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In a time of uncertainty and austerity, the travel industry has stayed strong. International tourist arrivals rose by 6 per cent in 2018, reaching 1.4 billion and outstripping estimates made by the UN World Tourism Organisation. Travel Trade Gazette reported that the travel industry is now a firm favourite among private equity investors.
It makes sense – faced with a turbulent political landscape and long working hours, a trip abroad is the perfect escape. And with a recent report suggesting travellers are now seeking unique holidays and authentic local experiences, the luxury travel industry is an interesting place to be.
“We’re all craving that experience where, for a moment, you get a nod from a local and you feel part of the place,” says James Bell, Managing Director and Co-founder of The Turquoise Holiday Company. “Previously, travellers didn’t particularly want to do anything outside the hotel. Now they want not just day trips, but proper experiences, which is exciting for us.”
Bell and his team discover what locals love and share it with UK holidaymakers. In New Zealand, travellers can stay in a ‘bach’ – beach houses locals escape to for the weekend – and borrow bikes to visit nearby vineyards. In Kenya, you can book into an owner-run property filled with family antiques, before going running with a Maasai warrior. In Mauritius, there’s a chance to sample food made by local chefs.
Faced with so many options, consumers are also craving holidays tailored to their needs. “We have the same consultant dealing with the booking from start to finish,” says Bell. “The staff really question what travellers want.”
This has become even more crucial as travellers seek out unique properties to host multi-generational family holidays, or somewhere special for birthdays and anniversaries. “Special occasion travel is something we certainly are seeing a spike in,” Bell says.
It’s the same process at Healing Holidays, a luxury tour operator specialising in spa and wellness retreats. “We have very in-depth consultations with all our clients,” says Frances Geoghehan, founder and Managing Director. “They want to talk through the type of treatments, the food and the practitioners, from first-hand experience.”
“It’s the people who fundamentally make the difference.” – Frances Geoghehan, Healing Holidays
This human touch extends to the holidays themselves. It’s reported that Ritz-Carlton provides $2,000 per guest to help staff make their stay extra special. Turquoise travellers can choose to stay in smaller properties run by owners who have a personal connection to the area, such as the Fijian island of Matangi, which one family has owned since the 19th century. “We’re looking for more properties that are owner-operated,” says Bell.
Healing Holidays offers the kind of retreats that requires specialist practitioners on hand – Ayurvedic retreats, yoga and pilates holidays, detoxes, medical spas, mindfulness and more. “It’s the people who fundamentally make the difference,” Geoghehan says. “True luxury is having the best yoga teachers, the best Ayurvedic experts, the best chefs, the best advice.”
Matching travellers with world-class practitioners is particularly important in a new area of luxury travel. “More people are looking for emotional support or support with mental health,” says Geoghehan. These holidays may feature a programme of meditation, mindfulness, talking, nutrition and gentle exercises such as qi gong and yoga to help people overcome whatever problem they’re facing.
“People are reverting back to old-age remedies and traditions,” says Geoghehan. “With Ayurveda and the Mayr cure, you have to go to the place where the therapy originated to see the true value of it. There’s always been this obsession with having the next new thing in travel… [but] now, we’re not looking for quick fixes.”
The desire to step back from modern life is also seen in the growth of digital detoxes, which Healing Holidays has been offering for around four years. Mobile phones and laptops are off limits and travellers instead meditate, practise yoga and enjoy long massages. There are also tailored physio sessions to loosen up hands that are tired of scrolling.
Both Bell and Geoghehan agree with hotelier Ian Schrager that there’s been a shift in perceptions of luxury away from opulence and towards authenticity and experience. On spa and wellness breaks, it’s about being surrounded by natural beauty, in the foothills of the Himalayas or deep in the Bavarian Alps, while catered to by world-class experts.
And on beach holidays, Bell says: “New luxury is access to something you can’t usually get elsewhere, space is the luxury – experiences away from the crowds.”
‘Space is the luxury – experiences away from the crowds.” – James Bell, The Turquoise Holiday Company
There’s also been a rise in holidaymakers requesting two locations in one holiday, so they can see and do as much as possible. Popular combos include Mauritius and Reunion, or a stop on the way to the Maldives.
Exciting extras such as a night in a treehouse room or sleeping under the stars in the desert add to this ‘new luxury’ experience. “There is this back to nature trend,” says Bell. “But it’s still luxurious!”