10 YEARS TOUR OPERATOR FOR FAMILY REISEN
An interview on the anniversary with Rainer Stoll and Nadja Albrecht
Rainer Stoll, you have been offering family trips with your tour operator travel-to-nature since 2000 - how did you come up with the idea of group trips for families?
Rainer: "I can tell you exactly why I will never forget it. I was sitting at the airport in Mumbai and once again had an 18-hour layover ahead of me. It was incredibly hot and I would much rather have been with my family and done something with my children. So I thought: 'That's not possible, you should be able to take the children with you!' At that time, I tested a lot of new trips myself and then thought about just taking my kids with me on the next trip!
So for our next family trip, we traveled to Costa Rica with our kids (3 and 5 years old at the time), simply advertised this trip as a family group trip and brought the first guests along. That worked incredibly well because the Ticos are very family friendly and so that's how we did the first family trip.
So, the original idea was just like it is today: to offer a round trip tailored to the needs of children. At that time, we did it in a rudimentary way because we were still in our infancy, but we stuck to our initial principles of short transfer times, rooms and accommodations with pools, local guides, and the highest possible safety precautions, etc."
Which destinations did you have in your portfolio and why? Which criteria did you apply?
Rainer: "So we did the first family trip in Costa Rica because I know my way around there very well. I knew that it was safe to do a family trip there and I already knew all the tour guides from previous trips. Costa Rica is a great country to design a family trip in without any difficulty. You have to imagine that at that time, of course, it was completely uncharted territory to take children on trips to exotic countries like Costa Rica. Many thought it was a no-go and told me I was crazy because traveling there was life-threatening...
After we had been to Costa Rica, we traveled to Ecuador and India. After that, we quickly added Nepal, Malaysia and Borneo, Namibia and South Africa - when we were there, the kids were still around 10 years old."
How did everything start with For Family Reisen? When did For Family Reisen move to Cologne and why?
Rainer: "Our special trips for adults with a focus on nature, which we offer at travel-to-nature, and family trips, as we know them from For Family Reisen, can hardly be marketed together, as the unique selling points of both providers would be completely lost and the target groups are different. That's why I founded For Family Reisen in 2013 and Nadja Albrecht took over the management directly - first in her home office and then later with the team in Cologne."
Nadja: "Exactly, Rainer had first brought me on board primarily for sales and marketing. First, I built the For Family Reisen website and created the first catalog. After my second parental leave, at the beginning of 2016, the official move from southern Germany to Cologne took place and, as managing partner, I also gradually took over the management of all other company divisions.
The then still small For Family Reisen team moved with 5 employees to me on the Rhine, where we had set up the office in a small granny apartment at our house. Meetings often took place in our living room or in the garden. By the way, Kathrin Siebenand was already on board, the only colleague who had already worked for Rainer in the travel-to-nature office and is still with For Family Reisen today as the most experienced Senior Sales & Product Manager. In 2018, we then moved to a larger office in the west of Cologne, where we now work in a beautiful, modern office."
Rainer: "It was honestly not easy for me to completely let go of For Family Reisen at that time, as family travel was already a heart project of mine and still is. But it was definitely the right decision for For Family Reisen, because to strengthen the operator and establish it as the leading specialist for long-distance travel with children, it needed Nadja's leadership."
What were the highlights of the For Family Reisen company history? What were the biggest milestones? What are you particularly proud of?
Nadja: "In the beginning, everything was very close to private family life for me when we still had the small office. Moving to our current office was a big step for me and simply a special moment that made me quite proud to have also built a successful company as a mother of two small children."
Rainer: "For me, the highlight is always traveling with children itself. Especially on the pilot trips, when we tested out new itineraries, my kids became real travel experts and tried out quite a few things, participated and learned for their life's journey."
Nadja: "The catalog every year at For Family Reisen is also always a beautiful moment, because in that moment you always see the company's history passing by again. Every year the catalog got thicker because new trips were added, that's also nice to experience."
Which challenges did you have to overcome? What didn't work out at all?
Nadja: "We will definitely never lose sight of the pandemic, that was the worst imaginable scenario that could have happened and did happen. But how the team handled it, how everyone stuck together to make For Family Reisen survive that crisis, that still goes a long way with me! Our team achieved an incredible number of things at that time, we talked to all the guests personally and then persevered through times of short-time work, digesting setbacks and uncertainties again and again... you just don't forget that! Through these shared experiences and difficult times, we have found a completely different approach to each other and the mutual respect, trust and appreciation has become even greater."
Rainer: "True, For Family Reisen really has a great team!"
Nadja: "There was nothing that really went wrong. However, it was always difficult for us to get Germany trips going. Even the family trips to Chile and Argentina, which we planned with a lot of optimism, are unfortunately not booked as well as we would have hoped, but these are probably more trekking destinations for young adults. The flight connections are also simply very long for children for a 14-day vacation."
Why should families travel with For Family Reisen? What sets the tour operator apart?
Nadja: "At For Family Reisen, our focus is always on what children need when they travel together with other children and their families, or what parents and children want when they travel individually. Rainer's idea that families travel together in a group and children have more fun with like-minded people is still our approach. On our group trips, we focus on an exciting program that includes less culture and more encounters with locals and hands-on activities. We place great emphasis on adventure, action and sporting activities. In addition, we try to keep transfer distances as short as possible and avoid unnecessary stops, stay in locally run accommodations when possible, and be accompanied by well-trained local guides during the trip.
As before, we are always working to implement these principles as best as possible with high quality in all destinations.
The offer of individual private tours, which we have greatly expanded in recent years, was not a focus of For Family Reisen in the beginning. In the meantime, individual rental car tours or private tours with your own guide are very important to us and we have tested all routes ourselves. So we know that the trip as well as the accommodations are suitable for families and we have reliable local partners that we know personally. With our partners we are in close exchange and many have become friends over time. They are available to our guests as contact persons with advice and support in case something should happen on site."
Rainer: "The topic of sustainability on trips has also become super important in the meantime, we already attached importance to this when we founded the company."
You are travel experienced parents yourselves! Why is traveling with children important? What experiences have you had yourselves?
Rainer: "Robert Habeck, a German politician from the Green Party, recently said at a conference that traveling is the opposite of war. I agree with that, because you become so much more tolerant, you get to know the people in other countries and their culture, you learn to respect them, and you show them a greater appreciation.
Empathy is trained in both children and adults when you visit local projects, like our children's aid project Mammadù in Namibia, and you see with your own eyes how children live or go to school in other countries. However, you mustn't confuse traveling here with a 14-day all-inclusive vacation on the beach or a cruise, where you don't really experience the country at all and the added value doesn't arrive in the country but only at international chains - what we do are family adventure trips. My own children continue to travel that way today, simply because it's interesting and, of course, they enjoy it."
Nadja: "I can confirm that and I am sure my children have gained a very wide and open horizon through traveling. My children always play with the local children, no matter in which country and without speaking the same language. Most recently in Cuba, they just joined the kids of the village and played soccer in the street for hours. When you witness a moment like that as a parent, you really realize that these trips are worthwhile. The children also often gain a certain understanding of political contexts and what everyday life is really like in other countries. On trips with For Family Reisen, the children don't just see tourist dream worlds. In addition, children learn a lot from local guides about nature and wildlife and what we can do to ensure that the animals there continue to have a place to live; this is also related to tourism in some places.
Such impressions and experiences are hopefully formative and stay in the children's minds, even if they can't remember everything, of course. And I think it's really good for the kids and for you when you're exposed to adventure, have to get involved in a new environment and don't always just stay at home in your homecountry - you become open to new things and also learn to deal with uncertain situations sometimes."
Rainer: "My children say the same thing and they are glad that there was no cell phone back then when we did the first trips, because they could enjoy everything so much more. And you wouldn't believe all the things children can remember. They internalize some experiences like that because they were simply formative impressions for them."
Nadja: "Exactly, it's also impressions and experiences that weld us together as a family, because you face adventurous situations together that are sometimes not so easy to master. When you finally make it, you're really proud of yourself, for example when you're ziplining, on a strenuous hike, or when you finally spot a leopard on a safari."
Rainer: "That's right! When, on a game drive, a bull elephant suddenly passes very close to the open jeep, the atmosphere is already really crazy, everyone is as quiet as a mouse and admires the animals. It's true, the travel bug just won't let you go!"
What was the funniest experience during your travels?
Nadja: "When we were in Oman, it was quite hot and our son was 1 year old. He quickly learned the word "car" simply because he wanted to get into the car since there was air conditioning. Later our car had sand from the desert in the transmission and we had to constantly ask Omani to help us push so we could continue. They were totally helpful and it was really fun!"
What was your greatest trip with the family?
Rainer: "There are so many unique trips and destinations, such as Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands, because on Galápagos you can get very close to the animals. It's insane to snorkel with penguins in a wetsuit at 16°C and sea lions dive off next to you. Gorilla tracking in Uganda is also heart-stopping, and it's just goosebump moments when you want to see a very specific animal and end up spotting it."
Nadja: "Safaris are definitely something very special! But I also thought it was cool to plant our own tree in Costa Rica, I'm sure that's also one of the highlights for many families, along with spending the night at La Tigra Rainforest Lodge, which was after all founded and built by Rainer. When you meet the staff there and they tell you about the development of the project, you realize how important and valuable what you have built is. Such moments simply touch you!"
In addition to sustainability, social commitment has always played an important role at For Family Reisen. How does For Family Reisen make this commitment experienceable?
Nadja: "For example, our projects in Mammadù and Nepal allow our guests to experience where and how we are socially engaged. Our goals are to support a project on each trip and to work with excellent local partners and local guides who accompany the trip from start to finish."
Rainer: "travel-to-nature is currently trying to set up a chimpanzee project in Uganda, and when that's finished, tour groups from For Family Reisen are sure to stop by.
On the Estonia for family trip, we also work with one of the best conservationists there is probably in the whole Baltics, and it's quite a great thing that we visit the bear observation hut there, which allows the whole area there to be protected. But often we are also interested in the small animals and details, not always just the well-known attractions that you should definitely have seen."
Nadja: "For Family Reisen definitely benefits from all the projects that Rainer has developed as an eco-pioneer in tourism and that we can visit."
Which travel trends do you see coming? What is especially popular with families this year?
Nadja: "With us, individual family trips have gained significantly in recent years! In addition, we have also included many European destinations in our program, because multi-activity trips in particular are very much in demand among families in Europe. These are two major trends that we have observed in recent years. After Corona, Asia is finally interesting again, which I'm really happy about, because our partners there, for example in Sri Lanka, really had to endure a long dry spell."
Rainer: "That's right, furthermore, trips to nature are very popular, but For Family Reisen has been offering that from the very beginning."
Which destinations are still on your own bucket list?
Rainer: "I will be 60 years old this year and am currently planning our trip to Botswana. Botswana is one of my favorite countries because there is still wilderness without fences and wild animals. My family and I will be traveling around the country for four weeks in a rooftop tent."
Nadja: "We will travel to Nepal during the Easter holidays, that's a real highlight this year, I'm really looking forward to it!"
A glance into the future: What are For Family Reisen's goals for the coming years?
Nadja: "We would like to expand our product portfolio in South America, for example, offer family trips to Colombia, Panama and Nicaragua. Also, the national parks in the USA we have not yet in the program, that is also a consideration. We now have almost 60 countries in our portfolio, and we started with 15, which is quite a lot!
But it doesn't always have to be a new destination, because it is also an ever-present goal to continuously revise and optimize our trips. We are constantly working on optimizing our trips and always try to pay attention to the details - often with the help of the feedback guests send us after their trip."
If you had one wish for For Family Reisen - what would it be?
Rainer: "I would like to see For Family Reisen launch its own species conservation or moorland protection project, which we could offer families as a compensation model to reduce their ecological footprint. I'd find that super awesome, but it's also not that easy to do."
Nadja: "I wish for two things at once: Families who return enthusiastic from their trip, and a happy team in Cologne. It is very important to me that my employees are happy. Many of our travel experts are also mothers, and I know from my own experience that it's not always easy to reconcile children and career. That's why we're as flexible as possible and attach great importance to a good work-life balance."
Which customer feedback do you remember most?
Rainer: "One feedback from guests of For Family Reisen was: 'It was a great trip, but now I'd like to have a little vacation.'"
Nadja: "I always think it's great when really long-term friendships form between children and parents on trips who have met each other there for the first time. Some families plan the next family trip with us together right afterwards. That's a really great feeling when you find out that two families are starting their next adventure together."