Luxury market 2010: The year in review

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InsightIt's been a challenging year for travel sellers of all stripes, but 2010 offered glints of hope for the luxury sector, where demand showed signs of improvement. Suppliers rolled out scores of new products and put on their thinking caps to find new ways to lure travelers.

With a new year about to dawn, we glanced over our shoulder to review some interesting new products, market forecasts and other tidbits that stood out during the past 12 months.

• January: The Relais & Chateaux hotel collection added 31 properties to its roster, bringing the total membership in the travel association to 475 members in 57 countries. Notably, three of the new member hotels were located in cities, and that represented a major shift in strategy for Relais & Chateaux, which traditionally has had its roots in country hotel properties.

• February: Virtuoso agents reported significant spikes in advance bookings, with more than 80% of the luxury organization's retailers saying that their agency's future bookings were higher vs. the same time in 2009. Virtuoso travel agency owners and managers were polled at five regional meetings throughout the U.S., and the news was a sign that better days were ahead.

• March: Traveler demand prompted Lakani World Tours, best known for its luxury private jets and tailor-made itineraries, to create a series of escorted programs to less-accessible, exotic destinations, such as Namibia, Libya, Bhutan, Iran, Tibet and Mongolia.

• April: The former Miami Beach residence of fashion designer Gianni Versace opened as an ultraluxury hotel with 10 suites. Called the Villa By Barton G., the property was transformed by Barton G. Weiss, the well-known culinary arts celebrity and events producer.

• May: In a major expansion of its Far East tour excursions, the Yachts of Seabourn added 40 programs in China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam for passengers sailing on Seabourn Pride's Asia voyages.

• June: The upmarket industry was found to be on the mend, said high-end retailer Altour. Its early summer survey found demand continuing to grow across all travel categories, signaling that recovery was under way.

• July: Abercrombie & Kent took the wraps off its newest cruise offering, and the result was a step back into history. The Zein Nile Chateau is a traditional lanteen-rigged sailboat, known as a dahabieh, designed for families and small groups of friends traveling together. A&K said the vessel was the first dahabieh to be built to international luxury standards, with four cabins and two suites.

• August: Based on its successful launch of an Independent Journeys portfolio early in the year, adventure tour operator Travcoa vastly expanded the product line to include more than 50 prepackaged, prepriced itineraries for couples, families and small groups of friends who prefer to travel privately.

• September: L'Auberge de Sedone, one of the top luxury resorts in Arizona's Red Rock country, unveiled 18 "ultra-luxurious" cottages as part of a $25 million expansion.

• October:This month brought a milestone for Virgin Galactic, the developer of commercial, suborbital space flights, when the firm owned by Richard Branson completed the first, piloted, glider flight of its VSS Enterprise.

• November: Four Seasons Prague promised to wow clients with a private, torch-lit tour of the 14th century Karlstejn Castle, located not far from the luxury hotel. The guided tour offered visits to the gothic castle's rarely seen Chapel of the Holy Cross -- not typically open to the public.

• December: Patagonia cruise specialist Cruceros Australis began service aboard its new ship, the Stella Australis. The vessel was commissioned in celebration of Cruceros Australis' 20th anniversary, and accommodates 210 passengers in 100 cabins.

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