What are sophisticated luxury travelers looking for? According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2013 tourism contributed $2.2 trillion to world gross domestic product. Capturing the imagination of the high end traveler guarantees a huge chunk of this money.
During my 20 years of work (fun) in the travel industry, I have sold travel to a broad spectrum of travelers and read evaluations from over 10,000 travelers. Am I qualified to predict the future? Not at all, but I will share my observations anyway.
What is moving these top end travelers to pack their bags and choose a destination or mode of travel?
Some basic trends have always been hot and remain so.
1. The chance to be first is always hot: New, undiscovered/rediscovered destinations:
Cuba (already waning?), Bhutan, Tibet, Nicaragua and new sites at old destinations--Zahi Hawass, former Minister of Antiquities in Egypt, was genius at this. Every month there was a new fabulous find in the Egyptian dessert making Egypt hot all over again -- until sadly, it got too hot. London or Shanghai art tour, Real Estate tours of Miami and London--show me the properties... voyeurism is always hot.
2. New pastimes/challenges:
Things that stretch your comfort zone wherever you define it.
Sadly, climbing to Everest base camp is out for a while after tragic recent deaths. Kilimanjaro and gorilla watching is still hot. Scuba diving is always hot but only to a narrow segment. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef can be done by many more and even more popular as we learn of the risks to reefs worldwide. Cycling tours capture this challenge for many.
3. Newest mode of travel:
Still noteworthy and hot selling are private jets around the world, a luxe ship within a ship, private yachts or historic hotels that have been reborn. This includes the iconic "Christina", Aristotle Onassis' yacht where you can pretend you are Maria Callas. The "Haven" on NCL, yacht within a ship concept is popular. Private villas are hot but only if really unique. Not the time share variety. Historic hotels that offer the chance to relive a time gone by are growing in popularity. The Adlon in Berlin, Grand Bretagne in Athens and the Shangri La in Paris. For even more history the Crillon in Paris will always be hot when it reopens. (Marie Antoinette's music rooms and where Edith Wharton famously stayed and said she would never stay in the "nouveau riche" Ritz.)
4. Traveling with or in the wake of celebrities and movie sites:
Loosely defined but whoever might be or has trended on Twitter. There is some backlash among top buyers who would never want to be seen a following the celebutant trend. So beware if you are a property offering free nights to big names to attract new customers. Having Kim and Kanye may not attract the demographic you are looking for. Hosting Warren Buffet or Bill Gates might.
Movie sites almost never lose their luster. From Jane Austen films, to Harry Potter to New Zealand's Hobbit landscape visiting iconic sites is fun. Sir Richard Branson -- are you ready to capitalize on Star Wars?
5. Going deeper:
Traveling in the company of noted experts, scholars and authors who share cutting edge information. One of our tour operators at the Smithsonian did this very well. We hosted several World Leaders' cruises. Silversea ships were chartered and 200 guests mingled with actual world leaders during the trip. I joined one that sailed around the Arabian Gulf with former Secretary of State James Baker and former Secretary of Defense William Perry as our guides. No one asked the price or compared the price to other Arabian Gulf cruises -- only how they could sign up.
6. Destinations and properties that touch a sense of your past or what you wish your past had included:
Wonderful family time, pilgrimages, carefree pre tech world, youthful pursuits and Celebratory vacations with loved ones are included here.
Meet the pope, the hottest "get" today -- this could be listed in 4, 5 or 6. Pilgrimages, with or without the pope but to significant sites are very big at all price points. Family travel that allows time together and time apart continues to grow. Disney Cruises gets this right -- and a perfect brand match doesn't hurt.
In conclusion, what experiences are exciting me for my clients? Travel that is comforting, enlightening and has insider access, but is respectful to a region, nature and one's sanity. Where do I plan to travel next? Looking forward to traveling with noted author and historian Alison Weir to public and private sites from the life of Mary Queen of Scots. I will also visit an English country house where I can make my own gin in a barn wearing wellies.