Choosing a hotel for a break away with the family should be a special experience from start to finish. But often hotels miss a trick or three when it comes to being really family friendly. So what can hotels do to up their game when it comes to families?

family hotels

This is a true story. For a big number birthday, my husband had planned a trip away to the UK but when we arrived at Shannon Airport it turned out we had missed the flight as he had got the time wrong. So at short notice we decided to book a hotel in Ireland to celebrate in, until we could rearrange our UK trip.

After some quick research, he found a suitable hotel that had rooms available, with photos that looked great. He called to book as he wanted to explain that it was for a special birthday and after a hiccup with flights, we had had to rearrange our plans at short notice. We were travelling with our 2 girls and they told us they had suitable accommodation for us. Upon arrival, we were shown into a dated room with a double bed, single bed and pull out bed all squashed in. It certainly looked nothing like the photos on their website! First disappointment.

Hubby went to reception and explained again that it was a special birthday and pointed out that the room was too squashed (never mind the terrible decor) but the only thing they could offer was for us to get interconnecting rooms but we would have to pay double the cost (never mind the fact that it was already late afternoon and they were unlikely to sell that 2nd room) so it was either accept that or disappoint everyone by leaving and driving a long drive home again. So second disappointment that we now are paying twice the money.

The meal at night in the hotel restaurant was one of those meals where everything nice cost extra, e.g. if you want a smoked salmon starter or a steak for your main then you’re going to have to pay a supplement. The kids menu was the usual chips with everything: chips, nuggets, burgers and more chips.. Third disappointment.

The kids club looked tired and dingy so my two refused to go in during our stay. Fourth disappointment.

The only highlight was the pool and leisure centre which had been upgraded recently. Other than that, we left that family hotel experience feeling uncared for, and quite frankly, ripped off.

I must have told minimum 50 people about our bad experience afterwards.

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What Would Have Made That Family Hotel Experience Better?

family hotels

Knowing that the occasion was a special one and that the booking was short notice due to something having gone wrong, the staff could easily have put us into a inter-connecting room for the same price as the tired family room. And we would have been delighted during the first moments of our stay.

They could have given us a bottle of wine and some sweets for the kids to say “happy birthday and welcome”.

They could have had a member of staff come meet us and show the kids what fun things there were in the hotel for them, while Mum and Dad got a chance to settle in.

They could have offered half portion options from the adult menu for the kids. And kept the adult menu simple with a set menu with no extras and an a la carte menu for those who wanted a different option.

They could have included information on the email when we booked to tell us about things to do while we were staying in that location.

These are just a few simple things that would have made that experience 100x better.

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What Matters to Parents When Booking Hotels?

We surveyed parents about family hotels and they shared with us that:

  • The number one top factor when choosing a family hotel is does it have a pool.
  • There are often issues with room size and the bed options available, particularly if you have more than 2 kids. Very few hotels that target families seem to have decent accommodation available at a reasonable cost.
  • Offers are always targeting 2 adults + 2 kids thereby meaning families with more than 2 kids are either immediately switched off that hotel or have to spend time contacting the hotel to find out what they can avail of
  • Kids activities at the hotel, and that includes kids club, are important to families but very few hotels give information to families staying about what’s near to the hotel. They seem to think that the family is just going to spend 48 hours inside the hotel doors and want to do nothing else. In all the times I have booked a hotel, I have never had a hotel confirm my booking and include ideas for things to do nearby.
  • Most hotels only market to school holidays, i.e. they only target parents of primary children (ref: kids clubs for up to 12 years). Parents of babies, parents of preschoolers, parents of teens don’t get messaging aimed at them.

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What Can Hotels Do To Up Their Game?

boy in hotel room

Yes, bunk beds and chill out zones and dedicated play spaces are all wonderful additions to a hotel to attract families, but here are some things that would not cost hotels much but would make the family hotel experience much better:

1. Offer a Kids Check in Experience

Give the children a check in experience that that makes them feel warm and fuzzy. This could be a little VIP check in seat while Mum and Dad are doing the paperwork etc. The Cork International Hotel Ireland has the end of their reception desk set up to be a kids’ check in space with small chairs and a form the kids have to “fill in”.

2. Give the Kids a Welcome Tour

Have a member of staff welcome the kids and give them a quick tour of the kids facilities while Mum and Dad settle in.

3. Offer Lots of Ideas to the Family for their Stay

  • Include information about things to do near the hotel on the email confirmation for the booking.
  • At check in offer to help them put together ideas or book them into nearby attractions.
  • Include a discount in their welcome pack for nearby attractions.
  • Give them a sheet with a few ideas of nearby playgrounds, parks, beaches etc

4. Make Sure There’s a Multiple USB Charger in the Room

Every family now has lots of devices, smartphones, iPad etc. So a multi USB charger in the room to charge up devices easily is very welcome.

5. Put Some Supplies in the Room

Put some nappies and wet wipes in the room for families with babies.

Actually wet wipes in every family room would be very welcome even if you don’t have a baby.

Leave a little packet of jellies on the pillow for kids instead of a chocolate with the turn down service.

Along with tea and coffee sachets, leave some little orange or apple juice cartons and some healthy snack packs.

Leave a bottle of wine and a nice snack in the room for Mum & Dad to enjoy when the kids are asleep.

6. Do a Kids’ Breakfast Club

Offer a Children’s Breakfast Club on Sunday mornings so kids can have breakfasts while Mum and Dad get a rare lie in

7. Offer Kids’ Entertainment Options in the Room

Extras like easy access to children’s movies or a board game in the room make families feel very welcome. Or deliver milk and cookies or popcorn in the evening.

8. Encourage Social Interaction

Ask families to take a picture of the thing they enjoyed best about their hotel stay and share it on their social media (for entry into a family break giveaway)

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It is the small things that matter when it comes to leaving a hotel feeling like it was a welcome, wonderful experience for you and the kids.

Over to you now. What’s your experience with family hotels? Anything that you loved (or hated)? Tell us in the comments below.