Living the high life

As the meaning of luxury continues to evolve, how can agents up their selling skills? We look at emerging trends and new product guaranteed to excite discerning clients

Five-star accommodation, fancy spa treatments and private transfers – these are just a few staples of a high-end trip. But as the definition of luxury continues to evolve and clients are asked to fork out for bigger budgets, tastes and trends are changing.

highlife pool

“Luxury travel – and particularly the intention behind it – has been through an interesting evolution,” says Jane West, Regional Director UK & Europe, Tourism Fiji. “Historically, luxury has largely stood for more of everything, but today the most discerning customers place the greatest value on disconnecting from our day-to-day lives and connecting with a new environment; and on travelling mindfully, respectfully and authentically.”

Travel agents are noticing this change too. “I have seen a significant shift, in recent years, from clients taking three to four holidays a year to pooling their time and money into one, long, luxury trip instead,” says Rebecca Bagnoli, luxury home working agent with The Personal Travel Consultants in partnership with Blue Bay Travel.

“This is motivated by two factors: a growing awareness of carbon footprint and a desire for more meaningful travel beyond the typical luxury resort with butler service.”

PATA’s recent trends report echoed the shift towards longer, more indulgent trips.

Alison Murphy, Product and Commercial Manager at Elegant Resorts, said: “We have experienced a 40% increase on booking values since 2019. While some of this can be attributed to increased yield on flights and higher accommodation costs, we can see from booking reports that people are looking to make each trip extra special with higher room categories, longer stays and more pre-planned excursions.”

These sentiments are reflected in a recent survey from Audley Travel, with 35% of respondents saying they expect to upgrade for 2023 trips and 41% saying they plan to spend more than usual on travel.

Great expectations

highlife firepit

Despite higher living costs and inflation, clients considering a luxury trip understand that travel has become more expensive since the pandemic. They are accepting of the higher cost, but also expect more.

‘Unique’ and ‘immersive’ are buzzwords for luxury travel this year, says Alex Bentley, Head of Product at Audley Travel.

“These go hand in hand with the traditional characteristics of luxury travel – for example, exceptional service and five-star accommodation.”

This means agents have more to think about when planning a luxury trip, but the upside is a greater enthusiasm for spending.

“Clients are willing to spend more on high-end holidays now due to various factors, including an increasing desire for unique and authentic experiences, a growing middle class with disposable income, and a desire for exclusivity and privacy,” explains Sabrina Cambiaso, Director, Dominican Republic Tourist Board.

“High-end travellers are also seeking more personalised services, and are willing to pay a premium for the privilege.

“Clients want authentic experiences when they travel, interspersed with luxury elements. For example, I recently booked a Borneo holiday for a family with jungle treks, meeting and cooking experiences with locals, but bookended with luxury hotel stays,” says Bagnoli.

“Accommodation-wise there’s a shift away from the larger, luxury hotels towards the more unusual, boutique properties. That said, I’m seeing a lot more of the larger luxury hotels offering experience-led activities now in response to the growing demand for experiential travel.”

Ultimate upgrades

highlife island

Audley’s survey findings also point to great opportunities for agents to upsell. “Agents can book a range of accommodation, from a luxury hotel to a private villa with a butler and chef – all ideal for elevating their client’s experience,” says Bentley.

Cambiaso suggests that agents offer upgrades such as private transfers, exclusive dining experiences and personalised excursions.

“They can also offer butler service, which provides guests with a dedicated personal assistant who can assist with anything from unpacking luggage to arranging activities.”

PATA’s Trends Report reveals that travellers are upgrading flights and hotel room categories as well as seeking out premium experiences more than before.

“The requirement for personal space and desire to treat ourselves has led to a demand for private jets, helicopter transfers and villa stays,” says Chris Crampton, Chairman of PATA UK & Ireland Chapter.

Other ideas for upgrading and upselling include converting the trip into a twin-centre break, so that guests can extend their holiday and experience multiple cultures, says West. She adds: “Visitors can also travel by seaplane or by boat, or choose unique nearby experiences like private honeymoon picnics on deserted islands.”

And the agent perspective? “Elevate the guest experience by understanding what luxury means to clients, as it can vary from an all-singing, all-dancing butler-service resort to something as simple as a beautiful view or a small hotel with exceptional service,” says Bagnoli. “Knowing the client and what they want is key to tailoring a luxury experience that fits their needs.”

Inspiring itineraries

highlife villa

“When it comes to luxury trip ideas, the options are endless,” says Bagnoli.
“Japan and the Far East offer a unique blend of culture and luxury, the Maldives always delivers on that paradise beach experience and South Africa and Botswana deliver on wildlife and luxury lodges.

“South Africa is also a brilliant option for an extended luxury trip because of the variety of experiences – from cosmopolitan Cape Town to a cottage in the Winelands, to the dramatic coast, or a safari in the north – plus the service is always outstanding.”

Audley offers a Luxury Namibia flying safari, travelling by light aircraft between luxury camps, or a 16-day Luxury Japan Tour, taking a helicopter ride over Tokyo, watching a live sumo training match and bathing in hot springs in Hakone.

The Dominican Republic has a variety of ultra-luxury experiences ranging from cruising the coastline on a private yacht to staying in a high-end eco-lodge while enjoying hiking, ziplining and horse riding.

“Clients can also experience the rich culture and history of the Dominican Republic with a luxury cultural immersion trip, staying in a 16th century home in Santo Domingo,” says Cambiaso.

Where to book it

APT’s luxury 13-day Enchanting Japan itinerary from Tokyo to Osaka costs from £9,395pp. The price includes return flights, luxury accommodation, luxury dining with 25 included meals, transfers, on-trip transportation and sightseeing.