Fun for all the family

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 November, 2008, 12:00am

Gone are the days when taking children on holiday risked glares from childless diners and temper tantrums or tears of boredom when the little ones tired of the dream family getaway.

As parents seek daily activities to keep their youngsters occupied, while they enjoy a well-deserved break, family holidays have become a key market that the travel industry overlooks at its peril.

The pastimes created these days are so creative that mums and dads, who had entrenched themselves in the kids-free zones with poolside paperbacks, sunbed beverages and shopping trips, will look with envy at what the children are up to.

There are cookery classes, yoga, circus schools, treasure hunts, snorkelling, beach volleyball and beach bonfires for older youngsters, while tots and toddlers are tended to by professional child-minders as you take those scuba-diving lessons or relax on the beach for a few hours.

A change in attitudes has encouraged the larger resorts to focus on families and ensure the holiday experience is an inclusive and enjoyable one. In Asia, this is always a welcome trend as it blends naturally with communities where a sincere welcome for families is customary.

Hotels that have long targeted the business traveller, by enhancing the services they provide, are now directing as much energy into catering to the needs of families.

Vincent Ong, brand director for Sheraton Asia-Pacific, said: 'Business travellers also have families. We develop experiences for what our guests want to fit with their lifestyle, so at Sheraton we have been constantly focusing on families as well.'

No longer are upmarket resorts merely associated with the stuffiness of 'cool, chic' couples and singletons. Children are now becoming a priority, especially when the attractions nearby are fun theme parks, and resorts compete for bookings during the mid-term and summer breaks.

Mr Ong said Sheraton Adventure Clubs for children had been piloted at resorts in Japan and the Maldives, with the Sheraton Sanya set to prove a big attraction.

Among the companies that have been leading the way in family-centred holidays is Club Med with programmes for ages ranging from infants to teenagers. Its Baby Welcome service is available at resorts in Bali, Bintan Island, Cherating Beach, Lindeman Island, Phuket and Kabira. Limited places at Petit Club Med ensure toddlers receive individual attention on nature walks and outdoor games. A healthy lunch is followed by an afternoon nap before activities begin again until 5pm. From 7.30pm, mums and dads have an opportunity for more respite when the little ones can take part in storytelling and singing.

Children aged four to 10 have the chance to expend some energy on Mini Club Med's games and creative activities. Circus classes, such as monocycling, clowning and rollerblading, are provided under expert guidance. The wow factor really kicks in for the older children with Juniors Club Med's rollerblading, catamaran tuition, trapeze theatre and more.

Beach holidays mean keeping an eye on the children - but that doesn't have to mean you can't relax. JW Marriott Phuket Beach Club offers villas alongside the quiet Mai Khao Beach, next to Sirinath Marine National Park, that are chosen because they are off limits to hawkers and touts.

The Maze (Marriott's Activity Zone Experience) offers classes in Thai cooking, dancing, language, an introduction to Thai Buddhism, massage, and arts and crafts. Choices also extend to kickboxing, origami, fruit carving, water sports, meditation and fitness. The resort's expanded children's pavilion features separate tots and teens sections.

Further signs that children are prevailing when it comes to luxury holidays can be seen with the One&Only brand, which has resorts in the Maldives, Mauritius, Cape Town, Dubai and elsewhere.

Its Kids Only Club at Reethi Rah in the Maldives caters to children aged four to 11 and offers fun outdoor activities including drama workshops, snorkelling and windsurfing. Youngsters can also learn how to make their own pizzas, cookies, snacks and ice-cream toppings at organised cookery classes.