Travelers Are Seeking New Destinations: Luxury Travel Roundtable

Luxury Travel Advisor was set to host a roundtable discussion at Signature Travel Network’s Annual Sales Conference in Las Vegas, held November 8-11, 2022, but COVID derailed our plans to attend. In our stead, Signature Executive Vice President Ignacio Maza led the group and asked about where advisors are sending their clients and what destinations are expected to be popular in 2023.

What we learned: While perennial favorites like Italy and France remain top choices, travelers are looking for the lesser-explored locales within these destinations. At the same time, destinations that were closed off for much of the pandemic—such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand—are seeing plenty of interest. Advisors and suppliers also shared what destinations they feel deserves more attention.

Joining Maza were Victoria Batten, vice president sales, Langham Hospitality Group; Jennifer Virgilio, president, Queen of Clubs; Jodie Wert, luxury travel advisor, Plaza Travel, a Frosch Company; Carole Pertusini, product coordinator, IC Bellagio; Christine Smith, senior luxury advisor, Global Escapes; Sam McDiarmid, global sales director, Auberge Resorts Collection; Mina Agnos, president, Travelive; Katie Cadar, director of luxury leisure sales, TravelStore; Wendy Taylor, senior luxury advisor and director of luxury leisure, Preferred Travel of Naples; and Marett Taylor, vice president sales, Abercrombie & Kent.

Here is a condensed and edited version of the conversation:

Ignacio Maza, Signature: Looking at 2023, what are you seeing in terms of destination trends?

Sam McDiarmid, Auberge Resorts Collection: Mexico still seems to be very strong for us. We've sort of dropped off a little bit, maybe returned to normalcy a little bit in Hawaii. That's been a little bit more of a challenge for us. But Mexico still seems to be very strong. We opened Wildflower Farms in New York, an hour and a half from New York City. That's been an example of something that's just been unbelievable demand for drive markets in the New York area.

Mina Agnos, Travelive: Greece remains strong. Croatia is very strong. Egypt is growing quite a lot now because of the anticipation of the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum. Those are seeing the biggest growth right now. Of course, Italy always does well.

Katie Cadar, TravelStore: They want to go where they haven't been able to go. So, Asia requests are coming in, South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji. Those have been coming in strong. Japan, as well.

Wendy Taylor, Preferred Travel of Naples: For ‘23, I would say more like the Kimberly, Antarctica—those are just coming back. In ‘22, it seemed like clients wanted to do more Europe; Europe was on fire. But now that the South Pacific is opening and they're adding some of the more exotic destinations that maybe they haven't been to that are on their list, it's like, "Why wait?"

Marett Taylor, Abecrombie & Kent
Phones are ringing off the hook with Japan requests, according to Abercrombie & Kent's Marett Taylor. (Photo courtesy Signature Travel Network)

Marett Taylor, Abercrombie & Kent: For us, the core ones are Europe, Egypt, East Africa. And then South Pacific, Japan, Southeast Asia are re-surging. Our Egypt team so, so busy. But then you've got Gerald, who handles our Japan travel. Just in the past two weeks, he’s had this surge of requests for Japan, and they are now staffing up to deal with the demand. Same thing with Australia, New Zealand. Everyone is trying to catch up in the new places that are opening. So those are really the areas that we've seen a lot of demand.

Victoria Batten Langham Hospitality Group: We are very excited that we are seeing Australia. We just opened The Langham Gold Coast, so we are starting to see lots of interest there. We’re also in Sydney, Melbourne and in New Zealand, Auckland, so we are seeing those inquiries, which is great.

Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs: I think as last year was the year of Europe. Next year will be the year of Japan. As for our destinations, Italy and France are selling well. People are also traveling for events: The Coronation will be very big, the Chelsea Flower Show, things like that. The Rugby World Cup in France this year; there’s always the Rider Cup.

Jodie Wert, Plaza Travel: Italy, for me, is always my number-one. And being on the east coast of the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico are still holding very strong. But my newest destinations I would say are Australia, New Zealand and Japan—that's what I'm getting more interest in. But, sadly, no China.

Carole Pertusini, IC Bellagio: Within Italy, there are few destination that are coming up. We have a lot of requests for active and outdoor trips, so, it's all about Umbria. Puglia, as well, because they can combine the cultural side with the food side with days on the sea. I would also say Sicily, which has been a big trend even for 2022. But it'll be even bigger for next year.

Christine Smith, Global Escapes: I primarily focus on European travel, and the only thing that's different that has not been mentioned is this past summer, the U.K. was very strong, and I continue to see an incredible demand for U.K. travel into next year.

Ignacio Maza, Signature: Marett, from your perspective, has anything surprised you this year in terms of a request?

Marett Taylor, Abercrombie & Kent: The surge in “Wings Over the World Journeys” private air trips have really been unbelievable. It's a shared private plane; once you get to the destination, you're traveling by private plane. For 2023, it's four times what it was in 2019 for revenue. And we've added Alaska, we've added a bunch of new “Wings” trips to meet this demand. But I think it's such a smart product because commercial air is so unpredictable right now.

Carole Pertusini, IC Bellagio: We had a couple of requests for clients with Italian roots asking us to do some research about their family—and this is something we’ve done in Sicily, so we have amazing people on the ground. They got in touch with the town hall, they did research in the offices, found out where the family used to live, if the building is still there. Usually, they're very small towns and they go there with a driver. It's not a cultural tour; it's, "This is the house where your great, great grandparents used to live."

Roundtable at Signature Sales Conference
Under-the-radar locales like Umbria, Italy and Corsica, France are among clients' requests for 2023. (Photo by Chris Coon)

Marett Taylor, Abercrombie & Kent: Actually, one of the hardest ones that we got from a Signature advisor was a client in Montenegro who said, "I'd like to go shopping today… in Florence." And, so, we got a charter plane.

Carole Pertusini, IC Bellagio: We had clients from Florence who wanted to go for aperitif in Venice. Just for an aperitif and then they went back. They wanted a Bellini.

Ignacio Maza, Signature: Is there a destination that you think is underrated and should get more attention?

Wendy Taylor, Preferred Travel of Naples: South Korea. I just had the opportunity to visit and only scratched the surface. It's extremely safe. It's extremely clean. It's a terrific culture; people are just so delightful, and they love Americans. There’s a great food scene.

Marett Taylor, Abercrombie & Kent: I feel like Rwanda doesn't get enough attention, because people just think gorillas but as a destination it has so much more. And it is one of the biggest success stories in Africa, in terms of how you manage a country out of something that was pretty chaotic and how a good leader can make a big difference.

Katie Cadar, TravelStore: Two things come to mind. One is Zambia—and I'm not talking about Victoria Falls. One of the most beautiful places I've been is the Busanga Bush Camp, and nobody knows about it. The other is Romania, which is such a gorgeous country. Not enough elegant hotels yet, not great infrastructure, but I must go back—so beautiful.

Mina Agnos, Travelive: For me, it's really the mainland of Greece that does not got enough attention. Yes, the Peloponnese, but also northern Greece because so many people are focused on summer in the islands and all beaches and beach clubs that they're not really thinking about all the incredible gems that we have all over the mainland. You've got great farms where they make olive oil, lots of wineries, great food, great people, you've got so many UNESCO Sites, lots of ancient history culture. It's a 365-day destination.

Sam McDiarmid, Auberge Resorts Collection
Sam McDiarmid, Auberge Resorts Collection, says New Mexico is an underrated domestic destination. (Photo courtesy Signature Travel Network)

Sam McDiarmid, Auberge Resorts Collection: From a reverse perspective, New Mexico is one. You can go in August and it's 80 degrees when it's 100 degrees everywhere else and you can escape the humidity. Plus, the sheer number of incredible national parks in that region, you see some really phenomenal sites. I would also say Cape Cod in the fall. September to October is absolutely the sweet spot. Labor Day happens and then place just empties out. And you have the best weather, the best beaches you can get into the restaurants without a hustle.

Christine Smith, Global Escapes: I think that Slovenia and Northern Croatia are so overlooked. They are so beautiful and are far less visited. Some of the islands that are in Northern Croatia are never visited because everybody goes to Split and Dubrovnik, they don't stay north.

Carole Pertusini, IC Bellagio: I would say Dolomites. Everyone knows Dolomites, but we still don't have enough people going there. There's something to do during the summertime, during the wintertime. There's a lot of nature. There's a different culture compared to other cities you may find in Italy because it’s right on the border. So, people are different and it's very authentic. We have been talking about a different luxury and I think that Dolomites is the perfect destination. I would tell someone to spend a couple of days in Bolzano because it's a city, and then I would go to Cortina for some hiking or some cooking classes.

Jodie Wert, Plaza Travel: For me, Tasmania. I feel like everyone wants to go to Australia and they want to see Sydney, they want to go to the Great Barrier Reef. But Tasmania is so special it's like stepping back in time and, just, the food, you've got mountains, you've got water, you've got all the outdoor activities. It's special.

Jennifer Virgilio, Queen of Clubs: In my destinations, I would say Le Marche and Calabria. But there aren't really any five-star luxury hotels in either place right now. So, that's really for the person looking for something a bit more unique and less explored right now. Corsica in France and I think we're going to see a big surge of luxury properties opening in Burgundy, as well. So that will be hot soon. And in England I think the Lake District is just amazing. I think it's so unfortunate that it's not explored.

Victoria Batten, Langham Hospitality Group: Our Langham Hotels are in mostly in destinations that are on the beaten track, but Jakarta—especially from a leisure point of view—is least on that pathway. So, I've been talking to the hotel about why people go to Jakarta. And obviously you've got the Komodo dragons, you've got the very famous diving destination, Raja Ampat, which is close by. So, I think that's a way in which we can help educate advisors as to why stopping in Jakarta en-route to some of these other places is worth it.

Ignacio Maza, Signature: A place that really surprised me was Northwest Argentina, which nobody goes to—nobody thinks about Salta and [San Salvador de] Jujuy and those areas. And with the peso versus the dollar, it is very affordable, it's authentic; it's special, it's off the beaten path. There’s great food, great wine, wonderful outdoor activities and yet nobody is thinking about that, especially Americans.

For more from this conversation—which includes how the luxury traveler has changed since the pandemic and ways advisors and suppliers can better work together—check out "Part 2."

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