Arnie WeissmannWe all must eat. We need shelter. We've got to pay taxes. The vast majority of us seem to feel we also need a car, a bed, a mobile phone, a washer and dryer, furniture, air conditioners, a refrigerator, a TV and a computer. And if any of them break, they must be repaired or replaced immediately.

In most circumstances, clothing is not optional.

Should there be any money left over after getting these necessities, there are a number of other things we can buy with our "discretionary" dollars. And despite travel industry rah-rah about Americans' deep-seated "right to vacation," most analysts consider leisure travel to be "nice to have" rather than "need to have."

If so, vacation budgets must slog it out not only with discretionary options like live entertainment, dining out, jewelry, perfume and other fancy stuff, they also must compete with upgrades of the necessities: a nicer car, a bigger home, a smarter phone, a larger TV, a faster computer.

Last week, at the World Travel Market, I happened to sit down at an industry dinner next to Mark Mayhew, who is chairman of a London-based wholesale packager, Jac Travel. He introduced me to a term I had never heard before, a phrase that seems as oxymoronic as it is brilliant: nondiscretionary leisure travel.

His reasoning goes like this: If your spouse has a birthday, you are going to take her or him out to dinner. This is not an option. It is mandatory. Likewise, your anniversary.

Similar events, he believes, occur in the travel world.

I think he's on to something. Perhaps the most widespread of nondiscretionary leisure travel, one which is de rigueur in the consumer world and taken for granted by most of us in the travel industry, is the honeymoon. Indeed, any bride who might hear, "Darling, with all this economic uncertainty, I think it's wise to just skip our honeymoon," will say, "I don't!" faster than she said "I do."

All signs indicate that nondiscretionary leisure travel is on the rise, though a more common label is "celebratory" travel. Destination weddings, family reunions and intergenerational travel (especially when the grandparents offer to pay) are other good examples of nondiscretionary leisure travel.

The price point for nondiscretionary leisure travel vacations can be scaled up or down, depending on the celebrator. In London, I was introduced to Mandip Singh Soin, managing director of Ibex Expeditions, which is headquartered in New Delhi. He told me how he had recently flown to Colorado Springs to keep a promise to his son and skydive with him when the boy turned 18. The promise made it nondiscretionary.

One of the best tactical exploitations of nondiscretionary leisure travel that I've seen was a 2009 campaign that slyly offered to let anyone celebrating a birthday come to a Disney theme park for free. I'm sure that there were a few lonely hearts who rode "It's a Small World" solo to mark another year passed, but I'm guessing that the majority were accompanied by paying friends and family members.

• • •  

In London, I also had the opportunity to have breakfast with Mexico's minister of tourism, Gloria Guevara Manzo, to discuss our upcoming webinar on the topic "Mexico: Perception vs. Reality." The breakfast was scheduled for 30 minutes but lasted an hour and a half. I learned a lot about what is going on across all of Mexico, and she shared information that will, I believe, help travel agents feel much more comfortable in selling the destination. Please register to hear our live conversation Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. Eastern. You will be able to directly question the minister. To register, click here.

• • •  

I attended a lunch at the World Travel Market where the keynote speaker was Johan Lundgren, the northern region managing director of TUI Travel, the largest packaged-tour operator in Europe. They follow the European package model of vertical integration -- that is, their clients can use a TUI travel agency to book the trip, fly a TUI plane to their destination and stay in a TUI hotel once there. The company has in the past flirted with the idea of expanding into America, so during the Q&A, I asked if they had plans to enter the U.S. in a meaningful way. "No," Lundgren answered. "China and Russia are better opportunities."

• • •  

It was fun to sit down last week with Anthony Lee, who recently moved from being general manager for London's Connaught (he was there for 31 years) to take the same position at the nearby May Fair Hotel. Among his various plans for his new employer are to ask Toto, the Japanese maker of the high-tech "Super Toilets" that include such options as seat-heating and massage, to design an entire bathroom for special suites. He also plans to section off a portion of the hotel's bar and brand it [email protected] Fair. The "150" refers to the number of centiliters in a magnum of champagne, and for 2,000 to 4,000 pounds (depending on the vintage), you and 15 or so of your closest friends can enjoy four magnums of Dom Perignon, along with carefully paired small plates.

Travel agents, scour that database: It sounds perfect for someone's next nondiscretionary leisure trip.

Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.  


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