a time,” said Mark Hodge, northern states director of operations for Mantra Group Australia. “However, over the last couple of years we have seen that, in most families, the father and mother work so when it gets to school holidays the last thing they want to do is lock the kids away in a kids’ club,” he said.
Mr Hodge said that the Peppers brand had been surveying families to find out what they wanted from a resort today, what they felt was missing and what they thought their children were looking for. “We are looking at how we can combine the experience of the parents being involved as well as the children and create time spent together as a family and time spent apart,” he said.
One way of doing that is by a kids’ club style offering that is open to parent participation. For example, Mr Hodge said he had personally witnessed a very successful ‘mini and master chef’ session at a Peppers resort where children and their parents decorated cakes and had their efforts judged. “It’s that combination of the parents doing something together with the children – they have a lovely time and it is also a great way for parents to meet each other and for the kids to start playing together.”
Recognising that modern parents still enjoy some quality time alone, Mr Hodge said Peppers also offer a kids movie night where children can watch a movie with other kids while supervised. “There is an opportunity for parents to actually drop their kids off and have meal on their own,” he said.
“We have been through the path of structuring fully blown kids’ clubs where you’d go in and it would cost you $25 to put them in for three hours. Parents might do it once but we felt it wasn’t working for us so that is why we’ve gone down the track of having someone qualified to work and play with those kids but involve the parents too.”
Mr Hodge believes that many properties lost money through investing in expensive infrastructure for kids’ club facilities. The good news for those following the trends in children’s facilities today is that catering for modern kids doesn’t cost a lot of money. Just a bit of time to listen to what they really want and then working out how you can provide it.
“We are seeing more and more kids arrive on holiday with a game console or laptop,” he said, “and we are looking at avenues for them to use them.”
Over peak holiday periods a boardroom can be temporarily converted into a meeting place for kids. Boardroom furniture comes out, beanbags and cushions go in and the boardroom technology remains in place where the kids enjoy the use of the large screen and Internet access. “We modify various public spaces to allow kids to enjoy themselves at our resorts,” Mr Hodge said.
Pool and barbecue areas are also no longer used only for swimming and eating. Kids with games and even laptops enjoy having access to these areas too. “It is all about listening to what is important to children at the time. The very worst thing we could do is just sit on our backsides saying this is how we’ve always done it.”
As well as many children arriving on holiday with portable games consoles, Mr Hodge said it was important to provide the latest computer games as well. “They are available for kids rooms on a request basis and in peak holiday period we set them up in a common area for free. They are great for wet weather and we have a wide range of games.”
Treating children as guests is an important part of catering for the younger members of families, as Mr Hodge commented. “On check-in we actually make sure we engage with the children. We welcome children specifically and give them a cap. It is working really well and we can get to know them better during their stay,” he said.
At Anchorage Cabins in Iluka, owner/manager Anne Lockyer has been providing family-centred holiday park and motel accommodation for the past 25 years. It is a model that in some ways resembles the new direction being taken by major brands like Peppers.
“Young families are our speciality, with children up to 13 or 14 years of age,” she said. “We are a bit off the beaten track and it’s a fairly low key kind of place.”
Rather than noticing any dramatic new trends in families wanting to spend more time together on holidays, Mrs Lockyer said at Anchorage it has always been like that. “It’s the sort of place where we have a children’s playground and we’ve just put in a brand new pool and spa. There are children’s activities during the holiday period and pedal bikes and a toddler pool. “I guess that really the sort of people that choose to come here are those that like to spend time with their kids. “A lot of families do all the ‘worlds’ up at the Gold Coast and that’s their busy fix, then they’ll come to us and have their family fix.”
One of the favourite and most successful children’s activities is the fishing competition that runs every Easter and Christmas holidays. “The fishing competitions are really popular because the adults get involved too so it works really well for everybody,” she said. “I suppose you could say that we’ve got the place and we provide the base and the rest is up to the families.”
Anchorage Cabins also provides supervised children’s activities such as games and craft three times a week in holiday periods. “It’s not a club and it isn’t child-minding,” explained Anne Lockyer.
Over the years technology has increased. “We have a big screen television in our camp kitchen and four or five times a week we put on movie nights for the whole family. Many of the kids have of course all seen the latest releases already but it doesn’t seem to matter,” Mrs Lockyer said. “A lot of the kids bring computer games to the cabins so we have to have a television that is compatible and allows them to connect and we have got a wireless antenna over the park so they can connect their laptops.”
In recent months Anne Lockyer has seen a shortening of the traditional family holiday and said that families are looking for holiday deals. “We had a five night cabin deal that included some activities and that proved very popular,” she said. “I also noticed that families are asking to pay off their holidays throughout the year,” she added.
“In the 25 years I have been here the facilities have changed but the same principles apply. As a child you create special memories of family holidays and that is a wonderful thing.”
Playgrounds, pools, waterslides and even tennis courts are still important for families, but those items perhaps don’t warrant the kind of investment they used to. Or at the very least, if you are going to spend money upgrading those kinds of facilities it would be worthwhile integrating some of the newer multi-media ideas for children into those spaces as well. Games, phone and laptop users really don’t need a lot of infrastructure. What they do need is somewhere sociable and comfortable to connect with other kids; if it is an outdoor area they will definitely need some shade and obviously the technology to allow their devices to operate successfully. Poolside areas, barbecue spaces and even playgrounds can all be designed with the modern child and teenager in mind.
For accommodation providers who are providing specifically for the under 10s market, investment in a decent playground is still essential. Safety guidelines governing height of equipment and playground surface have seen metal replaced with rope in many instances, and timber and plastic are now the most common construction materials. When choosing a playground be careful to ensure that playability hasn’t been sacrificed in favour of aesthetic design. There are only so many ways you can package up a swinging, sliding, rocking, climbing experience. If the design is centred around a train, or a house, see if it can be combined with a place for kids to use their games consoles – perhaps there could be a covered area contained inside the playground with swings and slides on the outside? Modern playground designers are making use of the space between items and allowing creative play to take place on the equipment as well. Finally, remember the trend for families to spend time together on holiday and locate the playground near to a pleasant relaxing area for parents.