Top ten luxury travel trends set to redefine your world

Poor old luxury. If there was ever a word that’s been battered and bruised over recent years, it’s luxury. Wrapped around anything and everything, argued over by everyone and stretched so thin and far that its little syllables have nearly popped, luxury has almost forgotten what it set out to do in the first place. Sometimes luxury has to find solace with its worried friends ‘exclusivity’, ‘boutique’, ‘prestige’ and ‘five-star’… but it’s no use. Once they all had a purpose, now more often than not they have inappropriate friends such as ‘hotel’, ‘destination’ or ‘resort’. It’s so difficult to find meaning in their lives.

By Andy Round

They are not the only ones. Want to start a fight after your next trade conference, launch a debate about what luxury travel really is. You’ll be up all night at that conference-sponsored bar, because luxury has become impossible to pin down. It’s so multi-dimensional, so vast, so bespoke, so international, so web 3.0, so emerging market, so individual, that… well it’s exhausting even thinking about it. And that is definitely not a luxurious state of mind.

So I’ve developed my own luxury concept. It’s not particularly original and looks a lot like Chris Anderson’s famous web ‘Long Tail’ theory, but here goes. Luxury travel choices today stretch from popularist to infinity. Whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want it, there is something for you and it’s available. All you need is the money.

Not particularly useful? Let me help. Really, luxury travel is just a magnification of general industry trends. Luxury is exactly what you want it to be; space, time, service? It’s just a matter of scale amplified by serious money.

Still not sure? Well let’s follow the rich on holiday and see what they get up to. First of all we have to know who they are and appearances can be deceptive. There are the aspirational rich – also known as the entry level rich or those reaching for the ‘statusphere’ – they might look wealthy, but perhaps they’ve just got a fractional share in that villa, chartered that yacht or rented that Ferrari.

Then there are those who travel in comfort – that’s always first and business to the likes of you and me – and finally the band of stratospheric wealthy that is growing at a phenomenal rate. Forbes magazine this year said that for the first time, the number of billionaires in the world reached four figures at 1,125 including 226 newcomers with a combined wealth that was up US$900 million to US$4.4 trillion on last year.

The mix is more international than previously with strong showings from China, India and Russia and its also getting younger – 50 on that Forbes list are under 40. What has also changed is that the really rich are starting to represent self-made people whose aspirations and aims are different from the inherited wealthy of a few decades ago.

So how do these demographics translate into luxury travel?

Interestingly. The keywords seem to be deep niche, tailor-made or bespoke (depending on your favourite marketing word), unique, philanthropic, eco-aware and using travel to enrich lives. Basically as individual as any of us.

For example the concept of a bespoke travel experience is clearly way beyond asking the hotel concierge what to do on a slow Sunday. If you have the money your experience can be as tailor-made as you like. Six members of the family who all want to do something different on a Sunday afternoon? Easy to arrange, just speak to your travel expert and they will take care of it. Now that’s luxury.

The demand for tailor-made travel is also married to the whole trend for travel as experience. And a close friend of experience is status story. If anyone with a credit card and broadband can book a trip to the Arctic, for example, its currency as a status symbol is diminished. So what do the rich do? Simply upgrade. “Arctic cruise? So last year. What you need to do is take a submarine to the North Pole.”

But don’t confuse our billionaire client with an uncaring brute. As many of these people are self-made, they feel a moral obligation to “give something back”. If this means flying the private jet down to the Sudan to work in a refugee camp as part of a short break that type of mental flexibility or schizophrenia (carbon footprint/making community school) is completely doable. And don’t even get them started on eco-consciousness, their green credentials positively gleam.

And this is all very well and good. But how does the travel industry get a slice of this highly lucrative market? With difficulty. Niches are getting smaller and smaller and being mined deeper and deeper. It’s extremely difficult for any travel industry expert to be all things to all people let alone the wealthy.

It is also genuinely challenging to find the unique. The rare destination is no longer so unvisited; the luxury brand that you thought was exclusive is making plastic shoes and that boutique hotel looks like, well, every other boutique hotel you’ve visited.

Travel, like every other facet of the luxury industry is facing challenges. But if you get the formula right and cater to that fussy, demanding, individualistic, constantly changing, inconsistent luxury travel market successfully, the rewards can be considerable.

TOP TEN TRENDS

1 TAILOR-MADE TRAVEL

“I spoke to a concierge recently who had arranged a ‘prom night run through’ for an American client’s daughter,” founder of American travel company Indagare.com Melissa Biggs Bradley tells Destinations of the World News. “They came to Paris and the daughter went to a well-known couturier for final fittings and then to a make-up artist and hair salon where they took photos and prepared instructions so the whole Parisian effect could be recreated in the US. Meanwhile, dad was browsing at rare book stores with a knowledgeable dealer.”

For companies like Indagare, voted Vanity Fair Magazine’s travel website of the year, this is all in a day’s work. “The wealthy simply like to enjoy a sense of place with elements orchestrated to match their likes,” Biggs Bradley says. “I don’t think it is unusual these days for an operator to organise six different activities for six different members of the same family and then bring everyone together for dinner. Cooking, painting, golf, shopping… whatever choice and possibility is everything when it comes to luxury.”

Biggs Bradley believes that the only way operators can survive in the future is by creating genuinely individual experiences. “You have to really get your staff to understand your customers, their personalities, their profile. They have to listen and help. If they identify a customer’s interest they should hone in on it and help that customer explore.”

Milton Pedraza, CEO of New York’s Luxury Institute, which provides US research on America’s wealthiest top 10 per cent, underlines this philosophy. “The wealthy tend to trade up to unique, one-of-a-kind products,” he says. “Products for the wealthy are no longer all things to all people they are tailored to fit exact needs.”

It’s something that Clementine Brown of super concierge company Quintessentially knows only too well. “For many of our members, the ultimate luxury is time,” she tells Destinations of the World News. “And that’s what we give them, by relieving them of the chore of scoping out the best restaurant, club or hotel by planning the party, arranging all their needs.”

How unique is unique?

Tailor-made travel experiences are just the tip of the bespoke, individualist iceberg. Industries outside of travel are going one step further. For example, the company DNA 11 creates personalised art from client’s swabs converting their genetic code into giant abstract images; DNA Fragrance makes perfumes also based on individual coding; Flattenme offers storybooks that can be personalised to incorporate photographs of clients’ children while Requiem for You is an Austrian firm that composes personalised music on demand according to your personality for around US$40,000.

2 STATUS STORIES

Any travel industry professional worth their weight in repeat business orders understands the importance of experience as today’s core travel value. In the case of the wealthy the same rules apply, it’s just that the benchmark is raised. Massively. If the masses are looking at going on an Antarctic cruise, the rich are looking for a private submarine trip beneath the continent’s pack ice.

“We are seeing a greater segmentation of the wealthy and their travel habits,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of New York’s Luxury Institute. “It is about memorable experiences, story-telling, bragging rights. The wealthy are always looking for something truly exclusive.”

Guy Dittrich, a contributor to Wallpaper*, shares these sentiments. “I think the more remote it is to get somewhere the more exclusive it becomes. Yes people are discovering Laos or Antarctica but take somewhere like the little island of Panerea north of Sicily, it’s very awkward to get to, but once you are there it feels luxurious and special.”

For Indagare’s Melissa Biggs Bradley travellers’ bragging rights usually translate to experiences that challenge limits such as camping in the Arctic or trekking across the Sudan. “People want to make their lives more interesting to enrich their life stories,” she says. “They are looking for the next safari the next destination. In other cases they want to enrich their experience.”

The most obvious way to do this is by learning or developing a skill and the growing trend for more and more mini-breaks or the true luxury of time in the form of a lifestyle sabbatical offer the perfect opportunity.

Paying a fortune to work in the kitchen of a Michelin-starred chef and get screamed at on a daily basis may not be everyone’s idea of a fun holiday but back home the experience translates into entertaining dinner party conversation, particularly if you cooked the meal yourself.

Concierge service Quintessentially recently arranged to have a group of millionaires deposited in the Amazon with nothing but knives following survival training with the Brazilian Special Services. As the company’s Clementine Brown puts it, “The super rich are always looking for ways to spend their money that shows how savvy, quirky and imaginative they are.”

Gerald Krischek, EAME brand director for Starwood’s Luxury Collection, St Regis and W Hotels, agrees. “To attract the affluent traveller now and in the future it is important to hit all their passion points which I see mostly in food, fashion, art, history, adventure and, of course, wine. Acquiring knowledge and expressing one’s creative side goes well beyond cooking classes to offering everything from videography and tea ceremonies or instruction in the visual arts.”

Headline:

Telling tales

Of course creating personal status stories is not restricted to the rich, but an issue of key importance is finding the outlet through which to tell your tale. ‘Life caching’ or the collection of memories is a trend that’s been around since we started keeping diaries. Sadly, diaries are boringly private. Today going public helps spread the status. Blogs, Internet indexes, Facebook sites or personal home pages are infinitely better if telling the story is the status symbol and you need to share.

3 PHILANTHROPHY

They may be rich but your modern luxury traveller is becoming increasingly charitable and is very aware of what having money means. It’s probably because these days most billionaires are self-made. It’s not that they scrimp necessarily it’s just that they love value for money and hate waste when they build their new 150-metre super yacht.

Plus there is another element. Many billionaires feel a moral obligation to give something back to community. When you’ve earned enough money to keep the next 10 generations of your family in comfort, it seems a little churlish not to give a little something away, particularly if you worship the patron saints of billionaire philanthropy, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.

It’s the giving that counts

In the world of travel, philanthropy can translate, sometimes, into a strange form of schizophrenia. “We are seeing this in philanthropic travel that combines luxury with making a contribution,” says Pedraza of New York’s Luxury Institute. “The idea of chartering a private jet down to an impoverished country to help build a community school while roughing it is completely reconcilable and desirable within the minds of many wealthy people.”

Recommendation not just information

Wealthy consumers are increasingly rewarding companies with their business by telling their peers if they feel travel firms are acting in a socially responsible or environmentally way. The Internet has moved from being a place to find information towards a place where you share recommendations. It’s not just about Tripadvisor. The wealthy have access to Facebook and their own elite social networks as well.

Disappearing worlds

Yes ‘voluntourism’ is growing at an incredible rate but there is still a burning curiosity to visit those parts of the world ‘endangered’ by climate change such as Greenland, the Arctic islands, Maldives or Antarctica. A trip could involve a private jet, but that carbon footprint will be completely offset, after all it’s all about the meaning. “The rich may holiday on an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean one of the most pristine places in the world, but they will seek a deeper sense of understanding by getting involved in meaningful projects by meeting and being educated by the scientists working there,” says Indagare’s Biggs Bradley.

Say goodbye to the Hummer

Quintessentially’s Clementine Brown says her company’s members are becoming more interested in eco-travel. “It’s inevitable,” she says. “As owning a four-wheel drive is becoming increasingly uncool. People are spending more time visiting lodges or resorts that are eco-friendly – built to fit in with the environment around them – such as the Singita lodges in South Africa and Tanzania.” Modern cultural immersion that marries status stories with experience and green credentials are the new rich must-haves. So if your Rwanda trip includes treks to see endangered mountain gorillas with some of the profits being funnelled to their conservation it’s a win-win situation. As Pedraza says: “Philanthropy has increased to more than US$260 billion in America which is twice the figure in 1995. It’s a status symbol that people don’t notice; giving your money away.”

4 CHINA, RUSSIA AND INDIA

Destinations of the World News was recently chatting to Andy Watt head of the bespoke division of Bentley cars in the UK. He said that orders for Bentleys in China had increased by more than 90 per cent. “There is no gentle graduation from buying a first car, enjoying it and upgrading to something else in China. The wealthy in China want the best straight away.”

It was a similar story at Holland’s International School for Butlers. “Demand for our butlers is growing at phenomenal rate in emerging markets,” chairman Robert Wennekes. “A large number of the new wealthy need urgent help to run their now significant households.”

We all know that it’s important to keep an eye on wealthy travellers from China, Russia and India because by force of numbers they represent a huge economic force, so let’s look at how stunning those figures could be.

Bain & Co analysts claim that in India the luxury market will grow by 25 per cent every 12 months over the next three years while Goldman Sachs says that China accounts for 12 per cent of global luxury sales and is expected to be the world’s biggest luxury consumer by 2015 (Armani has vowed to open 24 stores in China this year alone). Meanwhile, research by Time magazine for its annual global luxury survey states that Russia’s luxury market will grow at least 15 per cent in the next five years. It’s all luxuriously inspirational.

However, the big issue is that many travellers from emerging economies still have to learn how to spend their money. If that sounds a little patronising, here’s New York’s Luxury Institute’s Milton Pedraza to put things in perspective.

“In China, for example, there is not yet a level of connoisseurship,” he says. “There is still a lack of discerning choices. For instance there are chateaux being built together as a clusters or estates. The homes are huge and luxurious but the value is negated because they don’t have the space or sophistication of a French chateau. Many wealthy Chinese are missing out on the education associated with acquiring wealth and sophisticated spending choices. However, the next generation will be more sophisticated more globally aware. The spending will be very different in the next 20 to 40 years.”

Gerald Krischek, EAME brand director for Starwood’s Luxury Collection, St Regis and W Hotels, says the key to successfully targeting luxury travellers from Russia, China or India hinges on understanding. “I call it the DNA of luxury,” he says. “Traditional markets have a ‘show you know’ approach such as the US, UK or Europe, while new markets such as China or Russia often have outer motivations and want to ‘show’. Each market motive has to be addressed differently.”

5 FRACTIONAL LUXURY

I know it’s delightful to have a sea-front villa in Sardinia for the spring, a French chateau for the summer and perhaps an Alpine retreat for those delicious Gstaad winters, but are you really going to be bothered with all the hassles of multiple-home ownership? No, of course you’re not.

The solution, of course, is to simply buy a share or a ‘fraction’ of a home/hotel/resort/villa for a few weeks of a year. But – don’t even whisper it – fractional ownership is not simply timeshare under another name. “Conceptionally, they are the same thing,” says Philip Bacon, Managing Director for EMEA & Asia of independent consultants HVS Shared Ownership Services. “But in reality they are positioned a great distance apart.

“Timeshare, typically the sale of 52 individual weeks in a single unit, has a suffered over the years from a poor reputation which has improved steadily with advances in regulation and legislation all over the world as well as the increased presence of branded hospitality players such as Marriott, Wyndham, Starwood, Hilton and Hyatt.

“Fractional ownership, however, is the sale of longer units of time – ranging between two weeks and a quarter of a year – and often developed and operated by high profile hotel operators such as Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont who have focused on delivering exceptional physical products and service to customers wishing to invest in long term, experience-based lifestyle clubs.”

So who exactly is buying into this concept? Bacon believes there are two types of fractional owner. First, the very wealthy who just don’t see the point of buying that US$5 million beach villa in Portugal when they will only use it a couple of weeks of the year and, secondly, the aspirational rich who would like to buy that villa but can only afford a fraction.

Bacon likes to use the analogy of buying a Porsche or a Bentley. If you just wanted a car you would buy something with four wheels and an engine, if you just wanted a room abroad you’d book into a hostel. Buying into four fractional weeks at the Four Seasons in Vail or Costa Rica every year is a hugely emotional purchasing decision and in some respects just as ‘irrational’ as buying a super car. Basically, if you want it, he says, you’ve got to have it. It’s primeval.

“In the past the timeshare business was very much a numbers game,” says Bacon. “It was all about pitching to as many people as you possibly could, very quickly, and that was a very expensive process. Today successful timeshare and other shared ownership business is all about matching the customer precisely with the product, at whatever cost or service level, from the simple to the ultra-luxurious.”

These ‘shares’ or ‘fractions’ of ownership come in a wide variety of flavours. You can purchase quantifiable periods of time every year or buy a share in the company owning the property or a combination of all sorts of options which are usually ‘deeded’ meaning you have clearly defined rights to sell, rent or give away your share.

Shared ownership can range from ‘non-equity based’ destination clubs and ‘private residence clubs’ to ‘condo hotels’ or ‘fractional interests’, but basically at the end of the day, they are imaginative ways to sell you time in accommodation.

But is fractional ownership a good investment? “If you spent US$200,000 on a private residence club, presumably you thought it was a good idea at the time,” says Bacon.

Sandy Grey of the European Timeshare Consumers Association disagrees. “A timeshare depreciates instantly by 70 per cent overnight,” he tells Destinations of the World News. “With fractionals we’ve no idea. I doubt they will appreciate because the market won’t allow them to do so. The market will keep ahead of it by producing new products that will keep second-hand prices down. The value of the share will also depend on to the extent you can swop your ownership. Also it’s about supply and demand. If there are more beds than people, that’s a problem.”

Paul Gardner Bougaard of the Organisation of Timeshare in Europe, which has many members involved in fractional ownership schemes, is keen to offer a different perspective. “I think with fractional ownership it is too early to tell and I think there is a price issue. The fractional market is often targeted at the high end whereas I believe timeshare offers good value for money.

“I agree that people should not buy fractional shares as an investment, after all they are investing in future holidays or experiences, however, I’m more bullish about future returns. If you buy well, why shouldn’t you enjoy a good return if you sell on?”

Although hugely popular in the States, in Europe fractional ownership’s full potential has still to be seen. “In America unlike Europe, the fractional industry was always determined to offer the consumer a huge legal structure and only hand out licences to authorised companies,” says Grey. “The products are also upmarket offered by the likes of companies such as Disney, Hyatt, Marriott so the reputation is better.”

The consumer association is, however, optimistic about the future. Tougher laws scheduled for 2009 are working through the European Parliament’s legal system, he says, and in places like the UAE, legislation is being drawn up in advance of fractional property being unleashed on the market which should ensure good practice from the beginning.

So what of the people who make their living out of other areas of fractional property? “The integrity of the sales environment is crucial,” says Adrian Bascombe of Interval International, an exchange service provider that works with companies that sell to consumers such as Marriott, Hyatt and Starwood.

“With other firms we have been working with governments in places like Dubai to ensure that there are serious regulations to protect consumers and a level playing field for developers. We have close to two million member families and a satisfaction rating of 80 per cent, it is as important to us, as it is to other operators, that the industry keeps its integrity.”

A recent PriceWaterhouseCooper’s hospitality division report in The New York Times said the average US timeshare sold for US$20,000 compared to US$250,000 for fractionals. Meanwhile in Europe shares in Marriott’s London venture 47 Park Street begin at US$216,000, De Vere’s collection in the UK starts at US$10,250 a week and six Vigia properties in Portugal start at about US$38,500.

So there you have it, fractional ownership. Would you invest in it? The last word goes to HVS’s Philip Bacon. “The sales pitch is very seductive and it depends on the sort of person you are,” he laughs. “Imagine I say to you, ‘Look at that wonderful Central Park penthouse over there, I know you can’t afford to buy it, but don’t worry, for just a few hundred thousand dollars a year you can stay there for a couple of weeks a year and live as if you owned it’. To a lot of people, that’s a very tempting proposition.”

It’s all about sharing…

Fractional ownership is on the rise in other industries as well as property. Once upon a time, fractional ownership was all about private jets with companies such as NetJets selling access to their super aircraft. But with a growing global hunger for at least a small slice of luxury living, fractional ownership has extended to just about anything.

From luxury cars (where US$20,000 buys you 50 to 70 annual driving days in a Bentley with P1 International) to the renting of designer handbags such as a US$1,890 Gucci Aviatrix Boston for just US$189 with From Bags to Riches.

In a recent report by Ledbury Research that advises luxury firms on market trends, James Lawson writes: “The price of entry into the world of the super rich is now far lower. How do I know if the guy who drives past me in a Ferrari owns it or is just renting it for the weekend.”

6 SUPER CONCIERGES

A recent American Express survey of its top members found that their biggest fear was the idea of “making a mistake”. Now, as well as a misguided bet on the credit crunch, this can be applied to making a bad travel choice.

With time so precious and a modern obsession with instantly connecting to a city/country/continent when you arrive, recommendations and insider knowledge are critical. If you don’t have time to use the internet for recommendations, you need to pay for someone who can do everything for you. People like the super concierge company Quintessentially.

“By joining Quintessentially, members are offered hot tips and specialist knowledge,” says the company’s Clementine Brown. “We only work with the very best hotels, private islands, villas and yachts and provide the best insider information. Our members have the luxury of knowing about places which might otherwise be inaccessible were is not for us.”

Supporting the concept of the concierge is the 21st century luxury traveller’s love of acquiring experience, collecting status stories and then obviously telling everyone. “People are more interested in filling their minds and being more culturally aware,” says Brown. “We provide access and the knowledge to do these things.”

Of course there are super concierges and there are super concierges. Earth, a company started by Glen Donovan, does not publish any lists or brochures, its website is a dead end and its phone number is unlisted, membership is restricted to recommendations from existing clients.

In a recent interview Donovan said: “I would say we reject about 80 per cent of what other companies promote as luxurious. For me a place like Monte Carlo just doesn’t ring a bell. It’s empty really. What I hope to offer our clients is the antithesis of that. Something truly fulfilling.”

7 LUXURY HOTELS

In the battle for luxury guest dollars, hoteliers know that they “don’t subscribe to a cookie-cutter mentality” they are always “exceeding expectations” and without doubt are “thinking outside the box”. If you get a hat-trick of luxury hotelier clichés in one sitting you definitely deserve a free room night in a luxury suite.

But the point is that although the language is often the same, many hotels are genuinely keen to be different, particularly at the top end of the hotel food chain. The result has been some entertaining innovations and some wonderful PR stunts, but one thing for sure, there are a lot of questions out there in hospitality land.

Personalised service?

Mark Miller, director of strategic planning at advertising agency Team One, has been working with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel for the past five years. “In many cases the idea of luxury has been either forgotten or confused,” he tells Destinations of the World News. “There has been a huge ‘massification’ of luxury. When every hotel company describes itself as luxurious it becomes confusing.”

Millar believes the revitalised concept of luxury that underlines the brand values of The Ritz-Carlton – such as timelessness, beyond the every day or creating genuine contrast – reflect contemporary wishes. Above all, though, it’s about the service.

“It is important to be anticipatory,” he says. “For example if you sleep on the left, it’s important that you find that house-keeping has turned down the left-hand side of the bed when you return to your room.”

Basically, the service at Ritz-Carlton has moved towards learning the personalities of guests so that habits can be anticipated. Miller stresses that this is above and beyond simply recorded behaviour. “It’s about observing how a guest acts and delivering responses that are appropriate,” he says.

Clearly in the mixed demographic of the seriously wealthy, the ‘tailored’ guest approach makes sense. Not all billionaires who wear a suit and tie want to be spoken to formally and not all guests who wear jeans want to be treated casually.

Race for space?

Guy Dittrich is an old friend of Destinations of the World News and a contributor to Wallpaper*. He knows a luxury hotel when he sees one and believes that properties are becoming more in tune with their environment. “Great style doesn’t have to mean minimalism anymore or being particularly design contrived,” he says. “There is a new generation of hotel that celebrates the values of comfort and is very reverential to location whether that means local food, design elements or architectural heritage.” Dittrich says hotel space is also becoming an increasingly important luxury element. “I think there are more hotels reducing their room numbers to create bigger suites and charge higher rates. At the Grand Bretagne in Athens, for example, they reduced their room numbers by 10 per cent to make rooms bigger. I think luxury is all about space.”

Bling backlash?

Francesca Syz, contributing editor to Condé Nast Traveller, Mr & Mrs Smith, Elle and other leading luxury travel titles, believes she is starting to see a backlash against the “whole seven-star hotel stuff”. “I believe people want a more earthy simple travel experience,” she says. “Brash is out, understated luxury that is more experiential is contemporary now. When it comes to hotels, people want a sense of where they are. I also think people are travelling in bigger groups – more cross-generational or with entourages – and tagging leisure trips onto their work so we are seeing more hotels accommodate that dynamic.” Lucia van der Post, Style columnist for the UK’s Times newspaper also calls for more hotel individuality. “A sense of place is terribly important,” she says. “I don’t want to wake up in Kuala Lumpur and look around my room and think I’m in New York. Hotels should reflect their locations.”

Credit crunch fears?

“Despite this year’s economic downturn, luxury travel is a top priority for those who can – or can’t – afford it,” says Gerald Krischek, EAME brand director for Starwood’s Luxury Collection, St Regis and W Hotels. Citing surveys of households reporting net worth of at least US$1 million, Krischek says: “Eighty per cent of respondents say that despite this year’s stock market meltdown, they will at least maintain or increase their level of travel to luxury hotel properties. In any case, a company like The Luxury Collection is eminently qualified to offer the highest level of personalised service, rest and relaxation to take one’s mind off diminished stock portfolio.”

Splintering of luxury brands?

Once upon a hotel chain you knew where you stood with a five-star hotel… then they all started to look the same. Then it changed again. Today the creation of new brands in the same five-star segment is essential to capture the increasingly individualistic higher-spending customer. Take Starwood for example. Among its five-star brands are W Hotels, Westin, St Regis, Sheraton, Meridien and Luxury Collection. Each of these are being carefully positioned to attract a specific type of consumer from cutting edge cool or artistically inspired to health conscious or heritage reverential. This month in Destinations of the World News, Asia Pacific chairman Michael Issenberg discusses how Accor has added to its five-star portfolio to cast its higher spending consumer wider than before. Is all this segmentation a planned move that will pay off? Time will tell.

Wood concierges?

You’re no doubt familiar with running concierges (that accompany you on your favourite city route); dog concierges, that take care of Fido; salt, soap, pillow or water concierges that, as the name suggests help you pick from a plethora of choice, but what about wood concierges? The Taj Boston in New England has a fireplace butler that will help guests customise the aroma and effects they like with woods chosen from a menu. “It’s a sign of the times,” Sara-Ann Kasner of the National Concierge Association tells USA Today. “What used to be a fun amenity for the wealthy has become a trend for average clientele.” Maybe, says the Luxury Institute’s Milton Pedraza, “But some companies go overboard. Bad ideas die quickly. In travel, ideas have to have relevance, if they don’t they won’t last.”

8 LUXURY PARTNERSHIPS

Versace helicopers

When Donatella first unveiled her jet interiors the travel world gawped. Why buy a jet interior from a fashion house? Would you buy an haute couture gown from Airbus? It didn’t matter. It was wonderful publicity and already consolidated the fashion house’s love of brand cross-pollination that had already seen its famous Medusa designs appear on yachts, hotels and Lamborghinis.

Of course Versace didn’t stop there. Last month the brand delivered its first two branded helicopters at a cost of US$7 million each. Versace is not alone. Hermes has also launched a range of helicopters. What is fascinating about these developments is whether or not other non-aviation luxury brands will take to the skies in search of new luxury revenue streams. If Chanel, for example, can launch bicycles, jet-skis, kites and even inflatable boats, how long before it starts kitting out Dreamliners?

Armani hotels

Yes we are familiar with designer labels such as Bulgari and Versace stepping off the catwalk and into the lobbies of hotels, but this is just the start. Hotels are perfect for creating new environments in which to sell lifestyle products, hence the interest in hospitality by Missoni, Armani, Benetton, Lacroix, Ferragamo among many others. The interest was summed up by Bvlgari’s CEO Francesco Trapani when he opened the hotel’s first hotel in Milan. “It increases jewellery sales, enhances the glamour of the brand and becomes a public relations machine,” he told the press. “As a guest you’re happier if you are able to say, ‘I went to a name that’s considered prestigious’.” The question again is when do other luxury brands make the move into hospitality? For instance, would you stay at a Rolls-Royce or Bentley-branded hotel?

A brand too far?

Condé Nast Traveller’s contributing editor Francesca Syz’s isn’t impressed by brand cross pollination. “To be honest that obsession with brands and luxury association I just find it depressing and totally ’80s.”

9 LUXURY AIR TRAVEL

Remember when business class used to be so special? That feels like a generation ago. The likes of Silverjet have rewritten the rules of front-of-the-aircraft accessibility.

While high-tech entertainment systems and chef-signature food took the edge off cattle class by introducing elements that were traditionally associated with those who turned left when they boarded, today the boundaries of luxury have moved to a different level.

In fact they have shifted to a completely different aircraft. Today the luxurious air traveller aspires to an A380 suite or a Versace-designed private helicopter interior. There will always be something to upgrade to.

Luxury air space

Of course the immediate future of luxury flight is all about the A380. Singapore Airlines set the benchmark with its inaugural from Changi to Sydney. Who could forget those images of an Australian couple sharing marinated lobster and Dom Perignon in their private first-class suite in their double bed? This was real travel milestone and injected enthusiasm into a form of travel that’s been submerged by low-cost economics and the demise of Concord glory. In first class of Singapore Airlines features private luxury suites or cabins (designed by yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste) 23-inch screens and of course Givenchy-designed duvets for when that flat-bed rolls out. But Singapore just got there first. What other airlines will make of this wonderful blank canvas has yet to be seen, but unconfirmed rumours abound from casinos and gyms onboard to showers and meeting rooms. With this much plane and, more importantly this much space, anything is possible.

Fractional jets

Forget about cluttered terminals, annoying security and checking in a couple of hours before, a private jet is all about a different form of luxury; that of convenience and hassle-free travel. Now thanks to the growth of fractional schemes everyone has access to some form of private jet travel. The trend is growing dramatically especially across emerging markets. NetJets, for example, expanded out of Europe and North America into India last month offering 25 hours of flying in a seven-seater aircraft for US$200,000. The company’s vice-president John Colucci said: “There has been a 400 per cent increase in traffic to India for NetJets. There is a lot of wealth here.”

Sky taxis

Fractional jet ownership is – depending on your viewpoint – either entry-level luxury for those who can’t afford a full aircraft or a sensible option for billionaires who understand how overheads and depreciation can add up. Now there is another option, sky taxis. Mini airlines are springing up all over the world offering four seats on a Mustang Cessna for around US$6,000 for a return between, say, Paris and London. In Western Europe four companies have already launched this year alone: Blink, London Executive Aviation, Bikkair and Jet Bird. Luxurious or just good business sense? A little of both seems to be the answer. A report by Wal-Mart found that using this type of air-taxi service cut its company’s travel budget by a quarter.

Boutique business class

“I think business-class-only airlines will continue to grow,” CEO of the New York-based Luxury Institute, Milton Pedraza tells Destinations of the World News. “But I see them being snapped up by bigger airlines in the future and being maintained as boutique brands. If they stay independent I think they will remain regional in nature because the economies of scale for an airline are challenging.” Certainly business-class-only airlines are no longer a novelty or an indulgence. Business-class-only SilverJet boasts Dubai and New York as its two destinations and last month reported a 23 per cent increase in passenger numbers during February. Still, not all business-class-only airlines are successful, just ask poor Maxjet.

Designer lounges

While Destinations of the World News was waiting for its luggage in Terminal Five, we popped along to check out the BA lounges. Blimey they are good. Of course they are not all called lounges rather ‘galleries’ all with private bedrooms, art installations by Troika, Concorde-outline fabrics, 24-hour mood lighting, chandeliers, magnetic walls in the kids’ area. There were even arty brass-looking horses with lamps on their heads, now that’s cool. Lounges are a world away from the traditional comfy seats and free bar of the last decade. Virgin’s Heathrow clubhouse boasts a roof garden, tanning booth, pool table and retro video games; Lufthansa’s Frankfurt first-class terminal has personal assistants to take you through security (and to your flight by car) as well as a cigar lounge; massages are optional at Air France’s Paris lounge; at Qatar’s Doha lounge there is table service, shower rooms and PlayStations; Marc Newson designed Qantas lounges at Sydney International… The message is clear. Luxury lounges are innovating to keep clientele. “For business travellers you’re paying so much for your flight anyway that the experience has to extend into the airport,” says Harriet Baskas author of Stuck at the Airport.

Star architect airports

It’s not enough that Frank Gehry or Armani designs hotels, Lacroix or Missoni deck out lobby interiors or that Gordon Ramsay has a restaurant at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, the rise and rise of designer/celebrity association is unstoppable in the travel trade. It even extends to airports. In a way it’s only natural, these are the grand buildings of the 21st century, the cathedrals or temples of their generation, the big public works statement. The trouble is, if you want to get ahead in the luxury airport game, you need a super architect, preferably Sir Norman Foster. Not only has he designed Beijing’s famous Terminal 3 but also Hong Kong’s sumptuous Chep Lap Kok. However, if luxury airport lessons are to be learned for the future, national civil aviation authorities could do worse than follow the example of the Richard Rogers-led team that put together Madrid’s Barajas International Airport. With it’s rainbow of colours and acres of wood it feels nothing like a terminal. And it’s all the better for that.

Vintage jets

These days any Tom, Dick or Prince Harry can get themselves a jet, but if you really want to stand out on the runway go vintage. It happened to clothes, jewellery and cars, so why not aircraft. In addition to his more traditional Lear jets, the actor John Travolta has a 1960s Boeing that was once the private jet of Frank Sinatra. Now that is an aircraft with history. If luxury is about the stories we can tell or the importance of uniqueness you can’t beat vintage planes. The last time Destinations of the World News was hanging around Abu Dhabi International Airport, we learned of how a giant Vulcan military transporter was being converted to civil use as a private ‘jet’ by the engineering company Gamco. Luxury really doesn’t get any more bespoke.

10 LUXURY OF SPACE

Anticipating the next major luxury trend inevitably involves space, the moon, the universe. It’s the final travel frontier. Everyone who contributed to this feature would tail off conversations with something like: “Well, of course, then there is space…”

Whether you subscribe to Sir Richard Branson’s cosmic company and out-of-this-world vision or not, it doesn’t matter. There are queues of wealthy individuals waiting to complete the truly ultimate travel experience.

“The Earth’s ocean, Everest, the Arctic… breaking records, exploring the unexplored. Travel is so common place now that finding something unexplored is a challenge,” says Milton Perzeda of the Luxury Institute. “Space, of course, offers huge opportunity for wealthy travellers. It may be perceived as risky at present but there are plenty of people willing to try. In 20 or 30 years it is not totally incomprehensible that people will go to the moon for holidays.”

Gerald Krischek, EAME brand director for Starwood’s Luxury Collection, St Regis and W Hotels, believes that the affluent are sated with product and looking for unique experiences. “They will spend top pound, euro or dollar to be first, or reach the most remote, exotic places,” he says. “That’s really why private suborbital flights and space travel took off so quickly.”

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