As more safari companies announce new deals and travel companies offer enticing packages from all over the world, one question continues to pop up: are people travelling right now? Thanks to data, we know that they are, in spite of fluid quarantine measures and border restrictions in different countries.
But what new trends should the luxury travel industry take note of if they want to attract these people whose love for new adventure transcends current challenges? The Virtuoso Travel week, which held virtually earlier this month with over 4000 luxury travel experts, provides us with this crucial information. Here are five key takeaways from the analysis of its surveys.
A. 2021 cruise bookings are (really) strong
Despite a seemingly endless newsfeed of cruise crisis stories, loyal cruisers are eager to get back on the water. Virtuoso’s data shows that traditional cruise clients will continue sailing. Ocean cruises are only down single-digit percentage points, and bookings for river cruises are up 14% in 2021.
Remote adventure cruises are also gaining in popularity. Ponant’s new Le Commandant Charcot, launching in May 2021, is garnering big bookings. The ship, operating off a mix of battery and energy-efficient liquid natural gas, will reach the true geographic North Pole and remote parts of Antarctica where few humans have been, like uninhabited Peter I Island. Across the Ponant fleet, travellers are also booking future Antarctica and French Polynesia itineraries.
B. People are willing to pay for space on aeroplanes
As travel picks up, and more airlines look to fill flights, 73% of Virtuoso’s luxury travellers would pay more to ensure an empty middle seat.
Airlines have been nickel and diming travellers for years with frustrating fees: baggage, food, drinks, seat assignments, entertainment. But people will pay to feel safer in a crowded space. “Give people real value and they’ll pay for it,” says Misty Belles, Virtuoso’s head of global PR.
C. The number one dream destination isn’t Italy
Data on travel dreams can be as insightful as actual bookings. And for Virtuoso travellers, the number one dream destination is South Africa, a top spot typically held by Italy.
“Limited, monotonous experiences at home lead us to fantasize about the most vivid, exciting sights, sounds, and discoveries,” says Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry Africa. “That is what South Africa offers in the most authentic, raw way through its land, history, culture, food and wine, people, and wildlife.”
Could there be a larger, more meaningful reason why so many of us are dreaming of Africa right now? As Zur says, tourism money is crucial to conservation efforts because so many African lodge owners rely on the revenue to protect endangered animals and local communities. The pandemic has touched everyone across all borders, and being a global citizen has never been more important. The notion that “travel is a force for good” may drive booking decisions more than ever.
“While many people may feel their next trip—beyond a road trip or quick getaway—is still in the distance, they feel strongly that when they travel internationally again, they want it to count, to mean something,” says Zur. “And no destination stirs the heart and soul or imbues meaning more than Africa.”
D. Luxury travellers want their money to mean more
According to many Virtuoso advisors, luxury travellers are asking more often about company values: how they’re helping local communities and ensuring sustainable business practices.
“There’s a question of whether profit and purpose can coexist on the same piece of paper,” said andBeyond CEO Joss Kent during Virtuoso’s Under One Sky sustainability summit. “But I want to use andBeyond as a case study—we are proving that you can have high-profit margins while investing in conservation and maintaining high guest feedback scores.”
Kent says they’ve tripled their investments on the impact side, including projects such as providing water to 56,000 people, building 185 classrooms, going 99% plastic-free as a company (so far), moving endangered animals to Rwanda and Botswana, and setting up marine conversation platforms.
“If you think you have to trade profit for purpose, think again. They can coexist,” he said. “The more you focus on doing good, the better you will do financially.”
E. Travellers won’t find cheap luxury, but value-added luxury
Based on constant uncertainty, travel recovery will be slow, so that means you can get great deals, right? Well, yes and no. According to Virtuoso, it will hurt luxury travel significantly if prices on luxury products drop. An owner of a small Italian hotel said it takes five years to recover even just a 10% rate cut.
“We have encouraged our partners [such as hotels] not to lower pricing,” says Becky Bullen Powell, president of Protravel International. “If they want to do something, we recommend a value-add. We want to make sure pricing stays the same, but that clients have the best experience possible.” Your value-add could mean an extra night free or room upgrades, a free cultural experience, or perks such as spa treatments, cocktails, and meals.