A growing travel trend over the last few years has been away from opulent, overblown, fussy or formal surroundings and toward unique experiences, exclusive access and insider encounters with cultures, food and people. Contemporary chic accommodations, meaning less is more, are on the rise on land and sea.
“The elite traveler now thirsts for access over acquisition, and experiences over owning stuff. This is good news for travel, bad news for handbags,” says Chris Sanderson, co-founder of the Future Laboratory, a trend-forecasting agency.
Quality and comfort are still important. But travelers focus more on incredibly comfortable beds, luxe linens, technology connectivity, great views and exceptional food. In-house restaurant chefs have honed and edited their menus and wine lists. We are seeing more “field to table” (or ocean to table) scratch kitchens than formal gourmet menus. More travelers are opting to spend a morning with a French chef touring local Parisian markets and a private cooking class vs. just dining in a Michelin star restaurant. Other travel experiences growing in demand include smaller ships, private groups and unique experiences.
Expeditions without “roughing it.” Luxury expedition cruises offer more than just a cruise by, travelers take zodiacs and land on the ice in Antarctica or the beach in the Galapagos with internationally known naturalists as guides for first-hand experience of terrain and wild life. Yet return to a well- appointed boutique luxury ship with comfortable beds and excellent food & wine. Silversea and Celebrity cruise lines are well known in this niche.
Exclusive Excursions. Instead of visiting monuments & sites with crowds of tourists, you can enjoy exclusive access & events in small private groups. One of my favorite day trips was a tour of an old Irish castle being renovated. At first I thought our guide was being a little irreverent, moving things around and making notes for the workers. But then I found out our tour guide was the current Lord and owner of the castle that likes to occasionally (and secretly) give the tour himself. We enjoyed a glass of wine with him afterward and learned a lot about what it takes to renovate these historic old estates. Other tours my clients have raved about range from a flightseeing excursion over Mt. Everest and a stay in Kathmandu at a family-run inn, to a photography expedition on the Amazon river with world renowned National Geographic photographers.
Adventure Travel. Another growing trend is for more active travel. As people unchain from their desks on vacation, they are looking for more leisure activity. This niche includes everything from serious bicycle trips through Europe, to white water rafting, to more leisurely walking and hiking. Although some clients are true adrenaline seekers, “active” does not have to mean extreme risk. For example, we are seeing more river cruise lines with bicycles on-board for their guests. Alaskan cruises now include options like driving an all-terrain vehicle over Ketchikan's backroads, kayaking on a tranquil alpine lake, or trekking through the lush rainforest.
I am also seeing more active family vacations. An outstanding leader in the family travel niche is Adventures by Disney. Disney offers exclusive opportunities, VIP experiences and insider access for families with kids of all ages around the world.
What’s Next in Travel? If “experiential” travel has been the current trend since 2016, industry leaders are predicting a growing demand for “transformational” journeys that go beyond new external experiences to meaningful internal shifts in perspectives that change lives.
The Transformational Travel Collective (TTC) defines transformational travel as “challenging long-held personal beliefs, shifting perspectives of self and others, thus resulting in our actions and behaviors becoming more conscious, intentional, and purpose-driven.” These changes can be through pushing physical limits or by exploring “new cultures and places and encountering different people.” The purpose is to challenge our personal beliefs and broaden our perspectives of self and others to “become more conscious, intentional, and purpose-driven” in our everyday lives.
Although I have always had a small niche of clients interested in spiritual retreats, I now see more demand for broader experiences (not restricted by a specific religion). More clients are “traveling with intention,” meaning they are looking for experiences that include time for reflection and facilitate mindfulness.
In conclusion, whether clients are luxury travelers, experiential travelers, or adventure travelers, we see the trend toward personalized, custom vacations continuing. The explosion of travel websites and blogs over the last 10 years gives people easy access to new travel opportunities. Interestingly, the abundance of on-line travel information has transformed, but not replaced the need for travel advisors. We have found that clients are doing research on-line, but want to speak with a reputable person, preferably in the US, that can ascertain the quality of the trip and financial stability of the international travel supplier. Our clients also prefer to purchase their more exotic adventures through a US agency, so that they have recourse and an advocate if anything goes wrong.
About the Author:
Kathleen McCarthy Peters has over 25 years of experience in travel and tourism. Ms. Peters currently owns a Cruise Planners – American Express travel franchise specializing in international travel and boutique journeys on land and sea.