Tots to Travel is a holiday company with a difference - they specialise in child-friendly holidays so parents and kids can have the best time abroad. We took some time out to talk to Wendy Shand, who founded the company, about why the company was started and why child-friendly holidays are such a good idea.
What made you decide to set up Tots to Travel? Did you have a bad experience abroad with your children which made you think ‘I could do better than this?’
We launched Tots To Travel after my two-year-old son Barnaby fell into an unenclosed swimming pool while on a much-needed family holiday. Luckily, Barnaby was safely fished back out, but it started a vision that has taken baby and toddler holidays to a new level.
I could see that there was a gap in the market to deliver genuinely family friendly holidays accommodation. We found that the holiday companies and accommodation owners that deemed themselves child-friendly could only offer us a high chair and a cot, which doesn't even come close to being family-friendly. It meant that we had to lug around all the baby paraphernalia that comes with having young children. This just made our holidays stressful and packing a nightmare!
We set up Tots To Travel with parents in mind. We wanted to provide families with a truly stress-free child-friendly holiday experience, with peace of mind and excellent customer service at its forefront.
What do you think parents are looking for from a child-friendly holiday? Pool safety, peace, a babysitting service?
Family holidays are about spending quality time together and is what most parents will imagine when dreaming up their next trip away. The reality can be very different when holidaying with young children, especially if you don’t have your needs met. This is the difference between a good and a bad holiday.
I think parents are looking for child-friendly facilities that offer them peace of mind, allowing them to spend more time relaxing and less time fretting. So, on top of excellent locations, a safe pool, child-safe accommodation, childcare/ baby-sitting facilities, and an essential kit of baby items are all part and parcel of a child-friendly holiday experience.
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Do you personally visit and vet all the locations and hotels on your list, or do you have a team dedicated to finding the best places?
In the early days I visited every single villa and cottage myself (poor me, eh?!). So, for example, I used to beetle around the French countryside visiting châteaux and gites, meeting owners and vetting accommodation. While I still do some visits, the team has grown so I don’t get out as much as I used to.
What many families perhaps don’t realise is that the visiting and vetting part of what we do is so crucial to the success of a family holiday, particularly now with the increasing incidents of holiday fraud. We use that time to do child safety checks, like measuring the gap between balcony railings, meeting the owner and checking the support levels. Location and quality are vital components of a holiday which need to be checked; they're crucial elements that go towards creating a successful holiday.
Have you ever received a request or a query from a customer and you’ve thought ‘That’s a step too far – we take safety seriously, but I’m not sure that’s necessary?’
I think we offer a lot more in terms of safety than people expect, so as yet we’ve not received any requests or queries. But if we did we would always try and help accommodate a customers needs where possible.
We love hearing from families who have been away with us. We can visit and vet properties to our heart’s content but it’s the families who properly experience what it is like to be there. Meanwhile, every set of parents has their own unique set of challenges and if you’ve got a strong willed 4-year-old determined to climb everything in sight, that’s very different from a family with a quiet book worm.
We are clear that we are not creating padded cells; we’re creating family friendly environments out of beautiful and often historic properties in the same way as one would at home.
Do you think it’s easier to cater for families with babies, or with toddlers/children?
Parents with babies six months and under are fairly easy to cater for in terms of equipment and facilities needed, even more so if mum is breastfeeding. Once you start to wean your baby then more kit is required, including hand blenders, plastic cutlery and high chairs.
Once your little one starts toddling it can get a little more challenging. Now it’s a case of considering barriers around the pool, enclosed gardens, stair gates, bed guards and potties on top of some of the other bits and pieces they were likely to need as young babies, such a changing mat, a bath mat and black-out blinds. Naturally, this is all the stuff that we take into account to ensure you have a relaxed and stress free holiday!
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Do you get a lot of new families taking ‘babymoons’, or couples turning up a few months before their child is born?
Yes, we get a lot of customers booking a babymoon or a nice relaxing trip before the baby arrives. Because we’ve thought of everything when it comes to booking a holiday with a baby, it’s much less daunting for parents who are contemplating going on holiday with a newborn.
We even once had a dad phone from the labour suite to say that his baby had arrived and now he’d like to book his holiday!
Why do you think parents book with you, and your business is so popular? Are parents tending to base their holiday around their children, instead of expecting children to fit in around their plans?
From day one I've built the business to provide the type of holiday and level of customer service wanted as a mother of three and couldn't find! So it’s been about finding the best villas and cottages, in the best locations, kitted up properly for families and as safe as possible with knowledgeable, friendly customer service at times to suit mums and dads.
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What’s the nicest feedback you've ever received?
I love hearing that families have had 'the best holiday ever' and that they’ll be back next time having told all their friends! I know I’ve done a good job when I hear that!
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
It has to be the many wonderful reviews that we receive on a daily basis from happy customers. Knowing that we’ve been able to give hundreds of families the holiday experience they deserve, with lots of wonderful memories to take away with them, means we are doing our job. It makes everything we do so worthwhile.