What do Luxury Travelers Want?


The Stanford White Studio at The Chatwal
The Stanford White Studio at The Chatwal played host to our panel of luxury travel experts.


Joshua Bush of Park Avenue Travel
Joshua Bush of Park Avenue Travel in Philadelphia.

On hand were: Joshua Bush, travel advisor, Park Avenue Travel in Philadelphia; Eva Codina, general manager of Villa d’Amelia, in Piemonte in the northwest region of Italy; Valentina De Santis, marketing director from the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, Lake Como in Italy; Robin Fox, travel advisor, Pisa Brothers Travel in New York City; Joel Freyberg, general manager, The Chatwal, New York; Albert Herrera, senior vice president for global product partnerships, Virtuoso; Bernard Murphy, general manager of Gleneagles hotel in Scotland; Javier Rivadulla, sales and marketing director at Finca Cortesin Hotel, Golf & Spa in Marbella, the south of Spain; and Anne Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, located outside of Washington, D.C.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: How have you seen luxury travel changing over the past five years? What trends are you seeing?  

Joshua Bush, Park Avenue Travel: Our older customers definitely have a bucket list and they feel like the clock is ticking. They have in their mind a set of travel dreams that they want to accomplish. I was just talking with a client yesterday who said they have an Antigua trip coming up; they have a trip to Paris, and then they have a safari later in the summer. They said, “We have got so much going on; we were probably not going to do the Paris trip, but we are taking my mother, and it’s probably the last time that we are going to be able to do that.”

We are also seeing multigenerational groups grow and expand; for everybody who is age 50, 55 and up, they are really starting to put plans in place of what their travel is going to be over the next five, in some cases, 10 years.


Anne Scully of McCabe World Travel is pictured with Javier Rivadulla (left) and Eva Codina (right).
Anne Scully of McCabe World Travel is pictured with Javier Rivadulla (left) and Eva Codina (right).

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: So it’s not like some day we will go, we’ll go now.

Joshua Bush, Park Avenue Travel: It’s the priority; they have made conscious decisions that this is how they want to spend their wealth. It’s not necessarily going to be on a house, a new toaster or new Mercedes. They want to travel; they want to see the world, and they want to do it in the right way. 

Bernard Murphy, Gleneagles: People are saying, “Hey, I have got the money and I want these experiences. But I want them on my terms. Increasingly, rules are just out for luxury consumers. They are saying, “Give me exactly what I want, listen to me, I want to be in control of this. I am not buying something you put on the shelf; I am going to tell you what I want, and I would like you to deliver it; that’s what we are seeing with our product very, very much."

It’s value for time and the exact experience as they hope it would be. Say it’s a milestone birthday or something on a bucket list; they don’t mind paying for it, but please get it right because “I am only going to do it once.”

Albert Herrera, Virtuoso: What we are seeing is pretty much similar. Obviously, it’s a lot of experiential travel and authentic local flavors. Also, based on the statistics, we have seen that a strong majority of our agencies in different regions—82 percent—say their future bookings are up from this time last year. With that said, the challenge obviously with some of our advisors is that the luxury consumer is savvier than ever; they don’t mind spending their money. However, we want to make sure that it’s the right deal; that they are not being undercut. So they will triple check, quadruple check just to make sure. And also, personalization is key, so for those, our advisors work with a variety of channels including tour operators, and the tour operators have had to adapt because clients have a five-night package and will say, “Okay, I will do four of those nights but I want this item removed and two other things added”. So everyone has had to adapt to the clients’ changing demands.


Valentina De Santis
Valentina De Santis of Grand Hotel Tremezzo.


Javier Rivadulla, Finca Cortesin: I fully agree. Our customers are sophisticated and very demanding, and you should play with them in terms of, for example, cooking and external activities and experience. What they really love is to be a friend, but at the same time, with respect. And what they want is like, “Okay, I am in your property, but I want to feel like its my house.” This is what our guests demand.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Where are your guests coming from?

Javier Rivadulla, Finca Cortesin: Our main market is the U.K., Germany and Europe, but the U.S. has grown a lot. And certainly, it’s important for the gastronomy. They love good local food and for things to be a little bit sophisticated, a little bit fresh. And you must have things like they have in their city, for example in New York, because these people travel a lot and it doesn’t matter where they are, but they want the same things that they have at home and in their city.

Anne Scully, McCabe World Travel: We do a lot of personalization with villas; we’ll put photographs of the family members all throughout the rooms because it should be their home. They pay it for two weeks; it’s theirs. Hotels are doing the same thing. They are asking for photos of the family, so when they walk in, there is a treasured photograph.

But I am going to just change it up a little bit. I think the press has been incredibly kind to us this year, and the amount of coverage we were getting has brought us clients we are not used to working with because they are not used to working with travel advisors. These are people that talk with their hands [using a phone to text], they want instant information, and they have no idea what can be had through us.

So we really need to have to open that conversation up with someone who really doesn’t want to talk to us. It’s building that trust with that new client. When we sell them a package, they want to know what cost of the transfer was on that booking and what the hotel price was. It’s very hard to explain to them that if Classic has a hotel, it’s a special rate that they have, and we can’t give it away because they will have some different rate.


Ruthanne Terrero kicks off the discussion.
Ruthanne Terrero kicks off the discussion.

Eva Codina, Villa d’Amelia: My hotel is in an area in Italy that is not a primary destination, Piemonte. People will go first to Venice, Rome and Florence. But the good thing is that when they go to Piemonte, they already know many things about the Italian traditions, from the history to the culture. So they are looking for something unique, something that is special and tailor-made.

Clients will ask us for so much advice, what can we do, where can we go, and they trust us. They want to learn about the local culture and the local food. They can go to the wineries to do wine tasting like in many areas in Italy. But the nice thing in Piemonte is that the owners will open their house for you, and the owner will do the tour with you in the winery so you can learn about the wine that you are drinking. Because you are speaking to the owner of the winery and because the wine, for instance, reflects their personality, you can understand it. Or they look for kitchen lessons or Vespa tours, which is a fun thing to do.

They can also do a gastronomic tour and go to one Michelin-star restaurant every night because there are like 13 Michelin-star restaurants nearby the hotel. We do have one star in our hotel.

Joel Freyberg, The Chatwal: I am finding that since we opened the hotel, we have about a 30-percent repeat clientele. We have the board executives who stay here weekly, if not biweekly. And whenever they are on holiday, they are actually coming to us and saying, “Well, we like it here very much. What would you recommend or where would you recommend we go? Can you put me in contact with someone who is going to give us that additional attention that we demand?” So we do refer people constantly to our other properties every year as well as travel professionals because when the executive is booking through their corporate office, those corporate agents don’t necessarily know the leisure side of it.


Albert Herrera of Virtuoso and Javier Rivadulla
Albert Herrera of Virtuoso and Javier Rivadulla from Finca Cortesin Hotel, Golf & Spa.

I do find that people don’t mind paying, but they do want to know what they are paying for and what extras they are getting along the way as well. When they are spending money, corporate money is a different situation. They have a cap, they know what to spend. But when they are spending out of their own pocket, they really want value.

Robin Fox, Pisa Brothers Travel: It’s because, Josh, when you were talking about a bucket list, I was shocked when I was in Easter Island to see so many people using walkers. People of all ages—my mother who is 82 years old just came back with six of her friends from Africa and last year they went to India. So people are traveling; they are older, and they are still doing these phenomenal trips. Also, just to reiterate that it’s very important for us who consider ourselves specialists and high-end luxury providers, we have got to be one step ahead of the clients. You have got to be prepared with the next zinger.

No matter how much money people have, even if they could fly on a private plane, everybody wants to know where you are spending their money and what they are getting and what you can do for them that this other person cannot. And it’s always, “Well, I got you an upgrade; I got you early check-in.”

I am also finding that every single itinerary has to have something that reflects or mirrors the lives of the travelers. I recently had a family in Asia over Christmas, and this lady is a designer. Every city that they went to I arranged to have her go to the textile markets and factories just so she could become aware of how they do things. The kids have to have activities. They don’t just sightsee. They bike ride around the ruins; they rock climb in Vietnam at Ha Long Bay.

Every itinerary has to have a real wow and be one step ahead. And everybody is also saying, “Yes, but what about this? You forgot to mention this particular restaurant.” They are testing you constantly.


Robin Fox of Pisa Brothers and Valentina De Santis
Robin Fox of Pisa Brothers and Valentina De Santis from Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Italy.

Valentina De Santis, Grand Hotel Tremezzo: I think what is common among what we all said is that experience is becoming more and more important, and this involves several different kinds of interpretation. Also, now when people come to your hotel, they already know how your rooms look because they already saw pictures that you and other guests posted online. So they are perfectly prepared. They want to take it one step forward to experience something more. This means to live like a local, and this is the same that Eva said for Piemonte, they want to discover something special that is exclusively available only in that place.

I feel that guests also want recognition increasingly. That can help make the experience unique. Luxury is when one of the staff calls you by name, greets you like they know you personally, remembers what you did the day before, recollects your previous visit, and so on.

Como itself is a very experiential destination because once you get there, you are overwhelmed by the scenery. So the most important thing is to allow them to travel around. It’s not such a strong destination on gastronomy and wineries. That is something that is very, very required and desired, but it’s all done by sports and things that cannot be missed. So it’s not something so wow to say, but what is a must-do is a boat tour. It’s funny because it doesn’t sound so exotic. But you cannot imagine the difference you feel once you are on the water instead of just traveling around in the car.

Our hotel turned 100 years old in 2010. So as a present for the hotel, we bought a historical boat. We offer different kinds of tours. You can even rent it for an hour or two, whatever you want, say even two days. But usually, we try to push the classic tour of the lake that goes to Bellagio and the villas and so on. There is also a two-hour tour called the Hollywood Tour and we go to George Clooney’s villa.

Anne Scully, McCabe World Travel; Joel Freyberg, The Chatwal; and Eva Codina
Anne Scully, McCabe World Travel; Joel Freyberg, The Chatwal; and Eva Codina from Villa d’Amelia.

Ruthanne Terrero, Luxury Travel Advisor: Anything else about the demands that the guest is making on you?

Bernard Murphy, Gleneagles: There is really an emotional connection about how the guest feels about the transaction and how it makes them look, be it among family members or other business people. It’s this big recognition thing—the guest’s need to let know that he is known here and hence is being given special treatment. And you have to go do it for everybody.

Robin Fox, Pisa Brothers Travel: With every booking that I make, I always follow up, as I am sure most agents do, with the hotel just to remind them that so and so is coming. But I always put an expression in there, “Please do whatever you can to make me look like a superstar and to wow my clients.” And whatever little bit you could do as hoteliers that will make me look like I am indispensable, I think that that’s really important.

Joshua Bush, Park Avenue Travel: We have had a long run of surprise and delight. It’s almost expected at this point that the idea of amenities being just a fruit plate or a bottle of wine is insufficient and the customer is expecting more now. It’s got to be much more personalized. It’s the wow factor of the photos in the room of not just the couple that’s staying but perhaps their kids or a much-loved pet. And they are really looking for those amenities to be tailored to their needs, whether it’s been expressly communicated or something that’s inferred. In fact, so much so that this personalization aspect plays the larger part of their current trip. But it’s incumbent upon us as travel advisors, as you said, to communicate with the hotels and let them know all the specific details so that they can execute the preparations to perfection.

Albert Herrera, Virtuoso: Communication is key. I mean the advisor is technically working 24x7 for these clients, and they expect a lot more. So when a client is actually our guest, say, has checked into the hotel booked, the advisor would do well to call up the guest and check if everything is going well. The advisor could go a step further by paying attention to some minor details like whether the daughter was happy with the popcorn or whatever it may be, and ask them to let know if there is a glitch. Let them know as well because service recovery is always essential from the very beginning. That makes the advisors superstars, and of course, that’s where the partnership starts to tie in so perfectly.

Anne Scully, McCabe World Travel: There are times when you really feel like the client is just directing everything. When we have new clients, one of the things that we have done is open up the conversation. We recently had a client come in asking for a nine-day cruise around France. The couple came in and we said, “Let’s take an opportunity to get to know each other. Let’s put that cruise aside, and let’s just talk about what was your favorite trip and give me two reasons why.” We sought both their opinions.


Bernard Murphy of Gleneagles
Bernard Murphy of Gleneagles in Scotland.

Then I dug a little bit into what’s in their DNA, which is not a bucket list. A bucket list is asking where you want to go. I actually wanted to know who they were and I think we forget to do that. But when we opened up the conversation and got their DNA, the gentleman said he wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand. And his wife said, “It’s too long a flight.” And we said, “Well, I agree with you, but what I would do is stop in LA.” And she said, “Oh, we have children in LA.”

They left with a 35-day Australia/New Zealand cruise because, again, this is the advisor opening it up and not being the order taker. They had free air and a two-for-one cruise. It’s like giving them something they didn’t know they could have and they're still gong on the cruise around France, too. That’s where an advisor really has an opportunity with new clients, and we shouldn’t be afraid to do it with our older clients, either.  

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