For Luxury Travel, Participatory Experience Is the New Black

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Luxury travel isn’t what it used to be—and has evolved into a richer definition of how to “be” while traveling. A new study by travel industry giant Sabre Hospitality Solutions underscores the new landscape, as well as the opportunities, for travel and hospitality brands.

Sabre’s latest report, “The Future of Luxury Travel,” underscores the fact that travelers’ ideas of luxury are changing “as the world’s ideas of wealth and status change.”

Increasingly, the travel technology software provider said, high-end travelers “choose subtle indulgence over flashy logos and conspicuous consumption. And they’re gravitating toward travel that enables them to live out their personal values and fulfill their dreams through exclusive experiences.”

Thus, for example, “luxury travel” now might mean flying by helicopter to a remote desert peak for an exclusive yoga class or undergoing specialized training to be able to explore the wreck of the Titanic. Experience, clearly, is the new black.

“The evolution of high-end travel is creating a marketplace where ‘luxury’ is defined by the most exclusive, unique experiences that reside at the intersection of affluence and access,” Sarah Kennedy Ellis, vice president of global marketing and digital experience at Sabre, stated in a press release. “We see guests moving beyond traditional ideas of status and embracing highly bespoke travel opportunities that focus more on the individual traveler’s personality and values and less about expressing opulence.”

In this changing market, for example, luxury travelers increasingly identify themselves as “post-status,” choosing subtle indulgence over prominent logos and showy opulence—contrasting with the ostentatiousness of some traditional luxury.

Also, new luxury travel consumers want to be able to express their values through their travel. That might include eating ice cream made from fruit that otherwise would have been classified as waste and sent to a landfill, for instance.

This trend should have seen such experiences as Carnival’s Fathom cruise line, announced in 2015 as a new way for cruise-goers to travel with purpose, social impact and awareness, succeed.

However, Carnival announced in November that the Fathom standalone social impact cruise brand was being discontinued but confirmed that it would continue as a participatory travel experience across its fleet because “Fathom is evolving into a special shore experience for all brands in different parts of the world.”

Sabre isn’t the only travel-tracker to identify this trend, as a thirst for authentic and unique experiences also applies to retail and other sectors.

As Travel Market Report noted last year,

“More and more travelers are demanding an “authentic” travel experience, a trend that experts say plays into the hands of experienced, high-touch travel agents who can help consumers sift through the vast array of opportunities the world offers.”

According to a recent Expedia survey, 76% of baby boomers rate experiencing authentic local culture as “the most important” aspect of their decision making, while 62% of Generation X consumers rate local culture most important.

Just as the new Airbnb Trips platform has started encouraging its hosts to expand their role (and make more money) by leveraging their expertise to become tour guides and instructors dubbed “experience hosts” (offering hands-on experiencesfrom learning millinery in London to making your own perfume in Prague), the trend has influenced the more traditional travel industry.

Tour guide operators such as New York City’s Authentic Italy to expand its range of experiences and get more hands-on and bespoke than ever before, as Travel Market Report noted:

“Authentic Italy trips include experiences like meeting the Urbani family, famous for exporting truffles worldwide. Authentic Italy guests can follow Urbani’s truffle dogs on hunts in the Umbrian countryside, attend a hands-on cooking class at Urbani’s Truffle Academy in Scheggino, dine at local farmhouses, and visit wineries where a sommelier guides them through the best wines to pair with white and black truffles.”


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