There’s always an appetite for high-end travel experiences but a whole new world has opened up
Not all that long ago luxury travel was defined by lieflat seats in a plane’s firstclass cabin, airport transfers in a sleek black car, hotel rooms clad in gold and marble, pricey bottles of bubbly, day-spa sessions and exclusive tour guides.
But times have changed and the Patsy-and-Edina extras no longer define luxury travel. Personal, private, simple, small and significant are the qualities top-end travellers seek in their holiday experiences.
It’s not about sipping a sunset Singapore sling in an expensive hotel’s exclusive rooftop bar, these days luxury tourists want to tour an artisan gin distillery with the person who buys the botanicals, then be guided through a private tasting by an award-winning bartender.
Luxury-brand strategist Michelle Papas says that over the six years running Luxperience, a high-end travel trade forum, a strong trend towards the experiential has emerged.
“The biggest trend has come from within the millennial segment, who are more aspirational and place a high price on their holiday time and work-life balance, and value also plays an important role as the luxury travellers seek out unique experiences especially those offering emotive immersions.
“There’s also a trend towards philanthropy and seeking ways to make the world a better place, the emergence of ‘meaningful travel’ allows luxury travellers to satisfy a desire to give meaning to their travel.”
So, what does luxury travel look like in 2017?
Fancy flying is defined by first class, with Emirates introducing moisturised sleepwear that keeps the skin hydrated while sleeping 11km up, Etihad boasting aerial “apartments” that feature a leather armchair and separate bed, and Qantas offering a “sommelier in the sky” to find the perfect drop of vino.
There are on-board showers to freshen up during the flight, a la carte dining with meals prepared by the on-board chef, chauffeur-driven cars to deliver passengers to the airport, complimentary spa treatments in the airport’s first-class lounge and exclusive hosts escorting flyers through the airport.
But luxury isn’t restricted to first and business class as airlines increase the number of premiumeconomy cabins on long-haul services and offer extra luggage, priority check-in and progress through security, spacious seats and better meals.
“The emerging air-travel trend in 2017 is the addition of premium economy across international airlines, with the cabin priced between economy and business so you’ll be surprised at the affordability,” Webjet managing director David Galt says.
“If you join the crowd of travellers booking premium-economy flights, you’ll enjoy greater seat recline, amenity kits and extra leg room.”
Dozens of luxury hotels are opening in 2017 and while properties feature everything from famous chefs running restaurants and enviable wine cellars to rooftop helipads, curated art collections and personal concierges, there’s a trend in new properties occupying historic structures.
The Line hotel in Washington DC occupies a neoclassical church, in London the Four Seasons Ten Trinity fills the former Port of London Authority headquarters and The Ned is in the Midland Bank Building, The Silo in Cape Town has rooms in a former grain store and Hobart’s MACq01 flanks a pier that received convicts and returning soldiers over the centuries.
James Carreker, owner of The Louise in Adelaide’s Barossa Valley and Australia’s Relais & Chateaux delegate, says “experiential hotels and resorts” are redefining Australia’s premium accommodation with “a new breed of more than two dozen properties in regional settings the sought-after accommodation for short breaks and longer stays”.
“Whether it be beachfront, vineyard, Outback or mountaintop, Australia’s luxe hotels are more than thread-count and shampoo amenities and offer a curated guide to the best off-premises experiences matching the quality onsite of locally sourced food, glorious wine and stunning vista,” he says.
The secret in the luxury sphere is filling a traveller’s holiday time by tailoring encounters to match an individual’s interests.
It’s about not wasting hours in a car but riding a plane or helicopter to the destination and thoughtful touches like fresh-baked scones or chilled prosecco for morning tea after an early start.
Special access and private time at the world’s most famous attractions is also a 2017 trend, with tour companies arranging for guests to see the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre and the Grand Pyramid after the tourists have departed for the day.
“Luxury is increasingly about the experience, it’s about delivering meaningful cultural and educational encounters as well as allowing time for spontaneity, with security and comfort paramount,” Abercrombie & Kent’s Australia managing director Sujata Raman says.
“It’s providing thoughtfully crafted and well-paced journeys to littleexplored destinations where conditions can sometimes be challenging, and the destinations we’re excited about include Iceland, Armenia, Mongolia, Central Asia, Madagascar, Iran and South America.”
When it comes to cruising, luxury comes in many forms – exploring Scotland’s lochs on a barge, navigating the Irrawaddy on a riverboat or surveying the Antarctic on an expedition ship – but the common denominator is thoughtful attention and curated activities.
Adam Armstrong, Azamara Club Cruises managing director in Australia, says “luxury is changing and so is cruising”.
“Old-school luxury was all about white gloves and silver service but Australians, in particular, are moving away from this stuffy and traditional style,” he says. “Luxury is now all about authenticity and travel that connects you to the people and communities you visit combined with personalised service that recognises little things matter.
“Luxury travellers in 2017 want to delve deeper into the destinations they visit, which is why we recently announced the next evolution of our destination-focused cruising enabling guests to immerse in the destination and we do this through people-to-people interaction, shared cultural experience, enjoying local food, music, events and more.
“Back on board our boutique hotels at sea provide a country-club feel where guests can relax, wear casual resort-style clothes at all times and enjoy personalised service.”
AUSTRALIA’S LUXE HOTELS ARE MORE THAN THREAD-COUNT AND SHAMPOO