All signs point to continued growth in luxury travel

The Regent Hotels & Resorts booth at the International Luxury Travel Marketplace.
The Regent Hotels & Resorts booth at the International Luxury Travel Marketplace. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing

CANNES, France -- The global financial markets might have been roiling last week, but at the world's premier luxury travel event, there was nothing but optimism that the luxe boom, which led the industry's recovery from the Great Recession, will remain on a steady growth course.

"Crazy-sick busy" was how Andy Levine, founder of cycling adventure tour company DuVine, described business in the past year. 

There were similar responses from many of the travel advisers and suppliers who once again set attendance records at what has become one of the premier global luxury shows connecting top-selling agents with destinations and luxury travel companies from every part of the globe.

Now in its 17th year, the International Luxury Travel Marketplace (ILTM) counted 1,800 travel advisers and 1,800 exhibitors from 109 countries among its participants. 

And even after years of booming growth in luxury travel, there was absolutely no indication that the happy days were showing any signs of letting up. In the adviser community, Protravel International president Becky Powell said her company has seen a marked increase in customers in just the past year.

To meet demand, she said, the company recently opened offices in Austin, Texas, and Orange County, Calif., and she said she expects to open several more next year, probably in the Pacific Northwest and on the East Coast.

In the past, she said, most of Protravel's growth has been the result of acquisitions, but with double-digit growth in sales this year, the saying "if you build it, they will come" has proved to be true.

The biggest challenge, she said, has been creating training programs for the many millennials seeking to enter the business, to help them establish successful agencies while maintaining the company's brand standards.

Virtuoso chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch said the rise of travel advisers has never been stronger, with the business attracting "investment bankers, young people, college professionals."

"Today, this profession is on the leading edge of the digital-nomad revolution," Upchurch said. "People can work from anywhere, and their travel generates business."

Much of that mobile business, he said, is marketed through "their social media postings."

There is also an increasing number of products for the many consumers seeking travel and experiences that hit the mark for the modern definition of luxury, he said.

"The base level of quality is getting so good," Upchurch said, "It's getting hard for luxury products to differentiate themselves because premium products keep raising the bar."

Indeed, Levine said that while he does not want to grow too big, he keeps looking for unique products to meet the growing demand for trips like his, which offer healthy food with active adventures.

Among his newest offerings are trips on luxury sailing yachts -- or gulets -- to small islands between Turkey and Greece, where guests are met at the docks with bikes they can ride around the island and meet up with the yacht on the other side later in the day.

As with most ILTM events, the Cannes show included two and a half days of big luxury companies standing up in the media center to rattle off seemingly endless lists of hotels and resorts being developed in increasingly far-flung locations.

There were a few new announcements, including one from InterContinental Hotels Group, which has signed a new Regent hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, its first development deal under the Regent luxury brand it acquired earlier this year.

In addition, Hilton's Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts announced a four-year partnership with Aston Martin to offer guests access to the luxury automaker's latest vehicles, special "Art of Living" stay-and-drive packages and VIP access to Aston Martin Racing events.

And while health and wellness travel has become almost mainstream in the luxury sector, it was the theme of the opening session this year, with the ILTM releasing research showing there is still much room for growth in this arena by agents, who still rank low on the lists of those who influence people to seek out such vacations.


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