Increasingly today’s luxury traveller has little desire to be passive, with a strong focus on the experiential, suggests Peter Trembath, general manager of North Star Cruises, whose company has run high end adventure cruises for 30 years.
“Luxury is no longer defined by lavish surroundings, plush furnishings, and ornate décor,” says Trembath. “The new luxury is much more about experience and the new luxury traveller is more often than not an experience seeker; in fact they want a holiday that’s life changing.
“They abhor time spent around a swimming pool no matter how impressive the structure. They prefer to be immersed in actual experience; they want to see what they would not normally see, touch what they would not normally touch and feel what they would not normally feel.
“They want to be inspired; to experience all that is authentic and uncontrived – experiences that are not necessarily exclusive but certainly those that are the realm of only the most determined.”
Sujata Raman, A&K managing director, agrees it’s no longer enough for the luxury traveller to visit a place and see the major sights – rather it’s about immersion in the culture, hands-on interaction and connecting with a place in a meaningful way.
“This could be foraging for produce and cooking in an exotic destination, dining in the home of a local family, discussing current affairs with a resident politician, participating in a traditional festival, meeting an artisan in their studio, exploring hidden gardens, helping produce lunch in a monastery for novice monks or picnicking with a local family over a game of cricket,” she says.
Giving something back
If luxury travellers are seeking bespoke, hand-picked experiences in increasingly exotic, less-visited destinations, they’re also keener than ever to give back. They want to be aware that their experience is sustainable and preferably beneficial to others. “They don’t necessarily want to be lectured but they do want to be enlightened. They want their holiday to change how they feel – to change their perception or their understanding,” Trembath says.
A&K says luxury travellers have a strong urge to give back to communities visited, and become involved in the work done by A&K Philanthropy, a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving natural habitats, protecting wildlife and promoting the welfare of indigenous communities globally.
“There’s tree planting in Kenya’s Masai Mara, bee-keeping in Tanzania, feeding school children in Cape Town, schools for the disadvantaged in India, monument restoration in Italy and much more,” says Raman.
Let’s get personal
Travellers today define luxury with items or experiences that have a personal connection, or a story linked to the designer, origin, culture or location. Additionally, luxury travel is defined by a property’s authentic, unique experiences, established reputation and impeccable standard of service, says Garrett Donovan, qualia’s general manager.
“Travellers are looking for an experience they can find a personal association with, and create ultimate lasting memories,” says Donovan. “Providing multiple experience options, personalisation and distinction of offering is imperative to meet the future needs of luxury travelers.”
Guy Heywood, chief operating officer, Commune Hotels and Resorts, the management company for Alila, Joie de Vibre, Thompson and Tommie, says guests are seeking a unique experience, while being looked after with incredible service and attention to detail. “It’s also about factoring in a learning situation, where guests can find personal enriching growth potential.”
Exclusivity is also key, says James Hewlett, Singapore Airlines Holidays commercial manager. “The recently opened Outrigger Konotta Maldives Resort for example has just 52 suites, creating a much more personalised experience for guests.”
All in the family
Across the board, luxury tour operators and high-end properties are also seeing huge growth in multi-generational and family holidays. Lucy Davidson, executive director Banyan Tours, says increasingly they are seeing extended families travelling to India, especially at Christmas and Easter.
“It seems travellers are looking for experiences they can have together. Be it kite flying above the old city in Jaipur, bathing and painting elephants, or a hands-on cooking lesson – anything that is memorable for families becomes a highlight of a holiday.”
A&K has noted a shift to replace expensive and glamorous hotel rooms with bespoke real-life experiences that are tailored specifically to a guest’s interests. “It often means going off the beaten path, to remote destinations where lodgings may be more modest and infrastructure still developing but the rewards are remarkable experiences, unique cultural interactions and a singularly more personalised experience,” Raman says.
“Gone are the days when the promise of opulence was a key factor in determining a traveller’s choice of luxury destination. Today there’s a growing passion for barefoot luxury, and things are far less ostentatious than they once were”, concludes Singapore Airlines Holidays’ Hewlett.