by Peter J. Bates

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What's Happening With Today's Traveler? A Six-Month Review...

It is half way through the year, which I find is a good time to reflect on the state of luxury travel and to recalibrate our strategic efforts based on the reality of bookings and trends of the past six months. As luxury travel marketers and advisors, it is vital for us to remain on the pulse of the latest news and trends so I surveyed approximately 50 advisors at the owner or manager level who graciously shared some enlightening feedback about today’s affluent consumer.

Read on for their valuable insights…

What destinations have been the most popular for affluent clients the past six months?

Accordingly to our survey, 70 percent of respondents named Italy as one of the most popular destinations for bookings in the past six months. Whether it’s the amazing cuisine, gorgeous art, or rich culture and history, Italy has broad appeal – and as one respondent stated, consumers have a “constant love affair with Italy.”

There is a wonderful cultural diversity in Europe – where “clients never seem to tire” of the continent. Respondents repeatedly mentioned France and Spain as well as London, where last summer’s Olympics and the upcoming Royal Baby seemed to have raised the city’s profile. Croatia was also listed for its undiscovered appeal. One agency said that a key with Europe is crafting “wow” moments in classic European capitals, which speaks to the continued desire for the treasured experiential and enriching aspects of travel. One respondent did warn, though, that Europe’s popularity could decrease “if air stays at such high levels even for coach.”

South America – particularly Peru, Colombia and Brazil – ranked high for its “perceived value,” “variety,” and because it is “interesting and luxurious.”

As I expected, Egypt, the Middle East and Mexico were the destinations mentioned as those that have seen a decrease in interest and bookings due to safety and security concerns. It is unfortunate because they are so culturally intriguing, but as one agency executive aptly put it – “consumers want no risk.”

Respondents also indicated that parts of Africa are soft as is Asia for reasons that include “clients have been there, done that with the Far East,” and “shifts in trends and political reasons.” I find it noteworthy that while we as marketers have used (and in some cases overused) the “bucket list” concept, one respondent stated that India, Africa, Morocco, Australia and New Zealand were slower for their agency because “they are cyclical bucket list places and expensive” (relating to the cost of air travel to these destinations).

While some respondents indicated that parts of Africa and Asia were slow, there were those who cited Southeast Asia (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) and Eastern and Southern Africa as trending up destinations because the affluent seek “cultural and new mild adventure experiences,” plus the “exotic.” One respondent reflected that Africa and India are “the next interest for the well-traveled and adventuresome.”

A greater push towards crafting educational travel experiences and a desire to explore roots at home is driving greater interest in traveling around the U.S. National landmarks and parks; last-minute summer/fall vacations to California, Colorado, Montana and the Northeast (for long weekends); rail travel in the U.S. and Canada; and cities such as Miami, New York and Orlando/Disney are all popular.

Current market trends certainly can influence the destinations or experiences the affluent select for their leisure travel pursuits. Take the incredible growth of multi-generational travel, which was consistently mentioned throughout survey responses with grandparents dreaming “about educating and expanding their grandkid’s horizons.” So, how does this burgeoning trend translate into destination choices?

Hawaii was recognized by 47% of respondents as one of their most popular destinations in the past six months for reasons that include it is “great for multi-generational travel” as well as “easy and safe.” Villa rentals in Italy and France are also on the rise because families “continuing to realize to value of time away together,” and villas offer “private, more customized experiences.” Leasing luxury homes for family vacations creates a “more intimate experience” that bodes well for making life-long memories.

Respondents confirmed that milestone celebrations give a wonderful reason for families/friends to travel together and create life-long memories.

To say that river cruises are the buzz of the year is an understatement, and it is immensely supported by our survey feedback (Please note: This survey was conducted prior to the devastating floods that have recently impacted river cruises in Central Europe –

Aside from river cruises being “easy and safe with all included,” the sailing experience provides “a different perspective in seeing cities” in an intimate setting and a showcase for “unique villages and towns” that might otherwise be missed. Beyond the cruise itself, river cruises in Europe might be bolstering the entire continent’s appeal, whether it’s for classic places or other cities such as Prague, Vienna and Budapest.

One respondent did indicate that river cruises “will be strong in the mass market rather than the luxury market” because the experience will not “sustain the luxury client.”

It seems that group travel/tours (not family and friends traveling together, though) has diminished; one respondent said they “haven’t sold one in three years.” Why the downward trend? Respondents stated that high-end clients crave “the luxury and independence of spontaneity” and that travelers want to “take command of their travel experiences” and the “freedom to manage the pace of their travel.”

Cruises (not river cruises, though) appear to be “struggling to grow among new travelers,” whether it is due to “bad press” or the fact that consumers are seeking different types of travel experiences; one respondent gave the example that deluxe Caribbean cruising has “been done to death.”

In reviewing the results of the survey, there were a few other key points I wanted to share:

• We’ve heard this before and it’s not going away – the affluent greatly dislike “being nickel and dimed” such as when luxury hotels charge for the Internet while medium-range hotels give it for free. They’d prefer for rates to be adjusted in order to eliminate the “nickel and dime” approach.

• A nod to the vital importance of staff training, one survey participant stated that the affluent will “avoid airlines, hotels and destinations that don’t offer outstanding customer service.”

I will address further results of the survey – on the subjects of ancillary fees and social media – in my next blog post so please stay tuned.

As always, I welcome your feedback. Let’s keep the conversation going.


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