The Top Trends in Luxury Travel

Left to right: Terrie Hansen, Bobby Zur, Ana Villaça, Gabriel Donalds, Haisley Smith

At the 29th annual Virtuoso Travel Week, held at Bellagio Resort & Casino, Aria Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas, a panel consisting of Bobby Zur from Family Travel, Ana Villaça of Turismo Ltda Rio de Janeiro, Gabriel Donalds from Atelier Voyage, and Haisley Smith of Brownell spoke on the trends in travel. The four major topics included family/multigenerational, wellness, adventure and cruise. 

Before discussing the four topics, the panel, led by Terrie Hansen, senior vice president of Marketing Virtuoso, dove into who is traveling. Baby Boomers make up the largest portion of Virtuoso travelers using travel advisors, totaling 45 percent; they are followed by Xers (24 percent), Matures (18 percent) and Millennials (13 percent). However, the more important statistic is that both Millennials and Gen Xers saw the largest increase in use of advisors, both growing four points since 2012. Boomers decreased by one percent, while Matures decreased eight percent. This trend bodes well for future of luxury travel.

At a separate event, CEO Matthew Upchurch and senior vice president, global member partnerships David Kolner spoke on income distribution by generation among Virtuoso’s 2016 clients. Millennials making over $200,000 (44 percent) exceeded all other generations except for Matures (53 percent). Thirty-two percent of Xers bring in over $200,000, and 35 percent of Boomers do so. It’s just another positive sign that the future of the industry appears to be in good hands.

While Millennials aren’t the entirety, or even majority, of Virtuoso travelers, the style in which they travel appears to be the biggest trend (which is being followed in suit by the remaining age groups). Zur named it the “Singita Conundrum:” today’s luxury travelers want authentic experiences (like seeing animals in nature, not just at the zoo) but want it to be a luxury experience to make sure every need is met. 

Among family travelers, Virtuoso reported that sales are up across all categories: cruise, tours, on-sites, and hotels; Hansen noted that 2018 advance bookings are even stronger. A major driver of family travel is celebration events, with popular destinations including Africa, Iceland, Cuba, Galapagos, and even Antarctica. The panel discussed the growing importance of Gen Z, which 88 percent of advisors say the youngest generation is becoming more influential in family travel. By 2020, Virtuoso estimates, they could be a driving force. 

Villaça was able to comment on the cruise industry, noting that the average age of cruisers is dropping every year. In 2016, the average age of a cruiser was 35. 

Both Donalds and Smith commented on the growing popularity of wellness travel. When Donalds is scouting a property, he says a key thing he looks for is how committed are the owners: are they just saying they’re a wellness resort or are they living that lifestyle themselves? Smith said a common trend among wellness travelers is recent major negative life events such as divorce or the loss of a loved one. 

Interestingly, each topic ended up with a discussion on sustainability. Virtuoso, for its part, is adding a “Sustainability” tab on its website for each supplier in hopes they can list one or two points to help sell themselves on advisors. Earlier in the week, Virtuoso held its first Sustainability Summit, which Upchurch said was a success. 

One of the biggest reasons to resist traveling in the past year has been “VUCA,” volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous events. However, while terrorist attacks (and to a lesser degree natural disasters) may have slowed the general traveler, luxury travelers continued their journeys. But these events have only made the role of an advisor all the more important.

Donalds shared that one of his agency’s clients – a family on safari – was in a small plane crash (everyone survived but were all injured). Atelier Voyage was able to help them through the events, and found them appropriate flights to get them the attention and care they needed. 

Upchurch and the panel were then asked about artificial intelligence, we were told to embrace it. “Automate the predictable so we can humanize the accessible,” Upchurch said. In other words, he wants advisors to accept the benefits of technology (or “the face of disruptive forces”) and utilize it on a deeper level.

The panel was then asked for their predictions on emerging destinations for 2018. They admitted: Central America, Norway, Japan and Madagascar.

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