Analyses - August 14, 2006



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August 2006


Print Customer segments, Products and activities,

More to luxury travel than meets the eye

The transition from an emphasis on the tangible to a focus on the emotional is changing the face of luxury travel. Products are evolving to include uniqueness, eccentricity and exclusivity in the travel experience. In the luxury market, authenticity is key and providers have to keep things fresh.

Without doubt, today’s luxury consumers are increasingly diversified and their behaviour has changed over time. Travel industry insiders now talk about traditional luxury versus new luxury: the former is associated with five-star hotels, posh resorts and high prices, and the latter, while still expensive, is the anti-thesis of material consumption and the desire to possess costly objects. Focused on emotions and experience, it has more to do with the manner in which one consumes luxury items.

Luxury means…

  • a spacious hotel suite, a room with a view, a penthouse, a limousine
  • an upscale brand, a place where the staff knows your name

But it also means…

  • time, space, silence, privacy
  • an emotional experience
  • getting away from daily concerns and the complexity of the world at large to a place where everything is simple and easy
  • something original, out of the ordinary, and above all…
  • exclusivity!

A diversity of experiences, from the eccentric to the unique

A luxury traveller can rent a fifty-room castle in the Scottish Highlands for a family reunion or charter a fully crewed yacht for a honeymoon in the Mediterranean. He can practice an extreme sport and look forward to a butler and spa services at the end of the day. Interested in personal development, she can learn photography, sailing, join an archaeological dig or cook with a famous chef. Consumers are pushing the envelope in their quest for what is new and exclusive. Established standards are falling by the wayside; more and more, luxury clientele want to be where the action is and optimize the self-fulfilment aspect of their experience.

The upscale travel site offers clients the chance to become a fighter pilot for a day (Top Gun Challenge), fly over the Himalayas and see the summit of Mt. Everest, take part in a high-performance boat race from Miami to Key Largo (Poker Run), take a private jet to an exclusive golf and safari experience in South Africa, and more.

Conversely, luxury travel can also cater to a completely different set of needs: relaxation, privacy, a focus on health, personal pampering and an opportunity to experience renewal. These other needs mean that companies operating in the luxury niche have to offer a wider variety of more sophisticated products – from spas to spiritualism and from mud wraps to meditation.

At the same time, there is the desire among luxury consumers for ownership – even partial – of something like a villa, yacht or condominium on board a cruise ship. There is also the “small is beautiful” concept, where guests seek the privacy of a residence club or the ambience of a small hotel to fulfil their desire for intimacy.

Many destinations that are still considered exotic, such as South America (with Brazil at the top of the list), the Baltic states, Africa, China, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Rim, are attracting new customers, while established urban and resort destinations (London, Paris, Tuscany and the Côte d’Azur) are holding their own.

Soul and style now the signature of the hotel industry

Prestigious institutions in the world of luxury accommodation have recently created chains. For example, the Crillon luxury banner has the celebrated Hotel de Crillon in Paris as its flagship, while the Waldorf-Astoria has given rise to the new Waldorf-Astoria Collection. Another new chain, Capella Hotels & Resorts, has been launched under the direction of Horst Schulze, the man behind the recent success of the Ritz-Carlton.

For the past several years, celebrated architects and icons from the world of fashion and design have been developing hotels stamped with their signature style (there are hotels named Armani, Bulgari and Versace, and each of the 11 floors of the Hotel Puerta America in Madrid was designed by a famous architect). Bathrooms are getting bigger and more lavish. Many hotels are taking on local accents by using materials and décor that reflect the culture of the host country.

Customized and “tailor-made” solutions are now the order of the day. The size of a hotel is becoming a distinguishing factor because it is still quite difficult to deliver quality, personalized service in an establishment with over one hundred rooms. Long-established luxury hotels must shake off the dust if they want to attract Gen Xers (25-40 year-olds), a growing customer segment. In fact, the reputations and austerity of such hotels tend to intimidate these young consumers who are looking for a more modern image and the ease afforded by high-tech amenities.

Spa products very popular

Neil Jacobs, senior vice president-operations, Asia-Pacific, for Four Seasons Hotels, stresses that spas are now a given, just like restaurants and meeting space. Spas have become a deciding factor when selecting a place to stay. Although still in their infancy, destination spas are experiencing tremendous growth. Spas come in various forms: eco-spas, thalassotherapy spas, medi-spas, urban spas and ayurvedic spas (employing traditional Indian folk medicine), to name a few. The privacy afforded by spas, the service focus of these resorts, experienced therapists, authenticity, elegance, refinement and excellent cuisine (famous chefs) are all elements of a luxury experience.

Airline services taking off in all directions

The inconveniences of air travel (crowded airports, restrictive security measures, waiting times, deteriorating service, delays, etc.) discourage most passengers. To avoid these problems, to make every minute count, and to enjoy point-to-point travel with no transfers, many wealthy travellers are turning to various alternatives.

Air taxi services are becoming more common (e.g. Boston-Newark), offering competitive fares and reducing the delays associated with traditional airlines. A helicopter service (US Helicopter) now takes passengers between downtown Manhattan and Kennedy Airport in only eight minutes for US$160.

Rental, charter, co-ownership and ownership of jets are just some of the other options explored by wealthy customers. Growing demand has made the process easier and chartering a jet is becoming as easy as renting a car. The very latest service innovation is the membership card (which requires a large deposit) that enables the holder to subscribe for prepaid charter time at a lower hourly rate.

The new A380 airplane is redefining the notion of luxury service. Its interior can be configured to offer a bar, office, casino, gym, lounge, private sleeping area, open area so passengers can stretch their legs and, the height of luxury, showers! However, water for showers remains problematic because of the weight.

If you are in the business of luxury, it’s got to be real!

In this market segment, the “best” is standard. Although high prices remain a given, they are not the only mark of a luxury product. A number of words contribute to the perception of value: exclusivity, reputation, brand integrity, experience. The “take-care-of-me” attitude of this clientele, the desire for personalization and recognition of one’s standing all require flawless service and flexibility. Moreover, a personal butler for each guest is becoming the norm in the highest luxury bracket.

Although the luxury travel industry is booming, it is worth noting that the life cycle of a luxury product is relatively short and the concept of quality is no longer so narrowly defined. Company executives are feeling market pressure to create more diversified, authentic and unique experiences. Companies must constantly: refresh their products and embrace innovative concepts; update their products to keep them timely, modern and current; adapt products for every customer so that clients enjoy a personalized experience; and recruit exceptional staff who can deliver on the experience.

However, there is an industry trend towards one-upmanship that should be avoided. Is it necessary to offer a choice of 18 different pillows in every room? Does bottled water have to be served by a sommelier? Should customers be able to select from among 12 different pens simply to sign a restaurant bill? If a company is known for impeccable quality, customers should have total trust in the brand.

As clients in this sector become increasingly demanding, customer relations management is key to building loyalty. For this reason, providers must emphasize service quality, attention to detail (like a hand-written note) and extend their efforts both before and after the customer’s stay.

– “Survey: 2006 Consumer Trends in Affluence & Luxury,” June 23, 2006.
– Smith Travel Research. “Experts Discuss Future Of Luxury Travel,” June 26, 2006.
– Travel Weekly, special issue “2006 Consumer Trends in Affluence & Luxury, June 14, 2006:
– Chipkin, Harvey. “Hotels Indulge the ‘Give Me More’ Generation.”
– Chipkin, Harvey. “Spa-centric Hotels Part of an Evolving Trend.”
– Gebhart, Fred. “Private Jet Travel Taking Off in All Directions.”
– McDonald, Michele. “Airbus’ A380 To Send Luxury Transport Soaring.”
– Weiner Escalera, Karen. “Luxury Travel Now… And What’s Next,” [], October 2005.
– Weiner Escalera, Karen. “Luxury Travel Now And What’s Next for 2006,” [], March 2006.
– Weiner Escalera, Karen. “Luxury Travel Now And What’s Next III,” Smith Travel Research, May 2006.

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