It might well go down as a year of limitless luxury: With the stock market booming and all signs pointing to a continued economic recovery, the well-heeled are expected to keep opening their wallets wider in 2014 while challenging travel companies to meet their demands for unique services and once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
From $1.5 million-per-person round-the-world private jet tours to villa rental prices that rival some working folks' annual salaries, travel companies keep rolling out over-the-top products, "and people are booking them," said JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers, president of Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates, a marketing consulting firm for luxury hotels and travel companies.
She also noted the recent International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) in Cannes, France, was one of the best ever.
"It was quite optimistic," she said of the mood at ILTM. "I think people were interested in everything. No one was saying this is too expensive or that is too expensive.
"The mood was infectiously jubilant."
Indeed, this past year has seen a boom in products competing for the ultra-high-end traveler. A Utah company, EnvJet tours, is launching around-the-world and Hawaiian private jet golf tours in 2014. Abercrombie & Kent upped the ante on its private jet tour products with a $1.5 million around-the-world tour that carries just eight people on luxury business jets. And Intrav is launching a product with lie-flat seats.
"It's quite competitive," Kurtz-Ahlers said. "Private jet travel has been around, but now how you do that is on another level."
And all signs certainly point to a market capable of supporting the increasingly pricey products.
"The recent strength of the stock market will make it more likely the affluent, who own over 80% of all stocks and bonds, will increase their spending for travel," said Ron Kurtz, president of the American Affluence Research Center. "The spending mood of the affluent is clearly influenced by what is happening in the stock market."
His and other surveys over the past year have pointed to travel as a key area where the affluent intend to increase their spending.
Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman and global leader of the travel, hospitality and leisure segment at Deloitte, agrees.
"Luxury is still really strong," Weissenberg said. "I don't see that changing in 2014. The demand that is out there is not going away. There is definitely a lot of wealth out there."
According to the organizers of ILTM, more than 10.5 million people across the world are now millionaires, and that number is predicted to rise by another 10 million before 2020.
One luxury area that is expected to see continued high demand and growth is health and wellness. The Global Wellness Tourism Economy report released by SRI International in October projects wellness tourism will grow nearly 10% a year for the next five years, nearly twice the rate of global tourism overall, to reach $678.5 billion by 2017.
Six Senses, for instance, an early leader in the sector, just announced it is adding nine resorts in Asia, Europe, South America, Northern Africa and the Caribbean.
That will bring its total number of properties to 18 over the next 36 months.
But wellness travel no longer means just having a spa on property. It's about destination spas and targeted programs such as yoga and meditation, boot camp-type weight-loss programs and detoxification and health- and beauty-focused options.
"There are so many different types of choices out there," Kurtz-Ahlers said. "But they are all very purposeful. I think that is a big trend -- purposeful wellness."
Also look for a continued shift in the demographics of luxury travelers.
Wealthy travelers are no longer just the traditional 50- and 60-something couples checking off their bucket list or taking their kids and grandkids on vacation. The 2013 Portrait of American Travelers by the travel marketing agency MMGY Global and the Harrison Group reveals that women now make up the majority of affluent travelers, 54%, which is up from 42% in 2010.
And Kurtz-Ahlers said that some smart companies are tapping into younger workers in the fields like technology and oil and gas. She said a Russian travel agent she met at ILTM has moved his business to North Dakota.
"North Dakota is the new Russia," she said. "There is so much development going on there with natural minerals and oil and gas and all of these things. People are there from all over the world. There are all these different pockets that you don't hear about."