ULTRA Luxury: Learning More About the Luxury Wellness Traveler

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At Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit at the Eau Palm Beach in Manalapan, FL from May 30 to June 1, Katie Briscoe, executive vice president, client services at MMGY Global spoke about the findings of the Portrait of American Travelers 2018-19 survey, the emergence of the luxury wellness traveler and what it means for the future of the industry.

What Did We Learn?

First, we learned the distinction between affluent travelers and luxury travelers; the former comprises households with high incomes (over $200,000, says MMGY), while the latter comprises the group willing to spend on travel. Not all affluent travelers are luxury travelers. To note: Only 37 percent of travelers with high household incomes say it’s worth paying more for the very best vacation accommodations.

Who Should We Target?

Katie Briscoe

Thirty-seven percent of travelers with a household income of at least $125,000 that are motivated to pursue wellness programs/lifestyle on vacation believe it’s worth paying more for the best quality in accommodations. In numbers, that’s 2.5 million traveling households taking 11.7 million vacations, spending $20.5 billion on leisure travel in the last 12 months. Good to know: While the average age of a wellness traveler is 47, one-third are Millennials, one-third are Xers, and the remaining one-third comprises Boomers and Matures.

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In fact, while “pursuing wellness programs/lifestyle” as the top factor for vacationing has remained a bit stagnant over the past five years for all travelers (32 percent in 2014 followed by 29, 36, 34 and 32 percent from 2015-18, respectively), it’s significantly more important to younger generations. Thirty-nine percent of Millennials intend to pursue wellness programs/lifestyles on vacation in the next 12 months; they are followed by Xers (33 percent), Boomers (26 percent) and Matures (19 percent).

What Do We Know About Wellness Travelers?

Today, wellness travelers make up 10 percent of all American travelers and are very motivated to pursue wellness programs/lifestyles while on vacation. MMGY found that luxury wellness travelers are actually planning to go on, as a whole, 15 percent fewer vacations over the next 12 months. The positive here, however, is they intend to spend eight percent more on leisure travel. This could be because, during the next 12 months, wellness travelers intend that 49 percent of their vacations will be international (compared to only 23 percent of all other travelers). Of the top 10 international countries wellness travelers are interested in visiting, Canada, Italy, France, U.S. Virgin Islands and Germany are included.

Interestingly enough, not all wellness travelers self-identify as such (only 35 percent do). However, they do self-identify as outdoor adventurers, foodies and beach bums (with 44, 43 and 40 percent, respectively, using these key words). This is crucial for marketing and targeting your audience, Briscoe says. A resounding 75 percent agreed that they do not want to feel like a tourist on vacation—something that’s very common among all luxury travelers. To note: 95 percent of luxury wellness travelers are looking for authentic, local experiences that are unique to the destination that they are visiting.

Social media has a huge influence on how people travel. Eighty-five percent “desire to be storytellers,” saying that the memories of the trip make it worth it. Forty percent intend to use social media to share their travel experiences—and 33 percent even said they post photos to make friends and family jealous.

How Do Luxury Wellness Travelers Book Vacations?

Luxury wellness travelers are a big proponent of the last-minute vacation. Forty-three percent of all luxury wellness travelers took at least one last-minute vacation in the past 12 months. As for the general traveling public, only 26 percent took a last-minute vacation. Briscoe says that scheduling is usually the top issue, that finding the time to travel can often be the first barrier.

On a better note, however, nearly half (47 percent) of all domestic vacations taken by the group involved the use of a travel advisor. The same percentage used a travel service provider website as the top purchasing option when booking online, surpassing online travel agencies (42 percent), which was the second-most popular response.

The top reason for using an advisor was “the ability to provide an extra level of service when things go wrong,” which 92 percent of luxury wellness travelers agreed with. This was followed by “knowledge of destinations,” (86 percent); “the ability to take the hassle out of booking travel,” (85 percent); “an understanding of what it hot/new,” (83 percent); “when I have a complicated itinerary, my travel agent makes it work for me,” (82 percent); “better prices for the total vacation,” (81 percent); “traditional travel agents can get me access to experiences I can’t get on my own,” (74 percent); and “researching travel takes too much time, so my travel agent takes care of it,” (70 percent).

What Should You Take Away?

Connections matter. Help create them. Luxury wellness travelers are looking for self-discovery (self-connection) and with those of other, like-minded travelers. Put them in the best place to do so.

Price is not the barrier for luxury wellness travelers; 360-degree, personalized service is. If you can provide it and create a value, you should be able to book the itinerary.

It’s critical to simplify and clearly differentiate what make you—and the properties you might be sending your clients to—unique.

All stats courtesy of MMGY Global. The Portrait of American Travelers 2018-19 survey polled just under 3,000 households that took at least one overnight trip in the past 12 months.

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