Lounges, programs for youths help groom future customers
You'll never embarrass your teenager again. At least, not while you're all on vacation.
Just book one of the growing number of hotels, resorts and cruises that give teens their own tour guides and lounges, with dance clubs, theater classes, spa treatments, video arcades and more. You and your offspring need meet only at meals -- and maybe not even then.
Even Club Med, once synonymous with swinging singles in paradise, is catering to teens. Since 2005, this France-based chain of 80 resorts, which pioneered the all-inclusive concept, has opened nearly a dozen teen retreats at its clubs around the world. The latest will make its debut in May in Cancun, Mexico.
Although some hotels and ships have provided youth activities for years, they're adding student concierges and separate teen spaces to cope with the growth in family travel since Sept. 11.
When school's out, teens may make up 20 percent or more of guests at a resort or on a cruise ship. The point of Club Med's new teen lounges is not just to do activities but also to hang out and socialize.
"It's all about the scene," Cedric Gobilliard, Club Med's chief executive in North America, said of his chain's Passworld lounges. "It's about relationships. No kids. No parents. It's their own space."
Club Med launched such lounges worldwide after a skateboard-themed teen area called the Ramp, opened in 2005, proved popular at Club Med Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Each Passworld club, aimed at guests ages 11 to 17, has its own name and theme.
At the recently renovated Club Med Cancun Yucatan, the Wash Station will mimic a carwash and mechanic's shop, with five retro-style Volkswagen Beetles and a dance floor spouting a fog-like spray. At the Club Med in Sestriere in the Italian Alps, it's all about movies, with a studio, a mini-cinema and a backstage VIP area.
Although parents are banished from these teen hideouts, their denizens don't go unsupervised. Younger professional staffers, all age 21 or older, oversee Passworlds.
Striking the right balance between autonomy and control is "difficult," Gobilliard said. "Teens want to be free, while the parents don't want them to be totally free."
Each hotel or cruise line that offers youth programs deals with this in its own way. A sampling of what's out there:
Many bigger ships offer teen lounges. Some examples:
Royal International has the Living Room for hanging out and the Fuel nightclub for dancing, along with activities such as teen dinners, karaoke and soon Scratch DJ classes on its Liberty of the Seas, which debuts next month.
Disney Cruise Line's teen areas, called Aloft on Disney Wonder and the Stack on Disney Magic, offer big-screen TVs, video games and Internet cafes. Two years ago, Magic got a lounge for 'tweens, ages 10 to 14, called Ocean Quest. Holland America Line for three years has been retrofitting ships with teen lounges called the Loft, most linked to sundecks with wading pools and juice bars.
You won't find many separate areas for youths, but special concierges and tours are catching on.
During the December holidays, the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Hawaii offered its first teen concierge program. Seniors from Kauai High School's Academy of Hospitality & Tourism staffed a desk for young guests, coordinating activities such as lei-making, a Hawaiian-themed sports competition and a screening of the surfing movie Blue Crush.
The Sheraton offered a similar program in March for spring break, said general manager Angela Vento.
Utah's Park City Mountain Resort began deploying in December what it calls "ride guides," local teens who lead young guests on ski and snowboard excursions.
At Four Seasons Resort Whistler near Vancouver, Canada, Ben Podborski, 17, son of Olympic medalist skier Steve Podborski, heads up a three-member concierge team that suggests activities to teen and younger guests from Thursdays through Sundays.
Four Seasons has similar concierges in Chicago, London and New York, and plans to employ them this summer at its Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills.
The Four Seasons Hotel New York, which originated the chain's program in summer 2005, is checking in more teens these days because family travel is up 40 percent since 2001, said spokeswoman Leslie Lefkowitz.
Catering to teens solves several problems for hoteliers and cruise lines.
"If the teens are not happy, no one is happy," said Gobilliard, explaining the dynamics of family trips.
For some companies, it's a question of helping youths socialize -- but not while underfoot.
"On ships where we didn't have the Loft, kids were hanging out on the stairs," said Erik Elvejord, spokesman for Holland America Line.
Looking ahead, companies see these programs as opportunities to groom customers.
"We started this [teen concierge] program to ensure that our teen guest, who will be our future guest, has the best experience possible," said Samantha Geer, spokeswoman for Four Seasons hotels in Whistler and Vancouver.
Jane Engle writes for the Los Angeles Times.