2013 Consumer TrendsIt fell the hardest but also bounced back the fastest, and as the world's most affluent consumers continue to gain confidence in the global economy, industry observers see nothing but increasingly good times ahead for the luxury travel market.

As for the stigma that attached itself to the word "luxury" after the global economic crash, Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman and global leader of the travel, hospitality and leisure segment at Deloitte, said, "It's not a bad word anymore."

Weissenberg predicted that demand, and prices, will only keep rising as luxury travelers clamor to roam the globe while banks remain hesitant to finance new high-end hotels and big cities like New York, Paris and Hong Kong run out of room for growth.

Not only do luxury hotel and tour companies agree that the industry has seen a complete turnaround to no-apologies opulence, but a new generation of travelers willing to expand their budgets for off-the-beaten-path and once-in-a-lifetime experiences is creating a second category of luxury traveler for agents to tap.

"The younger generation is really traveling," Weissenberg said. "They are looking for more experiences." He recalled that a couple of "my best friends went to Africa, stayed at a luxury place to start, then biked somewhere in Africa and dropped off their bikes in some little village where they donated the bikes."

Still, he said, despite the general trending among all types of travelers toward adventures and experiences, luxury travel in general has not changed that much since it was shunned during the global economic crash that began in 2007.

"I still think the baby boomers, a lot of them in general, are still looking for pampering, good food," Weissenberg said.

Luxury travelerIndeed, private-jet tour companies like Intrav appear to be thriving. Intrav just added eight new all-inclusive, around-the-world and regional itineraries topping $100,000 per person.

Hotels are offering packages with private helicopter tours, yacht rentals, driving tours with Bentleys and Ferraris and personal in-room shopping with famous jewelers and designers.

"We are talking about a small sliver of the traveling population," Weissenberg said. "The people who had a lot of money still have a lot of money. Maybe they had $100 million net worth. Now that's $50 million. That's not going to keep them from staying at a fancy place. Real estate is back up, 401(k)s are back up."

And that confidence is driving the market that spends the most and tends to use travel agents the most.

The latest travel booking trends survey of leisure travelers conducted by Travel Weekly shows that those who use agents spend almost twice as much per year on travel as those who don't. (Read more from the Consumer Trends report here.) 

Jim Taylor, vice chairman of the Harrison Group, recently told a luxury summit that his company's survey of affluence and wealth in America, revealed two categories of wealthy: the Worth Dominant and the Deal Dominant.

The Worth Dominant embrace the concept of luxury and love to show off their wealth. The Deal Dominant, however, see themselves as smart shoppers, not spenders. They believe no luxury is a necessity. The word "luxury" to them signifies "overpriced."

And while the Worth Dominant represent the most lucrative market for agents to tap, luxury travel providers agree that there is a second rising class of luxury travelers, particularly among younger travelers seeking adventure and experiences in emerging destinations.

As Paul Kerr, CEO of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, said in a recent interview, he thinks much of the demand for luxury is driven not so much by the super wealthy but by people ages 40 to 65 who tell them they would rather spend their money on great travel experiences than things like fancy cars. "They are really interested in having holidays and experiences far more than owning things," he said.

Pamela Conover, CEO of SeaDream Yacht Club, agrees. She said that while customers of SeaDream's small yachts are willing to pay for luxury cruises, they are still value conscious when it comes to things like air travel.

"A lot of our customers fly on JetBlue," she said.

It's the desire for new experiences that is fueling a fast rise in luxury tours to far-flung locales like Myanmar and Vietnam.

Earlier this year, SeaDream said it was sending one of its vessels to Myanmar and other remote Asian ports this winter.

"Traditionally, since the line started, it has focused primarily on both ships being in the Caribbean in the winter and the Mediterranean in the summer," Conover said.

But as guests repeat, she said, the company is changing its itinerary to offer new adventures. And Myanmar and other emerging Asian ports top many people's bucket lists.

Myanmar is also among the countries that Abercrombie & Kent says is in high demand by its customers. And recently, Orient-Express announced it will launch the Orcaella, its second ship on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar.

At the same time, Vietnam tour operators report a surge in interest.

Weissenberg said that while the emphasis on experience and going off the beaten path is a trend that crosses all sectors, one of the more noticeable changes among traditional luxury travelers is their increased focus on health.

"One thing is so much more interest in spas, and having that holistic experience is becoming more and more popular," he said, recalling that on a recent trip to Turks and Caicos it took three days to get a reservation in the resort's spa.

Read more from the Consumer Trends report here. 

Photo of luxury traveler courtesy of Shutterstock.com.


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