If you're wondering what's happening in the world of luxury travel --- which seemed to fizzle out when the economy tanked -- it's finally time to rejoice again. Ultra high net worth travelers are spending again, though no longer taking extravagant, showy vacations as they once did. Matthew D. Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, a global luxury travel network says, "Their travel decisions are more value-driven rather than price-driven." Takis Anoussis, General Manager of NYC's Helmsley Park Lane agrees. "People will pay $800 or $1000 for a lovely suite but not $5000 as they might have in the past." He says.
I spoke with the top high-end travel agents and tour operators, and they all agree on these global travel trends:
1. Value. "Everybody, regardless of money, wants value for their dollars," says Martin Rapp Senior Vice President Leisure of ALTOUR. "It used to be, 'just book it', but now travelers want the mini-bar included or the 4th might free." Good news for travelers is that hotels will negotiate. Some have started to throw in extras: the Villa Feltrinelli in Italy offers complimentary laundry and a complimentary mini bar. Hotel Le Toiny in St.Barths offers comp breakfast and laundry. The newly-opened Elysian Hotel in Chicago includes tipping.
2. Multi-generational and family vacations have also become an important trend, though families are traveling differently than before. "Many clients who would ordinarily travel with their families over Christmas and New Years' are traveling over other random weekends when rates are much lower both for resorts plane tickets," says Jack S. Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations. Families and multigenerational groups are not only traveling together more often, but now, they're not just going for sun, sand or snow. "They are increasingly interested in the culture and history of international destinations," says Brian Morgan, CEO of Adventure Life.
3. Volunteerism While popular luxury destinations such as Thailand, Kenya, South Africa, and New Zealand have not changed, travelers now want to interact in a meaningful way with the local people. Tour operators such as Hands Up Holidays have incorporated a volunteering/ philanthropic component into all their tailor-made luxury trips. "The experience may include 'pure philanthropy' where clients visit a project and see the impact of their giving, or it may be more hands-on, such as helping as a reading partner in an impoverished school, restoring an orphanage, or building a house," says Christopher Hill of Hands Up.
4. Enriching Experiences. Even on an exclusive cruise, travelers now want to be surrounded by seals and dolphins or on an African safari, to sleep in surreal luxury tree houses with incredible views. "After awhile, places can kind of feel the same, but experiences are long lasting," says Andy Hayes, Managing Editor of Sharing Travel Experiences, "especially those that tug on the senses."
5. Private Villa Experience. Affluent consumers are requesting private villas, which offer affluent travelers the service and amenities of a hotel with the privacy and intimacy of a home. New offerings such as the Algodn Mansion in Buenos Aires and the Amanyara Villas in Turks and Caicos are prime examples of over-the-top private villas for the elite traveler.
6."Private Island Resorts and Products High-net-worth individuals are booking private island resorts such as recently opened Scrub Island in the British Virgin Islands and Laucala Island in Fiji," says John Clifford, President, of International Travel Management.com. They are also chartering luxury products such as the Orient Express Royal Scotsman train (which carries just 36 guests) or taking over a property such as the 6-bedroom "Guest House" on Russia's most prestigious salmon river.
7. Human Powered Vacations. No longer content to sip cocktails and lounge by the pool all day, travelers want to move, sweat, and do something life-enriching that benefits both body and mind. These travelers are trekking, cycling, kayaking, and going on fly-fishing trips. With physical activity and eco-awareness on the rise, travelers are now combining bicycling or trekking trips to distant lands with first-rate accommodations and gourmet meals.
8. Spiritual travel has become very popular, especially among women, who will spend tens of thousands of dollars to do yoga in Hawaii or India or to take a luxury Nile Cruise. In anticipation of the American movie based on bestseller Eat Pray & Love, Spirit Quest Tours offers a spiritual Bali trip, and others will soon follow suite.
9. Fantasy Trips are hot, especially fantasy sports trips such as to the Masters, the British Open or Super Bowl. Experiential trips are also in demand, such as golfing in Scotland, wine and olive oil tasting in Tuscany, gaming in Las Vegas, and cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu or Ritz Escoffier. These days, every fantasy is possible -- even an Air Combat experience (flying a military aircraft with a pilot) and engaging in dogfights in Florida.
10. The Next Hot Place: Seasoned travelers are always looking for new emerging travel destinations, which this year are India, Vietnam, Cuba. Dubai, Bhutan, and Lebanon. (Still hot are Africa, Egypt, Italy, Mexico, Australia, France, the Galapagos, and Couchevelle, which Ezon of Ovation calls the new St. Moritz.