Virtuoso and YouGov recently conducted a survey to find the top values of the luxury traveler in 2018. The luxury travel network announced their findings to press at its 30th annual Virtuoso Travel Week last week at Bellagio Resort & Casino, ARIA Resort & Casino and Vdara Hotel & Spa. The survey found that there are seven leading values among these travelers; they are: Freedom, friendship, inner-peace, security, wisdom, kindness and eco-centricity.
These values served as the introduction to a panel of top advisors who discussed the changing luxury landscape as driven by the consumer. In addition to the changing values, the advisors (comprising Josh Alexander, Protravel International; Wendy Davis, Zebrano Travel; Anthony Goldman, Goldman Travel Corporation; and Jenny Graham, Quintessentially Travel) said that what “luxury” means has also evolved. Some of the common threads included: Visiting unchartered/undiscovered locations; having real, connected and meaningful encounters with locals; the individualization of their travel plans; and having someone to work with to help create these trips.
Here's what the Alexander, Davis, Goldman and Graham had to say:
Key Trends Among Luxury Travelers
One key trend among luxury travelers, much to the aggravation of the advisors, is last-minute bookings. Both Alexander and Graham noted that they have several clients who are coming to them with expected travel plans and very little notice. Graham noted that she had run a report on Quinessentially Travel’s July hotel bookings and that, on average, the inquiry was received only five days prior to the travel date. On top of that, Alexander adds that these clients often have unrealistic expectations.
“This is when our relationships come into play,” Goldman says. “This is the difference—we know the general managers, we know the directors of sales; we call, we email them—and, more often than not, we can do something.”
Even with this ability to find a previously available suite or stateroom, many of the top options—where these luxury travelers would prefer to stay—are booked well in advance.
It’s a double-edged sword, though: Alexander says that once you deliver on the trip, you can win over the clients for good but theys will expect you to be able to do the same in the future. He advises to build a relationship with those clients and educate them to book further out, where more product and choice is available.
On the contrary, advisors are also booking trips further out than ever before. With new tools, such as Virtuoso’s Orchestrator, advisors and their clients can collaborate on a portfolio of bookings three to five years in advance. Davis adds that it’s important for an advisor to be proactive with their clients; this can be as simple as an email at the beginning of the year asking what the client has on their mind, or a follow-up after a trip to start working on next year’s version. Goldman adds that a new client of his agency’s came in with a full set of travel plans for the next three years, and with some help from one of his advisors, had $800,000 worth of plans in the books by the end of the day.
Orchestrator, which is similar to Merrill Lynch’s Return on Life program, is intended to help luxury travelers organize their thoughts and plans with their advisors. Many of these clients already manage a large portfolio of assets or business plans, for instance, and Virtuoso is attempting to create a commonality with booking travel. In other words, it’s likening a travel advisor to a financial advisor—someone who can help you plan for the long-term.
As far as the type of travel, the panel said that one of the top trends was multi-generational travel. In fact, due to the rise in popularity of multi-gen travel, hotels across the world are updated its product to meet the demand. New-builds are introducing more suites and villas, with residential feels, while hotels in Europe—when they’re renovated—are adding more connecting suites to accommodate the larger groups. Where multi-gen travel has changed recently, however, is that Generation Z (those born in the mid-90s to mid-00s) is having a greater role in planning vacations.
Graham says she has clients whose three children rotate picking where they go on vacation. Not only that, but they create multi-layered itineraries so that the parents and children each get to check off they experiences that they want. Davis says she books plenty of trips similar to this, where she will create an itinerary that isn’t decided just by the parents. A micro-trend she sees in this market is mother-daughter and father-son trips.
The rise in importance of Gen Z when booking travel can be credited to (or blamed on) social media, Goldman says, noting his own 12-year-old son shows him destinations he wants to travel to, which he found on Instagram. Even at such a young age, he adds, that Gen Z is using travel to “build their personal brands”—while it might not always be about “luxury,” they do want to show off adventures and experiences.
With the influx of Gen Z travelers and the role they play in booking trips, Millennials may soon be antiquated—or, at least, the worry of how they travel, and, certainly, how it’s used as such a buzz word. Millennials may still lead the charge in terms of influence, Graham says, but they still don’t dominate revenue generation. Alexander adds that Millennials remain savvy consumers but, as they age, they’re looking to embrace certain legacy brands—so long as they’re still getting great value and service.
The Future of Travel
The world is getting smaller. Whether it’s through the internet being able to connect people across the globe, or airlines flying further abroad, or tour operators popping up in new destinations, people are becoming increasingly aware of the world around them. Finding that next, or potentially last, unexplored destination is where luxury travel may be taking us. Even if the accommodations don’t meet the standard definition of luxury, Alexander notes his clients are willing to fly into more remote destinations and drive in order to find those “unchartered/undiscovered locations.” Graham agrees, noting that “escapism” is something she’s seeing more of her clients ask about. This can be in the way that Alexander is seeing it, by visiting an off-the-beaten-path destination or by a solo wellness trip to a place like Miraval or Golden Door.
Goldman says that, wherever a client is, it’s about feeling like a local—“peeling back the layers” of a destination. Travelers aren’t looking to visit the museum they once would have; rather, they want to explore the local neighborhood or eat dinner with a family.
It all equates to a change in the perception of “luxury.” Goldman says: “When you think about luxury, it’s not only about the furnishings or these beautiful hotels that we’re so fortunate to sell and work with, but it’s about having the experience.”
Outside of the types travel we can expect, Davis adds that luxury travel should embrace the digital revolution—and she’s not necessarily talking about the internet (although Goldman says the internet is an advisor’s best friend: The more information that’s available for consumers, the harder it becomes to sift through it all). Davis, on the other hand, is talking about digital itineraries: She says she has to teach many of her clients how to download and use the app, but it allows her to update the itinerary and contact the clients with greater ease.
What Makes a Good Trip
“It has to be seamless,” Graham says. “Their time is so scarce and vital to them, that when they actually do get the chance to go on holiday and spend it with their loved ones, just to have everything run smoothly is important.”
The role of an advisor is to be there every step of the way for a client, which means taking care of any issues that might arise during the trip. Some clients take that too far, however, with Graham noting she will have clients who will call their advisor if they need something at the hotel before they call the concierge. Goldman says he’s even had a client (in Paris) call one of his advisors (in Australia) to ask what the weather would be the following day.
Personalization, obviously, is also key—but it doesn’t always have to be something big. Davis had a client who was traveling and wasn’t able to bring her dogs with her. She had sent a photo of her pooches to the hotel, where they set up the photo in a frame, waiting for the client. For families, Davis will have the hotel add mini-bathrobes to the closet so they can also wear them around.
If you’re looking to change up some of the itineraries you book, the four advisors also talked about several “Wow” trips they’ve planned recently. These ranged from: “A 52-weekend experience,” where a man who recently sold his business, took his family to do something new each weekend (experiences included tennis lessons with a superstar, cooking classes and staying with an African tribe); a group of children who organized a trip to meet their father for the first time (“It was just a raw, down-to-Earth experience—and that was their luxury”); a family visiting Africa who got to meet Sasha Dorothy, the head of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary and one of InStyle Magazine’s “Badass Women;” and even one-night add-ons to trips (for instance, a dinner on a helipad in Abu Dhabi before continuing to a honeymoon in the Seychelles).