If you’re looking for insight into luxury travel in 2016, consider what was trending in the category by the end of this year.
Whether it’s personal touch, authentic experiences, customized wellness or technology that uses profiles to drive everything from special offers to bathroom amenities, minibar selections and pillows, the future of luxury is, well, highly personal.
That was the theme at the heart of nearly every discussion at the recent International Luxury Travel Market in Cannes, France. And it is one that is increasingly driving the top luxury providers to come up with original packages.
In many ways, this trend builds on the original tenet of luxury: service. But it creates many challenges for luxury hotels and travel companies to meet the demands of a new generation of travelers who value experiences over things and who want what they want exactly how they want it. And right away.
Those demands are driving everything: special apps; new local partnerships that offer travelers authentic, private, local experiences such as behind-the-scenes visits to museums or shows; private cooking lessons with top chefs; or a personal greeting to their child by Snow White at Disney World.
Much of the focus toward personalization is driven by technology. And hotel firms are racing to develop the best apps and other tools for tech-savvy travelers.
At Hilton Worldwide, for example, luxury brands head John Vanderslice says more than 14,000 people have downloaded and kept the Conrad brand’s virtual concierge app, which helps guests customize their stay in advance or onsite, with options for customizing bath amenities, scheduling airport transport and wake-up calls and scheduling room service and spa treatments. The app works across all the brand’s more than two dozen global properties in more than a dozen languages, and requests are immediately translated to the language spoken at the hotel and routed to the proper department.
Luxury hoteliers say that technology is also driving changes in how concierges interact with guests to deliver personal service, as many guests arrive already knowing everything there is to know about the property and its location from the Internet. So a new focus is on using their connections to secure meaningful local and personal experiences.
The Peninsula Hotels for example, in a partnership with Luxe City guides, have launched PenCities guides through mobile portals and in print that offer tips for dining, entertainment, shopping, design, nightlife, spa and wellness, plus the latest openings, special cultural events and seasonal celebrations in each of the 10 cities where Peninsula has properties.
The Peninsula Chicago recently announced a Keys to the City “experiential program” that offers complimentary access to “only-in-Chicago” experiences, including a private tour and a hands-on kitchen experience at the three Michelin-starred Grace restaurant, a priority pass and complimentary guidebook to the Art Institute of Chicago, and access to VIP intermission during a Broadway in Chicago performance.
Similarly, each of the Waldorf Astoria hotels now offers “Unforgettable Experiences,” which include everything from personalized linens and towels to private helicopter tours, an afternoon at Gladiator School in Rome; a private tennis clinic with Jimmy Connors in Boca Raton, Fla.; and a camel ride and a secluded dinner in the desert for two in Dubai.
Personalization is also driving the evolution of the spa and wellness sector. Six Senses, one of the pioneers of wellness travel, just announced Six Senses Integrated Wellness, in which the group’s in-house experts measure and analyze key physiological biomarkers to provide guests with lifestyle and nutritional advice. They also design a personalized program of spa treatments, fitness and wellness activities. Develop by doctors, the program is based on both the preventative principles of Eastern medicine and modern Western medical advances.
But it’s not just hotels and resorts that are focused on personalizing luxury travel. Travel agencies such as American Express are investing in the latest technology to link their global databases to offer personal touches and keep the conversation going through their clients’ trip and make sure, for example, that hotels and tour operators have the information they need about their guests or offer experiences like last-minute show tickets or activities that match guest preference and personality.
Not just for adults
Moreover, luxury travel is also no longer just about the adults.
Claire Bennett, executive vice president of American Express Travel, points to a trip her company arranged through its Journeymakers program in which the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman created an experience for a boy who loves the culinary arts but felt he was too old for the cooking classes offered for children at the resort.
The hotel invited the boy, named Reed, to join the staff of Blue by Eric Ripert for an afternoon, where he received a complimentary, child-size chef uniform, then reported for duty to help head chef Okan Kizilbayir taste dishes and help with prep.
“Okan let him taste several dishes and help out with the preparation of others,” the boy’s mother wrote to American Express Travel.
Following his afternoon, the mother said her son “returned to the room proudly with a dirty uniform and a signed cookbook.
“That night, we ate at the restaurant and Chef Okan came out and spoke with Reed again, as well as giving us an extra tasting,” she said, “and invited him to the kitchen to see it during the busy evening service. After telling Reed to proudly ‘keep his stains’ on his uniform, Okan bid us good night. The whole experience was amazing, and it gave Reed a huge self-confidence boost. It was simply magical. Here’s to you, Chef Okan, for helping my son start making his dreams a reality.”
Luxury consultant JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers, owner of Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates, which represents hotels, resorts, yachts and destinations, said that with more people traveling to more places and having new experiences, the ante for personal, experiential travel “keeps getting upped.”
“People want to feel like they are doing something as a local,” she said. “So the people who can bring it alive are the people who are going to attract the travelers.”
Contributing editor Jeri Clausing edits Travel Weekly's Luxury eNewsletter.