"There has been a dramatic change in how we define the concept of luxury travel over the past few years, largely due to the current economic climate," Engi Bally, former Public Relations and Marketing Manager of SilverDoor, told A Luxury Travel Blog. "It has pushed consumers away from conspicuous consumption towards more authentic, simple and genuine experiences that incorporate elements of environmental awareness and social responsibility."
Traditional Definitions of Luxury
When most people think of luxury travel, they think of excessively opulent accommodation. They think of 7-star hotels, like the Burj Al Arab in Dubai (even though hotel ratings aren't standardized and are essentially meaningless), and rooms that are lavishly decorated, like those in The Trumps' Manhattan apartment: enough gold and marble worthy of pre-revolutionary France.
They think of comfort. They think of first-class, where travellers are served hot meals (your choice from the menu!) and sleep snugly on a long overnight flights—and where you most definitely will not be dragged off when overbooked.
They think of members-only experiences and high-quality service.
At the British Columbia Association of Travel Writer's annual symposium this year, keynote speaker Katherine Brodsky define luxury travel as "having special access to something that other people do not have. It's about being able to provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or an activity or an experience the other people may not be privy to without the right amount of cash."
Exclusivity is the ultimate in luxury. Such a traveller will not be herded along in a coach tour with 35 others.
Luxury travellers can afford solo, customized travel, or at least to join group trips with limited membership. Robert Kenyon, President and owner of First Cabin Travel Corporation, argues that custom tours are best. "The luxury of a custom tour allows one to choose to spend more or less time at a particular site and to end the day when they so please."
The Ecole Hoteliere Lausanne, a hospitality management school in Switzerland, agrees. It has "customization" as one of their five Cs of luxury travel. Luxury travellers want choice so that they can make their travel experience individualized and unique.
Luxury means you get the best of the best in all areas of travel: accommodation, food and, most of all, service. Katherine Brodsky knows she's had a luxurious travel experience when her expectations were met and exceeded. Luxury is about getting more than you expect; it's when service is, as she described it, over-delivered.
Dane Steele Green recommends speaking with a concierge at your hotel in order to get the inside experience. He writes that a concierge's job is to know a destination inside-out, "including those oddball attractions that make a vacation spot, even one long on the tourism radar, into a truly unique experience."
Having the ultimate in comfort and service will always be on a luxury traveller's must-have list, but that's not the only thing we should think of anymore.
New Definitions of Luxury
"Luxury becomes about an experience that's really transcendent," Katherine Brodsky told the crowd at the BCATW symposium. "And it also has the power to change us somehow because of the interactions that we have, because of the things we are able to see and experience."
Many travellers these days are looking for an immersive, authentic experience. As technology and transportation innovations continue to improve, remote destinations are opening up to tourism. Extreme destinations like Antarctica and Galapagos Islands are becoming more popular. And as more people around the world are entering the middle class and earning disposable income, more are choosing to spend their money on travel. This means that wealthy travellers are reaching even further to find that special access that only they can afford.
Luxury travel is now defined "more by access to the people, places, and experiences that represent all that is authentic about a destination," George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of Red Savannah told A Luxury Travel Blog, adding that "today’s luxury traveller seeks more depth of understanding and immersion into local culture than ever before. People don’t just want to see—they want to participate."
This is where luxury travel and basic backpacking intersect. Millennials, we are often told, value authenticity more than anything else. And it is no different when it comes to travel. Young travellers and old are searching for "real" experiences that cannot be replicated. It's taking exclusivity to a whole new level.
"People’s travel aspirations are changing, and this is true throughout the market," says Selina Jackson of ReadyClickAndGo. "It is individual travel created out of the wealth of opportunities on the internet, economic constraints and a growing sense of responsible travel that allows us all to learn and discover and choose to count bats in Mongolia or go fishing in China—and gives us something to really boast about when we get home." But, as Engi Bally said, even "simple" experiences, as long as they are genuine, can be described a luxurious.
Luxury travel should transcend material experience, and in this case, that means actual material—conspicuous consumption. Helen Siwak, Editor-in-Chief of HLM Luxury Lifestyle and BLUSH Vancouver magazines and a panelist at the BCATW symposium, told the crowd that luxury travel is compatible with social responsibility. Luxury insists on quality; it's not a disposable lifestyle. These days, people prefer to brag about what they saw and did to what they bought.
Katherine Brodsky suggests that we should start talking about luxury travel differently. "It doesn't have to be 'Oh this is a beautiful room, this was a really fancy, expensive bed,'" she said. "When it's done well, it becomes this really alive experience and you really feel like you've had this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it's memorable and in some way it has affected you."
How do you define luxury travel? Have you had a transcendent and luxurious travel experience—or thought you were going to have one? Write me in the comments below!