This week I’m continuing my report about the trends in luxury travel based on the conference I went to a few weeks ago…
Last week I talked about revenge travel and how that is translating to the luxury travel experience, based what I learned at the Luxury Travel Summit in New Orleans. This week I’ll cover a little more about the trends in destinations and travel styles.
There is a strong desire for travel, and we are seeing folks plan their bucket list trips sooner rather than later, and extending their typical travel time to add in extra experiences or just to enjoy the destination longer. Many have saved money during covid, with savings rates soaring, so they are ready to plan those special trips.
As we look at luxury travel, Egypt is the #1 destination, followed by East and South Africa. Other key destinations are Peru, Alaska, and various areas of Europe. The Galapagos is a top pick for multi-generation travel. Some other high trending destinations are Machu Picchu, Antarctica and Australia and New Zealand.
There is a trend toward more open spaces, like the plains of Africa or the South Pacific. Countries that are open right now are getting booked up for 2022 and 2023.
For folks who don’t want to travel overseas, North America’s National Parks are the top destination. Since many parks require reserved passes for access, travelers are not bothering with planning their own arrangements but joining small group tours so they can relax and enjoy more fully.
Once of the themes in travel now is ‘Disconnect to Reconnect’ – getting farther into nature, away from devices and the internet, so folks can really spend time interacting with each other.
For some the style of travel is changing, where we see more custom private guided travel than in the past. Sometimes this may be folks wanting to have their own family bubble to travel, and other times it more about just having that personalized approach and the customization to do exactly what they want with their own private guide. A particular appeal is having that flexibility to change the flow of an itinerary, even while you are touring – if ready for a rest on a long day, or realizing a particular sight is not of interest, or just ready for a drink and people watching. A good professional guide listens for clues and recognizes when it’s time to adjust the itinerary to better accommodate your needs.
Private jet travel has seen a significant increase over the last few years, with travelers either focused on a creating a travel bubble of friends and family, or just the desire to not deal with the procedures of commercial airports, since private jets depart from small regional airports where you can drive up, board, and fly away. Depending on the destination and timing, private jet travel can be a high-value option for many types of trips.
From a cruising perspective, luxury travel is on smaller ocean vessels, typically hosting 200 to 1000 guests, compared to the contemporary cruise ships that are designed for 2500 – 6000 guests. Some of the smaller ships tend to offer larger cabins, even at the lowest cabin category, compared to the larger ships, and consistently offer more public space per guest.
One of the most significant benefits of smaller ships is the access to smaller ports and towns with fewer tourists that provide a more authentic experience. One of the cruise lines that focuses on this in particular is Azamara Club Cruise line, a set of four boutique cruise ships that accommodate 700 guests each. They like to introduce new ports each year, but the ones that are particularly interesting are the ones that are inland on a river.
When Azamara visits Seville Spain, it sails 60 miles upriver to dock in the heart of Seville, while the larger ships have to dock at Cadiz on the coast, an hour away. Their port visit to France is in Rouen, which is 60 miles inland on the Seine, while larger ships dock at Le Havre, a coastal city; for travelers who want to visit Paris, Rouen shaves an hour off the trek to Paris (times two for going and then coming back).
When I sailed on Seabourn a few years back, we ported in Bordeaux for two days, 80 miles upriver, and were in the heart of the city of Bordeaux. It was fabulous to walk right off the ship to the culture and history of the city, as well as easily meet with our arrangements for exploring the wine regions on the Left Bank and Right Bank.
Another attribute that luxury lines tend to focus on is the extended time in port and overnight visits. It’s a different feel in exploring when you have the opportunity to go ashore in Mykonos after dark and experience the nighttime vibe without all the tourists, or go to an evening show in London when your ship is docked in the city with an overnight visit.
Tying in luxury travel with special events makes checking off those unique experiences on your bucket list very easy. Azamara features a Scotland Intensive cruise in August so one can attend the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a cruise to Rio for Carnivale, a Mediterranean cruise at the time of the Monaco Grand Prix, and a British Isles voyage to see the British Open.
AMA Waterways, a family-owned river cruise company with ships throughout Europe and in Egypt, developed a new ship that is double the width of the other river ships. While this ship cannot sail all the way from Amsterdam to the Black Sea since it can’t fit in the locks, it focuses on the Danube and is designed to create an elevated river cruise experience, with double the size but only 20% more passengers. The ship offers more suites and larger innovative cabins, including some that accommodate up to four people, or have connecting rooms. There are four distinct dining venues. It has an elevator to the Sun Deck (no other river cruise ship has this), which gives passengers with mobility issues full access on the ship.
Seabourn is introducing their new expedition ship next year, and like many other lines, will have Zodiacs, sea kayaks and a specialized expedition team. What is very different from other lines is their two custom 6-passenger submarines that will provide a truly unique adventure for those who want to explore in a totally different way.
Because of trips shifting from 2020 to 2021 and now to 2022 and beyond, many small group tours and cruises are almost sold out or on waitlist. Tauck has opened some of their 2023 itineraries without pricing – you can go ahead and hold a date and cabin with a deposit, and then when pricing comes out, you will have ten days to decide to keep your reservation or to get a refund.
Clearly, any trip that is a ‘must-do’ for you, or if you have very limited dates you can travel, means you want to make arrangements sooner rather than later.
Every country seems to have different requirements and procedures for Americans traveling to their destination, so be aware of any required tests or paperwork (I provide that guidance to all my clients). At this point many tour companies and cruise lines are requiring that guests be vaccinated, so ensure you know the rules for any travel suppliers you are traveling with (again, I help with all that).
Luxury travel is focused on experiential, exclusive, authentic and localized experiences, and those local experiences seem to be the ones where we will see the most innovation. The desire for human connection will create even more opportunities for authentic interactions in the destination. We’ll see some wonderful new travel moments as the world opens up more and more.