By Adam Hoydysh
How do you define luxury travel? It’s a well-worn phrase, one which translates across industries and generations; but how can we truly understand such a subjective concept? With the increase in demand for unique and exotic holiday experiences, the luxury travel market is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 6.83 percent globally. So the question becomes – Is luxury travel about the appearance of a hotel, or more about the service? Can it be attributed to the destination or the amenities? What about emerging technology, or local experiences? How can hoteliers ensure they are tapping into the potential of luxury travel and appealing to modern guests?
Depending on who you ask, the key indicators and differentiators of a luxury travel experience may be different. But, at its core, luxury travel calls for a truly exceptional, memorable and otherwise unique experience. Modern travelers especially crave an accessible, new-age luxury experience that spans across the marriage of high-touch and high-tech service, local experiences, high-tech amenities and so much more. Modern luxury, if anything, is rapidly evolving within the hospitality realm, and hoteliers are heeding the demand to keep up with the trends. After all, in an industry that is constantly reinventing itself, it becomes paramount for hoteliers to keep their finger on the pulse of emerging guest demands.
So, what are the key luxury travel trends hotels should watch in 2019? We’re here to tell you.
Cultivating a unique and authentic experience
“I think authenticity is becoming a rare commodity around the world, so having authentic experiences is the essence of luxury travel. It’s important to support local communities and sustainable tourism.” – Christine Gray, Editor-in-Chief at Luxury Travel Magazine.
The travel industry — actually, nearly every industry — has witnessed a consumer-driven push towards the prioritization of unique experiences rather than material goods. With this trend, we realize a subsequent shift in the perception of ‘luxury travel’.
For many travellers today, a luxury travel experience is derived from the provision of an ‘authentic’ experience — that is, experiences (food, landmarks, local traditions and culture etc.) that are local to a destination and not associated with notorious ‘tourist traps’. Likely stemming from our generational susceptibility to ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out), modern travelers are looking to tap into the more coveted, elusive experience that the average traveler wouldn’t necessarily have access to. Think of memorable excursions or moments that not only are intimately tied with the location of the property and the locale but will have travelers talking, posting about and bragging about on social media. In fact, reports show that 70 percent of people think that trips, where you have new experiences, are more important than those where you see all the sights. In some cases, this might be a hidden waterfall off the beaten path, and in other cases, this might be a selection of local wine (not to be found elsewhere) offered by a hotel.
Offering a more authentic, local travel experience also feeds into the recent demand for sustainable travel. In fact, recent findings show that prospective travelers will now opt for one travel business over another, depending on which company has a better environmental record. With 2019 being touted as the year of the ‘conscious traveler’ everything from human rights and equality, the local economy, to improved working conditions and environmental issues will influence the luxury travel segment.
High-touch and high-tech: Finding the perfect balance
When we think of a ‘high-touch’ service model, we typically picture a rather traditional service approach. Hands-on attention from staff, a ‘home away from home’ experience with personal touches, frequent in-person touch-points etc. However, it’s important to realize the way(s) in which emerging tech has allowed for a more modern high-touch service approach, one which marries tradition with new-age technology for a truly frictionless experience. From mobile check-in and native apps to self-service kiosks, on-demand wine and complimentary Smart TV in hotel rooms, and even AI-powered butlers — hospitality tech has never looked so good. More importantly, it’s never been so accessible. After all, for many, it’s the small moments that have the most significant impact. In the case of luxury travel, simply having the opportunity to check-in via mobile, help yourself to an in-room glass of wine (without the room service) and turn on Netflix can be the stand-out, key differentiators.
Ultimately, with the inclusion of technology, hotels can amplify a high-class hospitality service with enhanced convenience and an influx of new touch-points (in other words, opportunities to ‘wow’), while giving each guest complete autonomy over how they engage with their hotel’s property. Not only that, but the staff is then freed up to dedicate their undivided attention and energy to those touch-points which demand it, and go above and beyond within their guest interactions.
In fact, ‘smart rooms’ are predicted as the next big thing in hospitality, with hotels across the globe investing in in-room technology that allows guests to adjust their room lighting, temperature, and TV all from their smartphone. Further, we’re witnessing the inclusion of voice-activated technology, in-room iPads, 4K TV, AI-powered concierge and so much more — all of which represent exciting strides towards a more personalized hospitality experience.
This also paves the way for ‘virtual companions’, in which travelers who are accustomed to digital assistants (Alexa, Siri etc.) and high-tech experiences can benefit from virtual personalities throughout their stay.
When it comes to luxury, it’s easy to think ‘big’. Bigger rooms, bigger budgets, bigger experiences, and longer stays. While this does apply, in some cases, 2019 is predicted to be the year of ‘bite-size travel’, better known as micro-travel. Longer duration trips can be tough to schedule with careers and families and, as such, an influx of modern travelers are hoping to take more weekend trips this year. In fact, booking.com recently revealed that 53% of global travelers plan to take more weekend breaks in 2019.
While the duration of each guests’ stay may be shorter, this represents an exciting opportunity for the luxury travel segment. Why? Because travelers are looking to enrich their weekend trip with packed, curated itineraries and memorable experiences. This also gives way to more frequent trips and increased turnover, which can prove to be profitable for hotels who are able to cater to this new demand for bite-size travel options. This means last-minute flight and hotel deals, weekend booking incentives, car rentals and more to appeal to the new, micro-traveler.
A guest segment which might be especially interested in micro-travel? Foodies. In other words, those modern travelers who are seeking out destinations and hotels specifically for the culinary experience they offer. This trend is, in itself, referred to as ‘food-focused travel’, in which hotels are offering guests decadent in-room dining, curated cooking classes based on local cuisine and specialties, organic ingredients sourced from local farms, food and wine pairings and so much more.
With these trends (and many more) pushing the envelope of what hoteliers and guests consider to be ‘modern luxury’, 2019 is positioned to be an especially exciting year for hospitality.