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Thu 10 Jul 2008 04:00 AM

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A family affair

With many family-friendly products on the market, it's not hard to find a holiday that keeps mum, dad and the kids happy, says Selina Denman.

With many family-friendly products on the market, it's not hard to find a holiday that keeps mum, dad and the kids happy, says Selina Denman.

With colourful festivals, mammoth theme parks, lively kids clubs and exciting wildlife experiences on offer, junior jet-setters have never had it so good - and selling a family holiday has never been so straightforward.

For Etihad Holidays, the "big five" family destinations are Geneva, London, Paris, Malaysia and Thailand, says general manager, Tony Gauci.

He predicts that Malaysia's diversity will make it Etihad Holidays' top seller for 2008.

With so many destinations worldwide offering family activities, junior jet-setters have never had it so good.

"Malaysia has some of the best shopping centres in the world; it's safe and attractions and entertainment facilities are easily accessible. For ex-pats there are also the family resorts, which are almost destinations in their own right," he explains.

Verena Hartmann, senior product development executive at Dubai's Al Rostamani Travel and Holidays, is witnessing high demand for mountain excursions in Austria and Switzerland, sightseeing and shopping in the UK and theme parks in France and Germany. The Asian stalwarts of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are also performing well, she notes.

Closer to home, a number of regional destinations are proving their mettle with both local and ex-pat families. Gauci anticipates that regional travel will become more popular as families take a greater number of shorter holidays during the year, as opposed to the traditional three-week-long hiatus.

"Professionals tend not to take long holidays anymore. It is becoming more difficult to leave your office for three weeks. Instead, they take a lot of shorter breaks - a week here and a week there. And if you are taking shorter breaks, you don't necessarily want to spend 14 hours flying, so anywhere within a four-hour flying range is going to benefit.

"Therefore, I see the GCC and the Middle East being big growth markets for Etihad Holidays."

The tour operator has launched a major promotion encouraging ex-pats living in the UAE to take advantage of their time in the Middle East by visiting regional destinations such as Oman, Jordan and Egypt.

Research by Afkar Marketing Company, Oman Tourism's representative in the GCC, confirms that many families are choosing to take either an additional break in the region before or after their main, long-haul holiday, or are replacing the long-haul trip with a number of shorter, regional breaks.

There is also a growing trend of families wanting to ‘travel around' together, with cruise and rail holidays emerging as popular options, says John Flower, product manager at Alpha Holidays Dubai.

"Cruise sales have skyrocketed in recent times and the interest has been from families," he explains. And there are a whole host of other family options to consider, Flower insists.

"One that I think is often overlooked is Ireland. And to spread the wings a little further, Australia and New Zealand should be on everyone's agenda. The two destinations complement each other and cater extremely well to families. Another that I think all families should consider, if for no other reason than to give the kids an education and an experience of a lifetime, is a game reserve in Africa."

The Middle East

Dubai:Now in its 11th year, Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) is promising ‘Tens of Surprises' with a new activity being introduced every other day for the duration of the 65-day shopping and family entertainment extravaganza. Festivities end on August 22.

Emirates Airline has launched DSS packages with prices starting from as little as AED 228 ($62) per person. Visitors can choose from 24 hotels for a minimum of three nights. Packages include meet-and-assist at Dubai International Airport, an Arabian Adventures Welcome Pack and chauffeur-driven airport transfers.

Oman:Families seeking respite from the heat should head to Salalah for the monsoon season. The Salalah Tourism Festival is taking place from July 15 to August 31, with "plenty of activities planned for children, from natural wonders such as walking in the rainy mist in the mountains and marvelling at the natural waterfalls, to concerts, theatre productions and craft activities", says Mark Senior, director of Afkar Marketing.

Those looking for soft adventure experiences should visit Al Hoota Cave, trek along mountain trails or head down to the sea for snorkelling, diving, deep sea fishing, boat trips and dolphin watching. Alternatively, families can head to Ras al Hadd, where giant turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The area's Ras Al Jinz project was inaugurated in June and features a five-star lodge as well as educational and leisure facilities.

Shangri-La's Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa in Muscat is offering GCC residents a Family Fun package for the summer months.

The offer includes one night at either the Al Waha or Al Bandar hotel with the option of a second room or a second night at half the price.

Europe

Germany:The resort town of Ruhpolding in upper Bavaria is home to its own amusement park, Germany's first wave pool and the Primal Ocean, an open-air, salt-water pool.

In winter, visitors have four skiing areas, winter hiking paths, a toboggan run and an indoor ice arena at their disposal.

Located in Guenzburg, South Germany, Legoland offers more than 50 attractions in eight themed areas. Kids can see how Lego blocks are produced in The Legoland factory or visit Miniland, where more than 50 million blocks were used to build miniature replicas of famous cities.

A five-hour train ride from Munich and home to nine rollercoasters, Europa-Park is the largest theme park in Germany. Alpha Holidays is offering a three-night package to the park, with a lead in price of AED 1900 ($517) per person, based on a twin share in a four-star hotel. This includes daily buffet breakfast with Euro Mouse and her friends, one full day VIP theme park ticket per overnight and free use of the pool, sauna and wellness facilities.

The Uk:Families heading to London can book a deluxe room at Rocco Forte's Brown's Hotel and receive another interconnecting or adjacent deluxe room for free. Prices for the Family Affair package start from £499 ($981) for up to two adults and two children per night, including continental breakfast. Kids even receive a complimentary copy of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, which was originally written in one of the hotel's suites. Ireland:Dublin offers a city experience as well as extensive parks for children to explore. Grafton Street, the Museum of Natural History and Dublin Zoo are some of its most popular attractions.

Families can visit the south-east coast with its unspoilt beaches or the picturesque Killarney in the south-west. "Many families like to drive around the island and explore. Ireland is the perfect destination for a self-drive holiday as it is small and easy to get around. Journeys are short and broken by many attractions along the way," says Aiveen Ryan, account manager at Tourism Ireland in the GCC.

VisitBritain, Tourism Ireland and Al Futtaim Travel have launched the Tale of Two Cities package, which encourages UAE travellers to visit Glasgow and Dublin in one go. Available until September 30, the package is priced from AED 4999 ($1361). France:Combine a visit to Paris with a trip to EuroDisney, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. A host of new attractions have been introduced to mark the occasion.

Al Rostamani Travel and Holidays is offering a three-night package to Disneyland Paris, which includes return flights to Paris, accommodation in a three-star hotel, breakfast, park tickets and travel insurance.

Prices start from AED 3890 ($1059) per person but children under the age of seven stay and play for free.

Italy:Rocco Forte's Hotel de Russie in Rome will help families tackle the historic city's countless attractions by providing a private, multi-lingual guide who can tailor itineraries around specific interests. For between one and three people, this will cost EUR 75 ($116) per hour, with a minimum booking time of two hours. For an alternative view of the city, visitors can rent a horse and carriage for EUR 200 ($310) per hour.

Alpha Holidays is running the eight-day Art Cities of Italy by Train tour, which starts in Rome and moves on to Florence, Venice and Milan. The tourist-class package is priced from AED 3555 ($968) per person.

Rail Holidays:"See the landscape; don't just fly over it," says Ian Campbell, sales support manager at ACP Rail International, a global distributor of rail products that works with leading railways in Europe, Scandinavia and the UK.

"It's a green way of travelling, you can go in and out of towns without having to transfer, it's relaxing, you can walk around and there is often a restaurant available," he continues.

For families, the benefits include less stress, more space and a host of special offers.

With BritRail, one child goes free with every adult paying a full fare.

South Africa

Families can head down to the coastal town of Hermanus in the Western Cape for a beach holiday with a twist, while Hermanus boasts the best land-based whale watching in the world. Other popular coastal towns are Plettenberg Bay, St Lucia and Margate.

The Pilanesberg National Park is a two-hour drive from Johannesburg and offers potential sightings of the Big Five - elephants, lions, buffaloes, leopards and rhinos.

Alternatively, head to the Southern Kruger National Park, where entry into the park costs around ZAR 120 ($15).

Etihad Holidays' is offering a three-day South Africa package to Johannesburg and Sun City.

With a lead in price of AED 4195 ($1142) per person based on twin sharing, the package includes return Coral Economy Class flights, free transfers and accommodation with breakfast.

Australia

Queensland:With 42km of beaches, Australia's largest expanse of calm water, 300 days of sunshine per year, a water temperature of 22ºC rainforests, theme parks, shopping and nightlife, The Gold Coast has been named as one of the best places in the world to live - and visit.

Centrally located between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Dreamworld and Whitewater World are home to countless attractions. Nickelodeon Central at Dreamworld alone boasts 17 different rides based on Nickelodeon cartoon characters. The most recent, a SpongeBob FlyPants ride, was introduced at the end of June.

Etihad Holidays is offering three-night packages to Australia's Gold Coast from AED 4,675 ($1,272), based on two people sharing a twin room. Prices for three-night packages to Sydney and Brisbane start at AED 3575 ($973). Asia

Singapore:Sentosa Island, Underwater World and the Night Safari are favoured attractions for families, says Jason Ong, Singapore Tourism Board's area director for the Middle East and Africa. He also recommends Singapore Zoo. "Set in a rainforest environment, Singapore Zoo's world famous ‘open concept' is particularly popular with Middle Eastern families, as the zoo provides them with the opportunity to connect with nature in a fun and interactive way."

Another unmissable experience is a 30-minute ride on the Singapore Flyer, which was inaugurated earlier this year and is the world's largest observation wheel.

Book three nights at the five-star St Regis Singapore and receive a second room for half price with Dnata Holidays. The package starts from AED 6630 ($1805) per person and includes return economy class flights between Dubai and Singapore, three nights in a deluxe room, breakfast and transfers.

Sri Lanka:SriLankan Holidays is giving away a free holiday to every child under the age of 12 accompanying an adult on a SriLankan Holidays package. The Kids Go Free offer is valid until August and prices start at AED 3050 ($830) from Dubai and AED 2360 ($642) from Abu Dhabi. Malaysia:Kuala Lumpur, with its Arab Street, Arabic newspapers and five-star serviced apartments, is an obvious starting point for families from the region. Langkawi, Penang, The Genting Highlands, Sunway Lagoon, Malacca - A Famosa Resort, Sabah and the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia are recommended for those wanting to venture further afield.

Famous for its onsite orang-utan orphanage, Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah is offering children between the ages of eight and 16 the opportunity to be a ‘Ranger for the Day' and assist staff with the feeding of baby orang-utans.

Al Rostamani Travel and Holidays is offering a five-night package to Malaysia, which includes three nights in Kuala Lumpur and two in the Genting Highlands, where families can enjoy world-class theme parks and hiking expeditions into the surrounding rainforest. Prices start from AED 3500 ($952) based on twin sharing basis in a four-star hotel. Five-star accommodation options are also available.

Airline services for kidsProvided by most international airlines on long-haul flights:

Priority boarding for families with kids

Buggies up until the aircraft door

Bassinettes

Special meals for kids

Children's television channels and games

Emirates Airline:

Complimentary baby stroller service at Dubai International Airport for passengers either arriving or in transit

Brightly coloured headsets for younger passengers

Interactive games

Exclusive children's magazines filled with stories, jokes, puzzles and fun facts

A cake for kids travelling on their birthday

Changing tables on all planes

QatarAirways:

Extra legroom and space afforded to families (request to be placed when booking)

Bassinette seats with safe cot equipment

Oryx Flyer backpacks crammed with gifts

Gulf Air:

Specially trained Sky Nannies help with boarding and disembarkation, arrange convenient dining times, set up bassinets, distribute activity packs and keep an eye on younger travellers throughout the flight

The Sky Nanny service has been extended to cover the lounge at Bahrain International Airport, where Sky Nannies are on hand between 08:00 and 14:00 each day

Baby food, nappies, baby powder, baby lotion, baby wipes, baby bib and cotton bud packs available onboard

Complimentary toys and games provided

Virgin Atlantic:

New infant/child seats for newborns, infants and children weighing up to 20kg

Some toilets fitted with changing facilities

Up to 35 Nintendo games

Parental block system on entertainment channels

Children leaving the UK receive a Virgin Atlantic K-iD pack, filled with gifts

British Airways:

The dedicated Skyflyers scheme includes discounts for children and infants

Online check-in for the entire family - groups of six can be checked in as one transaction.

Onboard bottle warming and baby-food warming facilities.

Feed kids first policy

Activity packs

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