What’s luxury travel got to do with it? As the world’s ideas of wealth and status change, travelers’ ideas of luxury are changing to match. High-end travelers increasingly choose subtle indulgence over flashy logos and conspicuous consumption. And they’re gravitating toward travel that enables them to live out their personal values and fulfill their dreams through exclusive experiences.
In this new landscape, “luxury travel” can mean flying by helicopter to a remote desert peak for an exclusive yoga class. Or, it could mean passing up the comfort of a resort stay for a once-in-a-lifetime dive to the wreck of the Titanic – a “vacation” that requires specialized training in addition to the ultra-premium price.
A newly-released report by Sabre Hospitality Solutions reveals five key areas impacting how customers will choose luxury accommodations and experiences in the years ahead.
“The evolution of high-end travel is creating a marketplace where ‘luxury’ is defined by the most exclusive, unique experiences that reside at the intersection of affluence and access,” said Sarah Kennedy Ellis, vice president of global marketing and digital experience at Sabre Hospitality Solutions. “We see guests moving beyond traditional ideas of status and embracing highly-bespoke travel opportunities that focus more on the individual traveler’s personality, self-actualization and values and less about expressing opulence.”
Each of the five trends have immediate implications for the travel and hospitality industries, showing how luxury brands and innovative startups can attract high-end travelers by providing fresh, unique opportunities and experiences.
Trend 1: Luxury drives growth in wellness tourism. According to figures from the Global Wellness Institute, the global wellness tourism segment is expected to grow by over 37 percent to $808 billion over the next three years. A major driver of this growth will be luxury travelers looking for opportunities to better themselves.
So as the search for status evolves, luxury travel brands should be asking two key questions: how are expectations around wellness evolving? How can we meet those expectations – and help people fulfill their dreams of being better humans?
One place to start? By offering innovative products, services, and experiences that combine supercharged self-actualization with true luxury indulgence. And if the results make for shareable content – ‘I’m doing this, you probably haven’t heard of it yet’ – then that’s even better.
Example: Helicopter Company Offers Luxury Yoga
Self-actualizers do yoga. Status seekers prefer a helicopter. Combine the two. Maverick Helicopters offers a $3,499 yoga package that flies guests from Las Vegas to the highest peak in the Valley of Fire State Park for a 75-minute yoga class. The location is only accessible by helicopter, and a maximum of six people can take part in the class. Participants wear wireless headphones during the experience, with a playlist and instructions from a yoga teacher being transmitted throughout the class. The 2.5-hour experience also includes a Champagne toast post-class, and limousine transportation.
Example: Art Museum Hosts Curated Workouts
In a world where status and material wealth are decoupling, pursuing self-actualization doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune. Rare, even outlandish – and preferably highly shareable – experiences can also elevate self-improvement to a higher plane.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is hosting The Museum Workout: a 45-minute exercise-based tour. Taking place before regular gallery opening hours, the workout features a route around the museum curated and narrated by illustrator Maira Kalman. The routine’s playlist features pop-rock music, and after their workout, participants can enjoy drinks and snacks.
Those trips could include rare and social media-driven moments like the exclusive Museum Workout at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – a 45-minute exercise session and tour held before the gallery opens to the general public.
Trend 2: Low-key luxury in mind. Increasingly, luxury travelers identify themselves as “post-status” – choosing subtle indulgence over prominent logos and showy opulence. The “no-frills chic” phenomenon sees travelers choosing travel that contrasts with traditional luxury – which, itself, is a new way of showing off one’s status by defying convention.
Example: Not-for-profit Wellness Hotel in Quebec
The monastery-turned-wellness hotel Les Monastere des Augustines was named by National Geographic as the number one vacation spot for ‘a physical and mental reboot’ last year. Some of the holistic health practices offered by the not-for-profit hotel, which occupies wings of a 17th-century monastery and hospital, include a silent breakfast, yoga, and meditation. The hotel also contains a museum and all proceeds are reinvested in the monastery’s nonprofit.
Example: Downscale Chic
Safestay offers luxury hostel accommodation in landmark buildings across three cities across the UK. In its end-of-year results for 2016, the brand reported a revenue uplift to GBP 7.4 million, an 85% increase from GBP 4 million in 2015. According to the brand, Safestay hostels combine high-end design with the service you would expect of a hotel and the relaxed friendliness of a hostel.
Example: Oceangate Research on the Titanic
Private ocean research company OceanGate offers the first Titanic Survey Expedition, a submarine mission to study the Titanic wreckage, in 2018. Fifty-four passengers (as of April 2017) have paid $140,000 each to be a part of the weeklong mission, which CEO Stockton Rush referred to as “not a luxury trip”, off the Newfoundland coast. Passengers had to apply to participate, and several were rejected for expecting a luxurious trip. Participants will need to go through helicopter underwater egress training in case of a helicopter crash, and will be completing basic tasks (such as assembling batteries) to assist the crew when they are not exploring the wreckage
Trend 3: Indulgence without guilt. Thanks to an ever-greater awareness of the impact of their actions, many travelers feel increasingly guilty about the negative impact their consumption has on the environment, society and their health. The result? A growing desire for indulgence without the guilt.
Rising transparency means it’s now almost impossible for any individual to claim ignorance about the implications of their consumption. Customers are better informed than ever before, and they’re not afraid to call out brands who don’t live up to their expected standards.
At the same time, a host of companies (think Patagonia, Tesla and others) highlighted the deeply flawed nature of many conventional products and brands, whilst proving that purpose and profit can be compatible.
Cue the rising demand for brands that can combine luxury and a zeal to make the world better. That means luxe sunglasses on a geopolitical mission, jewels out to disrupt an often-harmful industry, luxury resorts with a social mission, and more…
Example: Nekupe Sporting Resort and Retreat
In September 2016, a nonprofit opened luxury resort to help local communities benefit from the country’s travel industry. Nekupe Sporting Resort and Retreat is set in Nicaragua’s rural countryside. The luxury resort has lavish interiors and offers guests activities that include sandboarding down an active volcano and horseback riding in the 1,300 acres of land that the owners reforested after being destroyed by slash-and-burn agriculture. Founded by the American Nicaraguan Foundation, the aim of the hotel is to educate visitors about the nonprofit’s goals to improve local employment opportunities, sustainable farming and environmental stewardship.
Trend Four: Luxury On Demand
On-demand services have always been part of the luxury experience. But then a wave of on-demand startups made everything – from laundry services to taxis to manicures – available to the masses. Now, on-demand and access economies are now the way of life for millions of “ordinary” consumers across the globe. So what’s next for affluent travelers, always seeking to distinguish themselves from the masses?
The very real benefits that on-demand and access bring – freedom from the hassle of ownership, instant gratification, and more – are universal. Luxury consumers aren’t about to set themselves apart by opting out of that.
Instead, these consumers will push their on-demand mindset to new highs, and into entirely new domains of consumerism. They’ll move beyond on-demand functionality and towards on-demand extravagance.
Example: Delta & Blade On-Demand Helicopter Service Partners with Airline
If you thought it couldn’t get any more extravagance on demand than champagne at the touch of a button, read on. April 2017 saw on-demand helicopter service Blade partner with Delta Air Lines to reduce overall travel time. After a flight lands at New York City’s JFK airport, the airline’s Elite Service team transports passengers and their luggage directly to a helicopter. The service then flies travelers to one of Blade’s lounges in Manhattan in less than 10 minutes.
Example: Luxury Designer Fashion Loaned to Hotel Guests
The Vintage Fashion Trunk is the result of a partnership between luxury vintage fashion etailer Vestiaire Collective and The Berkeley hotel. Launched in July 2016, the service enables guests of the luxury London hotel to borrow vintage designer items from Vestiaire Collective while they’re staying, free of charge. Those staying in a suite at The Berkeley can telephone the concierge and ask for the Vintage Fashion Trunk, with items on offer including Chanel purses, Dior earrings and Hermès silk scarves – dating from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Trend Five: Customyzed
According to American Express Travel, Nearly 70% of Millennials want ‘a personalized travel experience’ on their vacations
Luxury travelers have always sought deeper and more authentic connections to the places they visit. Customized and co-created experiences gave them cachet-building stories to tell, but – crucially – helped them to escape the masses.
But for growing numbers of consumers, cachet goes far beyond accumulating status stories. Now, many luxury travelers want to construct experiences that align with their unique interests, needs and values. They are eschewing a ‘one size fits all’ approach for trips that are imbued with meaning and allow them to tell the world who they are and what they stand for.
And as the old demographic models – which sought to predict consumer behaviors based on age, gender, location, income bracket and more – lose their power and consumers embrace lifestyles and attitudes of their own choosing, that desire will only increase.
Example: Blink for Customized Pop-Up Hotels
Luxury travelers on a constant quest for discovery want to do things that no one else has done before and will never do again. Pop-up hotels are one way to satisfy that expectation!
December 2016 saw UK-based Black Tomato unveil a bespoke travel service called Blink. The luxury travel company is offering personalized pop-up holiday experiences in rare and remote locations around the world. Each trip is designed to be entirely unique, with examples including temporary camps set up in the Moroccan desert, Bolivian salt flats or the Andes. Prices range from £8,800 per person up to £23,800 according to the type of vacation.
Example: Travel Unwrapped Inspired by Travelers’ DNA
Take “customyzed” to the next level. Allow consumers to craft travel stories that are uniquely “theirs” and give them an opportunity to learn more about their identity and heritage — increasingly important as travelers seek transformative experiences that expand their worldview.
London-based Travel Unwrapped launch DNA Unwrapped: a travel itinerary inspired by travelers’ unique DNA. Users take a DNA test (a cheek swab that’s sent by post to a partner lab) to discover family ancestry. Based on the test, Travel Unwrapped helps travelers build an itinerary inspired by their genetic makeup, with the hope that they will chose to broaden their travel horizons.
Example: Singapore Tourism Board Brain Signals
In April, the Singapore Tourism Board measured people’s brainwaves to create a travel guide based on emotions. Headsets worn by families on vacation in Singapore recorded their emotional responses to 20 different activities using electroencephalography. Scientists compared this data to information the family wrote down in a personality questionnaire to see how different experiences lead to different emotions. The Board hopes to develop this research further to offer tailor-made travel itineraries to future tourists.
So, as the search for status evolves, luxury travel suppliers are likely asking how to help people fulfill their dreams of being better humans as seen through these five travel trends.