A recent survey conducted by Travel Leaders Group reveals that luxury travelers are most interested in exclusive access and experiences, particularly VIP tours, private cars and drivers, and customized culinary experiences.

Similarly, a survey by Virtuoso of its agent network late last year showed the desire for experiences that foster genuine human connection is another key driver for today’s travelers. Travelers are asking for everything from reaching the edge of space in a MiG-29 flight in Russia, to herding cattle in Australia, to hosting a celebration in a private capsule aboard the London Eye. They also seek rare accommodations such as an igloo in Norway, a private castle all to themselves, and sleeping under the stars in the desert – no tent required.

“Luxury travel today is all about access and individually tailored once-in-a-lifetime experiences made possible through relationships travel agents have built all over the world,” said Gail Grimmett, President of Travel Leaders Luxury Brands. “This high level of service, expertise and personalization is exactly what consumers are seeking.”

Examples of private, VIP-level experiences Travel Leaders Luxury Brands advisors have provided to clients include private villa or home stays and private beach or island bookings. For Virtuoso agents, five travel trends stand out for wealthy travelers seeking solutions on where to go and what to do in 2018:

  1. Coldshot. Seasoned travelers in search of fresh destinations are setting their sights on chillier climes. Iceland continues to surge in popularity, placing high in several Luxe Report categories this year. Cruisers are enthusiastic about Alaska, and adventurers about Antarctica and the Arctic. One trip of a lifetime is seeing the Northern Lights.
  2. Exploring new destinations is the year’s top trip motivator, and travelers are embracing the opportunity to push beyond their comfort zone. Travel advisors suggest that people check out at least one new place a year, and challenge themselves to try something unexpected during their sojourn: swim with marine life like dolphins or mantas, go zip-lining or ballooning, or take a helicopter tour.
  3. Connecting with family through travel. After topping the list of trends since 2010,multigenerational travel has firmly established itself as a travel niche. Following close behind is travel with immediate family, also a consistent trend that will carry forward in 2018. Whether renting a European villa for a celebration with loved ones, cruising to the Galapagos Islands, or snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, a family trip creates lifelong memories, strengthens bonds, and plays a pivotal role in childhood education.
  4. Experience Africa. From culturally rich South Africa, also 2018’s top adventure destination, to the wilds of Botswana and Kenya, to the souks of Morocco, Africa is one of the world’s most diverse continents. Virtuoso’s advisors say a safari is an integral part of the African experience, particularly with wildlife preservation a priority for today’s sustainably savvy travelers.
  5. Traveler rather than a tourist. Immersive experiences not found in a guidebook or brochure, opportunities to meet locals, wandering neighborhoods and making spontaneous discoveries are the best ways to experience a destination. Whether it is wine tasting, or learning a traditional craft or a new language, travelers will be seeking out the true culture of that area they are visiting.

luxury travel experiences

Trends in Vacation Time

With the focus on far-flung exotic destinations in 2018, they found luxury travelers are embarking on international trips of two weeks or longer.. Week-long international trips and three- to five-day domestic trips continue to be popular as well. What is surprising, though, is that Virtuoso advisors are also seeing more interest in shorter international trips, such as Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands in less than a week.

The Top Luxury Experiences in demand for 2018 are:

  • Exclusive (VIP) Tour – 66%
  • Private Car and Driver – 51%
  • Custom Culinary Experiences – 46%
  • Private Villas or Homes – 39%
  • Private Beach or Island – 25%

Key findings from the 2018 Virtuoso Luxe Report:

Top Travel Trends

  1. Multigenerational travel
  2. Active or adventure trips 3.
  3. River cruising
  4. Food and wine travel
  5. Celebration travel

Top Global Destinations

  1. Italy
  2. Iceland
  3. South Africa
  4. France
  5. Australia and New Zealand (tie)

Top Millennial Destinations

  1. Thailand
  2. Italy
  3. Iceland
  4. Costa Rica
  5. Australia and South Africa (tie)

Top Family Travel Destinations

  1. Italy
  2.  Mexico
  3. Orlando
  4. Hawaii
  5. Costa Rica

Top Cruise Itineraries

  1. Mediterranean
  2. Alaska
  3. European river
  4. Caribbean
  5. Greek Isles

Top Emerging Destinations

  1. Iceland
  2. Croatia
  3. Japan
  4. Cuba
  5. Portugal

Top Adventure Destinations

  1. South Africa
  2. Iceland
  3. New Zealand
  4. Costa Rica
  5. Antarctica

Top U.S. Destinations

  1. New York
  2. Maui, HI
  3. Miami/South Beach
  4. Las Vegas
  5. Napa Valley/Sonoma

Top Honeymoon Destinations

  1. Italy
  2. Maui
  3. French Polynesia
  4. Maldives
  5. Bali

Top Travel Motivations

  1. Exploring new destinations
  2. Crossing off bucket-list items
  3. Seeking authentic experiences
  4. Rest and relaxation
  5. Personal enrichment

Meanwhile, the Travel Leaders survey found the top three international destinations among luxury travelers to be European (river) cruising, Caribbean cruising, and Italy, with European/Mediterranean cruising and Mexico.

“River cruising continues to grow in popularity among our luxury travelers,” said Grimmett, “and we’re seeing the cruise industry rapidly expanding this year with new ships, routes and more family and singles-friendly options, to meet the demand of these high-end travelers. There is truly a ship for every type of luxury traveler.

The top 10 international destinations from the Travel Leaders 2018 survey:

European (River) Cruise

Caribbean Cruise


Europe (Mediterranean) Cruise


Dominican Republic



Europe (Baltic) Cruise



Costa Rica




South Africa


St. Lucia

Australia/New Zealand Cruise

Panama Canal Cruise




affluent travel

Best ways to approach these trips? Travel Leaders consultants’ tip tips:

  • “In London, I like to send clients to a behind-the-scenes experience with the Queen’s Guard while they prepare to take their posts at Buckingham Palace before the Changing of the Guard. It’s a way to experience British pomp and circumstance up close.” – Josh Alexander, Protravel International
  • “In Florence, I planned an exclusive guided tour of the Vasari Corridor at the top of the famous Ponte Vecchio, the closed-to-the-public corridor used by the Medici family to travel from the Uffizi Gallery to the Pitti Palace.” – Ann St. Hilare, Protravel International
  • “I arranged for a private audience with one of the last remaining Samurai swordsmiths in Japan for a family who arranged their whole trip around his availability. There are not many Samurai swordsmiths left so it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to learn about this ancient art firsthand.” – Leslie Tillem, Tzell Travel Group
  • “In Morocco, I arranged for clients to take an Arabic calligraphy lesson in the home of an artist in Essaouira, a hike through the Atlas Mountains and then eat with a local Berber family in their home.” – Henley Vazquez, Passported, a Tzell Travel affiliate
  • “In Canyon Point, Utah I arranged for my clients to take a sunrise helicopter ride to the top of Tower Butte. An experienced yoga specialist guided a private yoga and meditation session, one my clients will truly never forget, and afterwards the helicopter took them on a scenic flight back with views of Lake Powell and the vast landscape of the Utah desert.” – Jonny Drubel, Protravel International
  • “I’ve arranged for clients to experience life as a Viking in Roskilde, one of the oldest towns in Denmark. They got a private tour of the Viking Ship Museum then boarded a replica Viking ship for a private sail on the Bay of Roskilde where they were able to assist the crew and feel how hard it was to sail in that era.” – Jody Bear, Bear & Bear Travel, a Tzell affiliate