Tourism operators are beginning to take note of an increasingly outspoken niche market: would-be travelers who think holidays and screaming kids don’t mix. In Germany, several hotels have taken the bold step of instituting “no children allowed” policies.
Quiet. That's the magic word on the Internet chat rooms where users go to get tips on places to vacation where they won't be disturbed by the screeching, bawling, jabbering, and incessant running around of infants and young children.
To get as far away from kiddie noise as possible, people use these virtual forums to exchange tips. One Internet user urges people to choose five-star hotels. "Generally, families with young children don't have the money to stay in them," he writes. Others recommend spas, renting a holiday apartment, or booking vacations outside of school holidays. Others disagree, noting that outside of school holidays "are a favorite time for parents with kids who aren't in school yet." The only unfriendly comment on the forum comes from a woman who writes: "So why don't you just fly to the moon, then."
Andreas Diefenbach is familiar with the issue. After all, he based his business model on it. Since 2007 he and his partner Astrid Stiefel have been running the Dolce Vita Hotel in Bodenmais in Bavaria. Diefenbach claims it's the only hotel in Bavaria, "and maybe even in all of Germany," that is guaranteed to be child-free: no children under 16 years of age are accepted.
The adjective is underlined on the hotel's home page. Diefenbach explains his "philosophy" this way: "If, as they say, children are the guests of the future – we'll wait until the future." Other hotels aren't so open about letting guests know they'd really prefer not to have children staying there, but may use terms like "Ü-14" or "Ü-18" to suggest that guests under 14 or 18 are not welcome.
There is definitely a market for child-free hotels. This spring, when hotel rating portal Holidaycheck asked users about such hotels, 41.6% said they are disturbed by the noise kids make and would welcome child-free hotels. Only 8.2% were categorically against the idea.
In Diefenbach‘s hotel they have "cuddle days' with rose petals in the rooms and candle-lit dinners. Couples attracted by this are a welcome addition to the older guests that usually favor the destination. Seeking R&R – and romance – the young couples usually book for a long week-end. As Diefenbach points out, children would ruin the vibe for both these couples and older guests.
However, he refuses to be branded as anti-children: he has four, two of his own, plus his partner's two kids. The youngest, a girl, is 14. "She has to sleep under the stairs and can only come out after dark," he jokes. Serious again, he says that the whole thing wouldn't be such an issue if more parents were considerate of others. "But there are some that encourage their kids to leave the table and run all over the restaurant – they might as well tell the kids ‘Go get on other peoples' nerves now, we want some time to enjoy our meal.""
Europe is lagging behind
From all this, one could surmise that holiday-makers disturbed by the noise of children are well-to-do, childless couples in their mid-40s, typical of what Heinz Hilgers, the president the German Child Protection Society (DKSB), calls the "non-child-oriented" generations. But it's not as simple as that. Diefenbach says 80% of his guests are parents "who just want to recharge their batteries." In most cases, their children stay with their grandparents while they get away for a few days. And there's definitely demand, he says: on average, his hotel is 70% booked out.
Tour operators have also discovered the market. In its online summer catalogue, for example, the German company Dertour had an "adults only" button. And leading operator Tui says it intends to develop child-free offers in view of demand.
What is very new is the openness on the subject. "Until now, hotels that discouraged children would put it in small print," says René Weiß. Since 2008, he has been running a website for people seeking child-free accommodation. And why not, he asks. After all, there are plenty of "family hotels," even "baby hotels."
Weiss has gathered the addresses of 283 hotels, pensions and resorts on his Internet site urlaub-ohne-kinder.info. In the Caribbean and Central America, child-free resorts have existed for a long time. Europe lags behind, he says, although he notes a trend in both Spain and the Canary Islands for child-free hotels. And market demand has been recognized by the Austrians for years, he adds, pointing to the Hotel Cortisen on Lake Wolfgang (Salzburg) that in 2005 decided not to admit children younger than 12 saying that they'd taken the decision in answer to "the wishes and needs of a modern, enlightened society."
Even DKSB head Hilgers says that a desire for a child-free holiday doesn't make people "enemies' of children. But he does view the growing trend with concern. In a future where parents will actually constitute a minority, he fears there will be fewer kid-friendly hotels "so you are in danger of discrimination."
On the other hand, Hilgers identifies with the problem, and advises parents to "go to places where there are a lot of other children." That, according to him, yields the most relaxation for adults in the end. Still, Hilgers himself admits he never went to hotels when his sons were young. "We rented holiday apartments. Trying to get three little boys to behave at the buffet table – well, I wouldn't have done that to myself."
Read the original story in German
Photo - Mr. T in DC